NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (6-3) at N.Y. Jets (1-8)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - After football, Ben Roethlisberger might have a career in diplomacy.
Though his Pittsburgh Steelers will visit MetLife Stadium this Sunday for 60 minutes of would-be competition with the steaming mess that is the New York Jets, the red-hot quarterback is saying the right things about what coach Rex Ryan and Co. could ideally be bringing to the table.
The Jets are sixth in the league in total defense with 319.4 yards allowed per game, but that statistic fades to the background upon realization that they've allowed a league-high 24 touchdown passes and picked off precisely one opposition pass in nine games.
Roethlisberger, by the way, is the only player in league history to throw 12 TD passes in two games.
"They're a lot better football team than their record looks and their defense is very good," he said. "Last week is over. The week before last week is over. We're facing a good defense at their place and so we need to come out and play our best football."
For its signal-calling responsibilities, New York will roll out Michael Vick for the second straight week in place of perpetually ineffective second-year man Geno Smith. Vick got the call in a loss to Kansas City last week and completed 21-of-28 throws for 196 yards and one touchdown.
"To be able to go out there and play efficiently is great for me," Vick said. "I still didn't play up to my standards because we didn't score as much as I knew we could have scored. But I believe in myself and I believe in what I can do."
He'll face a Steelers defense that'll be without safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Ryan Shazier, but will have a seemingly rejuvenated James Harrison in the fold. The 36-year-old was pried out of retirement to come to the aid of a depleted Pittsburgh roster and has two sacks in each of the last two games.
"(Harrison) is not old. He's the strongest person in the league," defensive back William Gay said. "I'll put any type of money on that."
The loss to the Chiefs was New York's eighth straight since a season-opening win over Oakland. It further tightened the noose around the neck of sixth-year coach Ryan, and has seemingly spread the questionable job security to general manager John Idzik, who was the subject of a less-than-flattering banner being pulled by a plane at Wednesday's practice with owner Woody Johnson on hand.
"I recognize their frustrations and it's probably not easy to be a Jets fan right now," Ryan said. "I don't look past Pittsburgh. I know my opportunity is to be a head coach right now and I'm going to do the best job I possibly can do for this football team, and to give us a chance to be successful. The results aren't there yet, and that's not acceptable to anybody's standard, certainly not mine. We have a lot of season left and I think our football team is going to play a lot better."
Pittsburgh's "Big Ben" has chimed in for six TD passes in each of his last two games, first in a 51-34 defeat of Indianapolis in Week 8 and then in a 43-23 win over Baltimore in Week 9. His completion percentage (68.3) is No. 2 in the league and his 22 touchdown passes are tied for third.
He's also thrown just three interceptions all season, none in the last three games.
Last year against the Jets, Roethlisberger completed 23-of-30 for 264 yards in a 19-6 win.
"He's as hot as I've ever seen him," Ryan said. "It's the same nightmare. He can make all the throws and hangs in there. He's really using (Le'Veon) Bell out of the backfield a bunch, and that's a big help. Antonio Brown has been lighting it up, as well."
Indeed, Brown has three TDs in his last two games and went for 144 yards against the Ravens. He's been targeted 103 times, caught 71 passes and generated 996 yards - all league highs - and his eight TD catches are tied for third best in the league.
"It's just fun to see the success that he's had because he's not your prototypical No. 1, 6-foot-4 receiver," Roethlisberger said. "He's a guy that plays with a lot of heart and a lot of passion and I think it shows. I'm just trying to win football games. Wins and losses mean more to me than any individual stats."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Grounded and Pounded
In order to win - or even compete - the Jets will need to keep the ball out of the hands of the suddenly prolific Roethlisberger. Toward that end, they've averaged 177 ground yards per game in their last three, but they face a Steelers ball-stopping unit that's been recently clamping down on rushers. In their last three games, all wins, Pittsburgh has allowed 86 yards per game on the ground.
Just Passing Through
It's an easy scab to pick at. As mentioned earlier, New York has been gashed for 24 touchdown passes while managing one interception in nine games. That's clearly a bad omen with the arrival of Roethlisberger, who's put up a half- dozen in two straight games and has also become the only QB in history to produce a pair of 500-yard games. Perhaps he'll slump to only three or four scores this time.
The longer it gets since the last time the Jets won a game, the less likely it gets that they'll actually win one - particularly against a team that's been playing on the level that the Steelers have recently.
Recent acquisition Percy Harvin has already turned into New York's most dynamic player, but it's hard to imagine him having enough impact over 60 minutes to prevent a tumble to 1-9.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 30, Jets 14
11/09 10:59:02 ET