Zach Wilson returns for the New York Jets against the Steelers in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, PA—The New York Jets are finally whole. Well, sort of.
Sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson returns to the lineup after missing the last month and change with a knee injury. The moment Wilson came up limp in Philadelphia, in early August, each Jets fan feared the worst.
And why not?
This is the fanbase that cannot think anything but the following: We’re never allowed to have nice things.
Miraculously, even though Wilson’s injury was of the non-contact variety, and in spite of internet doctors’ best efforts to paint the gloomiest portrait, the Jets kid quarterback’s injury only shelved him for the first three weeks of the NFL regular season.
At Wednesday’s practice, his first as the starting quarterback, he looked good. The BYU product moved well without a brace or sleeve on his knee (although a sleeve did make an appearance on Friday).
Wilson returns to a Jets offense in dire need of tackle heroes, as the Jets will be without their top three tackles (Mekhi Becton, Duane Brown, and now George Fant, who was recently placed on IR).
How Mike LaFleur game-plans around this situation will be of the utmost importance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4.
This game marks the final time the Jets will face an AFC North opponent—as all four occurred in the first four weeks of the season.
Jets vs. Steelers game info
- New York Jets (1-2)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
- NFL, Week 4, Oct. 2, 2022, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
- Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
The 1-2 Jets head to Pittsburgh to take on the also 1-2 Steelers. This means that this is a biggie (aren’t they all?), as one of these two teams will fall to 1-3, whereas the other squad would improve to a respectable 2-2.
New York will wear one of its unique uniform combinations, the white tops with the black pants, as seen on Thursday Night Football a year ago in Indianapolis.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) October 1, 2022
Jets vs. Steelers history
- The Steelers lead the all-time series 20-6.
Last week, the Jets played one of the few opponents they enjoy a decisive all-time record over, the Cincinnati Bengals. This week, however, the opponent screams historical dominance.
The Steelers’ 20-6 all-time record over the Jets has seemingly been consistent throughout the years, the decades.
Pittsburgh won the first nine meetings, stretching from 1970 to 1986, before finally falling to their AFC brothers in October 1988, 24-20. The Steelers then rattled off five-straight victories, improving their all-time mark against Gang Green to 14-1 through the 2001 season.
Interestingly, the Jets have made a competition of it, winning five of the last 11 meetings. This includes the last meeting, a Sam Darnold-led victory in December 2019 (16-10 final score).
Jets vs. Steelers odds (FanDuel Sportsbook)
- Spread: Jets +3.5 (-115), Steelers -3.5 (-105)
- Moneyline: Jets +150, Steelers -178
- Over/Under: 41.5 (O: -110, U: -110)
Vegas has this one as a near toss-up, considering the NFL home team usually garners around three points. The 41.5 over/under also appears right considering Mitchell Trubisky is still starting for the Steelers, and Zach Wilson could be a bit rusty in his first start of the campaign.
Jets vs. Steelers injury report
New York Jets
- Quincy Williams (Ankle): Out
- Brandin Echols (Hamstring): Questionable
The biggest issues in the Jets’ injury department surround the big-heavies that are on the offensive line. George Fant heading to IR, to join Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton, is a killer.
Expect Conor McDermott to start for the Jets, opposite rookie Max Mitchell. This is an issue considering Trey Hendrickson did a number on the versatile veteran at MetLife Stadium just a week ago.
John Franklin-Myers (toe) and the aforementioned Zach Wilson (knee) both practice in full on Friday and do not have a game designation.
- Ahkello Witherspoon (Hamstring): Out
There was some chatter during the week that stud safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s (concussion) game status could be in doubt, but he practiced fully on Friday and is ready to roll.
Offensive lineman Kevin Dotson (ankle) and punter Pressley Harvin (hip) both practiced fully on Friday.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will miss the game with a hamstring. Of course, All-Pro EDGE T.J. Watt (pec) is on injured reserve—something Wilson should be thrilled about this Sunday.
New York Jets keys to win
Play the east-west game offensively
Mike LaFleur is tasked with a tough challenge. How does he help out Conor McDermott on the left side of the line?
Well, for starters, the use of jet-motion will need to happen. Use Braxton Berrios in jet-motion early and often, to get the Steelers’ defense moving east-west. Playing the east-west game en route to helping a weaker offensive line does wonders in today’s NFL.
When passing, chipping as much as possible with the backs will have to be in the game plan. It’s just that simple. Expect some empty sets with the double-wing look (TE and RB), as either player could be involved in late-released after a chip.
Attack Mitchell Trubisky
I simply did not understand the Jets’ defensive game plan against the Bengals. Why aggressively attack an elite quarterback like Joe Burrow when his offensive line is already not that great? Why blitz him with extra players when the man already holds on to the ball too long?
The idea is not to force him to release it quicker; it should have been instead to dare him to hold on to it while showcasing the strength of the defense even further: the cornerbacks and overall downfield coverage.
Playing a shell, while keeping everything in front and then stiffening in the red zone, would have shortened the game (given Burrow fewer possessions to score). But instead, the aggressive game plan played right into Cincy’s hands.
Interestingly, this week presents the perfect opportunity to aggressively blitz. The difference between Burrow and Trubisky is immense, and the latter is a guy you’d love to send extra pressure at.
Will Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich do this? And moreover, will they start to trust Sauce Gardner more in man coverage—in a way that allows the entire defense to cheat elsewhere?
Sauce is their greatest advantage, and once they allow the kid to play man on an island, this defense can do incredible things with the 10 other players taking away the rest of the field.
Jets vs. Steelers prediction
- New York Jets 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 26
This is a tough one. Not only does the Zach Wilson rust factor inspire little confidence, but the fact that the Jets will be hurting to protect his blindside is also a major issue.
At the same time, this Mitchell Trubsky-led Steelers offense does not inspire much confidence either.
This one will most likely come down to coaching. Which coaching staff puts together the best game plan and adjusts in-game to the best of their ability?
I’ll bet my money on Mike LaFleur in this one, along with Zach Wilson making just enough plays off-schedule (watch for Garrett Wilson).