The Steelers will face an aging Michael Vick as they try to extend their win streak to four games Sunday against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Steelers aren’t taking the 12-year veteran lightly as they try to keep pace with Cincinnati in the AFC North. They are fully aware that Vick is still potentially slippery, especially if the safeties are caught out of position.
With Troy Polamalu nursing an injured knee, the responsibility of keeping Vick in check falls on his replacement, 11-year veteran Will Allen, and free safety Mike Mitchell. However, it’s Mitchell’s role that’s likely to change against the struggling Jets (1-8).
“I might get to blitz more,” said Mitchell, who has a team-high two forced fumbles. “I’m decent at it, but Troy is great at it. Obviously, with Troy out it changes my role a little bit.
“Some of the X-factor goes away because offenses have a tough time accounting for what Troy does because he moves around so well. Will and I must move around and create tricky ways to disguise our defenses and where we’re coming from.
“It doesn’t matter where either of us plays because we’re interchangeable,” Mitchell added. “Will is a super smart guy who knows the defense very well.”
Mitchell will be forced to adjust his game just as he and Polamalu were beginning to jell. But he doesn’t expect any communication problems with Allen, in part because they worked together during OTAs.
“Anytime you lose a Hall of Fame player, your defense isn’t going to get any better,” Mitchell said. “So, I think it’s a fair assessment for the Jets to think we’re vulnerable without Troy.
“It’s going to be a little bit easier with Will than it was with Troy because we spent four months working together when Troy wasn’t here. When (Allen) got into the (Baltimore) game, it was just like OTAs. I’m very comfortable working with him.”
Allen is comfortable playing with Mitchell, too. And defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn’t stressing having Allen on the field.
“All those guys in the defensive room know they’re going to be in the game and playing the majority of the snaps,” LeBeau said Thursday. “Everywhere (Allen) has been, he’s done the job.”
“I’ll play with anybody. I don’t care,” Allen said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do to make (Mitchell) feel comfortable. I’ll let him do what he does best, and I’ll play off him and he can play off me.”
Allen lined up for only six snaps in the first eight games before Polamalu went down late in the second quarter of a 43-23 win over the Ravens on Sunday at Heinz Field. He totaled 40 snaps against Baltimore and was credited with four tackles and a pressure of quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw 38 passes in the second half.
The Jets’ 25th-ranked offense might be predictable, but Vick remains an unpredictable threat.
“Vick doesn’t run as much. If anything, he’s gained more knowledge,” said Allen, who started nine games the past two seasons with the Steelers and Dallas. “He used to torch us when I played in Tampa Bay.”
The Jets would rather lean on a ground game powered by Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory, who had a season-high 107 yards in a 27-25 loss to New England three weeks ago. However, Vick will probably test Allen with deep balls to receiver Percy Harvin, who had 11 catches for 129 yards against Kansas City on Sunday.
“You never know what to expect with Dick LeBeau,” Vick said. “This is a solid, old-school, we’re-going-to-come-after-you defense. They are going to pose problems, but I’m lucky enough that I can still pose problems.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].