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Pittsburgh Steelers look to get back to .500, must get past New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers
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There were questions out of New York coming into Week 4 regarding who would start at quarterback for the Jets on Sunday against the Steelers. Would second-year starter Zach Wilson return from an injury and make his season debut at Pittsburgh, or would 37-year-old veteran Joe Flacco man the ship for one more week?

Those questions were answered on Wednesday, when Jets coach Robert Saleh announced that Wilson’s knee is good to go and that he will get his first start when the toe meets the leather Sunday at 1 p.m.

It’ll be the first meeting between the teams since December of 2019. As of Friday afternoon, Pittsburgh is considered a 3.5-point favorite (over/under 41.5) for Sunday’s tilt at Acrisure Stadium, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The Jets will be gunning for just their second win in the city of Pittsburgh in franchise history.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his team can now gameplan around the Wilson news, which at least should help a ton in terms of preparation, knowing that it’ll be a much different look with the mobile QB back to full strength.

“[Wilson’s] mobility is dramatically different than Joe’s,” Tomlin said Tuesday, “and presents some challenges from that perspective.”

Keeping tabs on Wilson will be just one of the areas of concern for a Steelers defense that ranks 23rd through three games and has had its struggles without the services of reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.

“They’re very multiple, they can spread you out,” Tomlin said of the New York offense. “They do some things that really kind of keep you off-balance in terms of their varied personalities from an offensive perspective, and that has our attention early in the week as we get ready to prepare for those guys.”

Wilson, who started 13 games as a rookie in 2021 (3-10), has never faced the Steelers, and Tomlin pointed out that there are a lot of unknowns that come along with that, no matter how much tape you can watch of the guy.

“There’ll be a get-to-know, if you will,” said Tomlin, “but obviously mobility and some other things as it pertains to him — which is a mystery for [the Jets] as well because he hadn’t played — and so we’re getting ready with all of those things being understood.”

Another second-year star in the Jets’ huddle is running back Michael Carter, a speedy UNC alum who is joined in the backfield by talented first-round draft pick Breece Hall out of Iowa State.

Both backs have been solid in the ground game, as Carter holds a slight edge with 122 yards on 28 carries compared to Hall’s 112 yards on 21 attempts.

“They’ve been highly, highly productive,” Tomlin said of the duo, adding that both have been used effectively in the pass game as well, with 13 receptions each on the season — Hall with 101 yards (7.8 per catch) and a touchdown, Carter with 74 yards (5.7 per catch). Tomlin referred to Carter and Hall as “increasingly significant components” of the Jets’ offense.

Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis and Elijah Moore are each reliable receivers, with all three averaging over 11 yards per grab, and could cause a lot of issues for the Steelers’ secondary.

When you throw in tight ends Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah, there are a lot of weapons for Wilson to choose from. Tomlin stressed how important the Jets’ tight ends are to their ability to move the football.

“You get a bunch of multiple tight-end offensive personnel groups, it aids in their running game and aids in their play-action passing, their misdirection,” explained Tomlin.

Defensively, Tomlin raved about the play up front on the interior from tackles Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins, while adding that former Baltimore linebacker C.J. Moseley, New York’s top tackler, is also heavily involved in clogging things up.

Ends Carl Lawson (former Bengal) and rookie Jermaine Johnson (Florida State) will bring the pressure from the edges, and it’s up to the Pittsburgh offensive line to give Mitch Trubisky enough time to make plays.

Tomlin also spoke highly of first-round draft choice Sauce Gardner, an athletic shutdown cornerback who the Steelers considered drafting themselves.

“He’s long, he’s talented, he’s confident,” Tomlin said of the star rookie. “He’s got ball skills. He’s got a feel for the game.”

Safeties Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner have combined for 33 tackles on the season as well.

Injury Report

It’s looking as if Pittsburgh will have CB Minkah Fitzpatrick on the field Sunday, as he was a full participant in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, along with punter Pressley Harvin (hip).

Fitzpatrick has been in the concussion protocol, but all signs are pointing to both he and Harvin being in the starting lineup.

The Steelers could be without Ahkello Witherspoon, however, as the safety sat out of practice for a third-straight day Thursday with a hamstring injury.

The Jets, who had already lost starter Mekhi Becton and Duane Brown prior to the season, placed another OT, George Fant (knee), on injured reserve Tuesday. LB Quincy Williams (high ankle sprain), the team’s second-leading tackler, has been ruled out, while cornerback Brandin Echols is listed as questionable.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.