By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t in the minority in the belief that New York Jets cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson are among the best groups in the NFL at their position.
Jets coach Rex Ryan, in his fourth season in New York, has no problem putting that trio in man-to-man coverage, either. With hard-hitting safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell in the mix this season, the Jets’ secondary certainly could be among the NFL’s best.
But that group will be sorely tested by Steelers wideouts Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, as the Jets visit the Steelers Sunday for a 4:25 p.m. matchup at Heinz Field.
“That group is explosive,” Ryan said Wednesday during a conference call. “I think Brown is one of the most underrated players in the league, and I say that even though he made the Pro Bowl last year as a returner. But I tell my team that he’s the only guy in NFL history that had more than 1,000 yards as a returner and as a receiver in a season.
“That says a lot right there, and then you have Mike Wallace, who can blow the top off a defense. And Sanders, he doesn’t get as much attention, but he’s a tremendous receiver in his own right. (And) Jerricho Cotchery, we have a tremendous amount of admiration for Jerricho, because he’s a tremendous receiver as well.”
When the Steelers utilize formations with either three or four wideouts, as Jerricho Cotchery is added to the mix, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likely is guiding the club’s no-huddle offense.
“We know that we need to possess the ball and keep the other team’s offense off the field when we can,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that the other night by having a couple high-teen (play) drives.
“(But) they did a good job taking away our big plays. Our offense, with the players we have, has big-play potential. We just need to keep utilizing that and do the best we can to get those opportunities and connect when we do call them.”
With the Jets’ secondary pressing the issue, the Steelers big-play opportunities likely will be limited this week as well. So, Roethlisberger and Co. needs to put the Jets on their heels early in the game to loosen things up. That’s easier said than done, but Roethlisberger certainly was up for the challenge.
“It’s fun to challenge yourself and have the best out there to go against, and Revis is one of the best,” Roethlisberger said. “You know, to be the best, you have to play the best, so that’s how I look at it.”
The same could be said for Wallace and Brown, who look forward to the Jets’ cornerbacks pressing them.
“Sure, I always look forward to somebody coming down in your face,” Wallace said. “It’s you against them, so anytime you can get that it’s a good opportunity to show what you can do and show your skill set.
“And it doesn’t matter to me who I see (in coverage), as long as I see somebody right up in my face. Whoever it is, it is, but we’ve got some good guys all over the field. So, each of their guys is going to have to pick somebody and stick with them, but that won’t be easy. We look forward to that.”
Many defenses have double-covered Wallace, especially during the second half last season, but that opened more opportunities for Brown. If the Jets double-cover anyone, Brown believes that would play to the Steelers’ advantage.
“The guys who win their one-on-one matchups will be victorious, but they definitely trust their corners to do the job,” Brown said. “So, we have to go out there and win our individual matchups, whether they press or drop back, we have to identify the coverage and take it from there.
“For me, I hope they do press us. You look forward to that, one-on-one matchups, so you don’t have to worry about any zones or somebody sitting down. One-on-one, man-against-man, and let the best guy win it. I think we have a pretty good chance if that happens.”
Revis, who is suffering from a concussion, might not play this week. And that would give the Steelers an advantage as well.