By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It’s a running joke that the final score could be 3-2 when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the New York Jets Sunday with the kickoff at 4:15 p.m. at Heinz Field.
With both defenses ranked among the NFL’s best with the Steelers rated fourth and the Jets third, and their scoring offenses in the middle of the pack at 16th and 18th, respectively, a low score is highly likely.
The Steelers have scored just two offensive touchdowns since hammering Oakland four games ago, while the Jets have not scored a touchdown in two straight losses. So, neither team has lit up the scoreboard lately.
“We want to score touchdowns,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “In the recent past, we haven’t done as well as we’d like. There are a myriad of reasons, usually centered around execution and detail work, (so) we’re going to work toward getting better this week.”
The Steelers place-kicker, Shaun Suisham, is 9-for-9 since replacing Jeff Reed for the past four games. He’s also been perfect on conversion kicks, so he’s certainly been an offensive weapon thus far. But the Steelers would rather have Suisham kicking extra points instead of field goals once they hit the red zone.
One area that has hampered the Steelers’ offense has been holding penalties, and there have been 17 in the past four games. This is an exorbitant amount. Steelers offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu tried to pinpoint the problem.
“We’ve done well in some situations, but there are others when we haven’t really been on the same page,” Kemoeatu said. “So, we have to be better with our execution and communication. Those two things go hand in hand, so we have to do a better job in those areas.
“We’ve done all right in our run-blocking, but we need to do a better job keeping Ben on his feet and a better job in the red zone. It’s all about execution, and we just need to do a better job when we get down there. Field goals are nice, but it would be better if we could score a lot more touchdowns.”
The Jets have had their red-zone problems as well, and Coach Rex Ryan talked about his team’s issues near the goal line.
“I’m concerned with the fact that we have to go up against Pittsburgh, so that doesn’t help matters,” Ryan said. “That’s for sure. What I’ve talked to our team about, is that (the Steelers) will be the best defense that we’ve faced all year. So, that’s a huge challenge. But we’ve struggled the last several games.
“We have talent, but we have to find a way to get the ball into our playmakers hands and protect our quarterback better and being able to get some running game going. But against the Steelers, they’ve given up a whopping 60 yards a game, so rushing is not going to be easy. That’s for sure.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he’s well aware that he has had issues scoring on the club’s opening drive and acknowledged the red-zone woes as well, so we certainly have to do a better job in those areas.
“We have a game plan, (and) we’ll try to execute it,” Roethlisberger said. “We script the first series, and we usually stick pretty close to it. I’ve heard that we haven’t been too successful during that first series, but I couldn’t tell you any stats about it. (But) we know we’re struggling a little bit on offense.
“I think we’re moving the ball and doing some good things, but I think when we get to the red zone … I don’t know what happens. Maybe I try to score on first down too often, instead of just trying to get yards, but we need not to panic and just have to get some type of points on the board.”
Roethlisberger added that the Steelers likely will need some help from their defense again this week, and he turned to inside linebacker James Farrior and asked for it. Farrior talked about the prospective defensive struggle.
“Looking at the history and knowing that there’s going to be two good defenses out there, it’s probably going to be a low-scoring game, a tough, defensive battle,” Farrior said. “But now that I’ve said that, it’s probably going to be a shootout. Hopefully, it’ll only be on one end.
“(But) every play is definitely a play that could win the game, and every possession is crucial. Field position is critical, and in these types of games the first mistake could decide the ball game. So, we have to make sure we cause them to make more mistakes than we make.”
Steelers safety Ryan Clark cautioned fans not to jump off the bandwagon too early this week.
“People start to think that teams like that shouldn’t score a point on your or you should shut them out, but the way we look at it is that we can’t let them have success early and get in a rhythm,” Clark said. “And if they do have some early success, we can’t look at it as a failure by us.
“They’re a 9-4 football team no matter how you look at it, and they’ve had some struggles lately on offense. But when you have a team like that coming in, they’re looking for ways to get out of it. And they could play desperate ball. Trick plays, double moves and things like that.
“So, that could make them even more dangerous,” Clark added. “They clearly have talent. … Things aren’t just clicking for them, but we’re wary about that. And we’re working that much harder in the film room this week to be ready for anything. And both teams need a win this week.”
Notes: Troy Polamalu (ankle), James Harrison (illness), Bryant McFadden (hamstring), Flozell Adams (ankle), Aaron Smith (triceps) and Hines Ward (not injury related) did not participate in practice Wednesday for the Steelers. … Harrison wasn’t even at the practice facility. … Smith is the only player definitely out this week. The others should practice later in the week.
For the Jets, S James Ihedigbo (ankle, knee), DE Trevor Pryce (hip), RB Tony Richardson (not injury related), S Eric Smith (concussion), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (not injury related) and OT Damien Woody (knee) did not participate. … C Nick Mangold (shoulder), DT Sione Pouha (finger) and WR Brad Smith (hand) participated fully despite previous injury issues.