Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That’s basically the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags entered the league as an expansion team in 1995 and made the playoffs in three of their first four seasons, losing in the AFC championship game twice. How sad is it that there are teams that have been around 30+ years (I’m looking at you, New Orleans) and haven’t accomplished half as much? In their 12 years of existence, Jacksonville has either finished second in their division or made the playoffs only to fall short of the Super Bowl six times. They just can’t win the big game.
The trend continues to the present. This year, the Jags had two shots at division rival Indianapolis and lost convincingly both times. Two years ago, the Jags played a banged up Patriots team and were blown out on Wild Card weekend. Last year, they missed the playoffs while finishing 8-8 but played a memorable Monday Night game against the defending champion Steelers where they won what can only charitably be described as a defensive slugfest, 9-0.
This week, the 9-4 Jags face the 9-4 Steelers at Heinz Field in a match-up of the AFC’s two best teams not led by a Peyton or a Tom.
Steelers Defense vs. Jaguars Offense
The Football Gods must hate the Steelers. This week, we learned DE Aaron Smith has a torn bicep and will be out for the season. Smith, our best run stopper, missed a couple games earlier this season. In those games, Pittsburgh’s defense got gashed by unheralded running backs, even allowing 100 yards to a back for the first time in over 2 seasons. So what do the Jags have on offense?
Only one of the best 1-2 Punches at running back in the entire NFL. Fred Taylor is the elder statesman, a speedy runner who just recently broke the 10,000 career rushing yards plateau. He’s complimented by Pocket Hercules, Maurice Jones-Drew, a diminutive back (5’7” tall) with okay speed but who’s shown toughness and big play ability, especially when he’s running on the perimeter. Last year, they embarrassed the Colts by rushing for over 100 yards EACH in a single game. I don’t think this can happen to the Steelers but without Smith in the line-up, I wouldn’t be surprised if one (or both) had very productive days.
The Jags’ aerial attack is led by QB David Garrard. Garrard replaces last year’s starter, Byron Leftwich, and his elusiveness and decision-making have made their passing game much better. Their top 3 WR’s are Ernest Wilford, Matt Jones, and Reggie Williams. The runt of the litter is Williams, who is a legit 6’4” tall and 230 pounds. Both Wilford and Jones are 6’6”. Jones, the fastest of the bunch, is really deadly running deep fades or go routes. Wilford has decent deep ball ability despite a lack of speed and poor hands. Williams, a former first round pick, has benefited the most by the change at quarterback. A forgotten man under Leftwich, Williams has emerged as the Jags top receiver this year by becoming Garrard’s go-to guy.
The height of their receivers is a concern because our corners, the Three Amigos of Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, and Deshea Townshend, aren’t particularly tall. And they (Ike especially) have occasionally shown a weakness when it comes to jump ball-type plays. However, I think they have the speed and coverage ability to stay with their receivers and if we can put pressure on Garrard to where he has to make short, quick throws, the passing game shouldn’t be too big of a problem. No pun intended.
Steelers Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
The Football Gods giveth, and the Football Gods taketh away. We lose Aaron Smith, the Jags this week announced they lost DE Marcus Stroud. The Jacksonville defense has revolved around the play of the DTs John Henderson and Stroud over the past few years. Stroud and Henderson are just two big, strong, athletic defensive tackles, in the 6’7” tall and 320 pound range. Are you sensing a pattern yet? How’d you like to pay for this team’s post-game meal spread?
Without Stroud, they‘ll have to make due with Henderson, Bobby McCray, Reggie Hayward, and Paul Spicer. Spicer is more a run stopper than a pass rusher, while McCray is better at rushing the quarterback. All said, they have a very solid line and linebacking corp which is going to make life very difficult for RB Willie Parker.
So, I’m sure you’re thinking, why not just throw the ball? Not so fast, pilgrim. Jaguars safety Rashean Mathis might be the best physical cornerback in the league. He’s not a shutdown corner by any means, but he’s a big guy that can tackle, has great hands, and always has his nose around the ball. He does struggle with speedsters, especially tall ones, as Terrell Owens gave him fits and Marvin Harrison wears him out like a cheap suit. But since the Steelers don’t have any tall receivers, that’s not much of an issue.
We do, however, have some speedsters. Santonio Holmes should play again this week after missing time with a high ankle sprain. I couldn’t tell last week how much it’s still bothering him but having his speed out there is crucial. The only other true burner we have is Nate Washington and I think we all saw last week that despite his blazing quickness, he suffers from the itty bitty little problem of not being able to catch the damn ball.
I’m sure Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remembers last year’s 9-0 game very well. It was his first start of the season after coming back from his Evel Knievel impersonation only to be struck down by appendicitis. Although backup Charlie Batch played a great game in week 1, and the Steelers had a bye in week 3, head coach Bill Cowher still decided to throw Ben out there where his 101 degree temperature and still-fresh stitches threatening to burst at the seams contributed to his worst performance ever as a pro. On Sunday, he finally gets a shot at redemption.
Topics: Aaron, Afc, AFC North, Cowboys, Cowher, Del Rio, Evel, Harrison, Holmes, Ike Taylor, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jaguars, Kneivel, Mathis, NFL, Parker, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Reshean, Roethlisberger, Smith, Steelers, Stroud, Taylor, Tomlin