Week 5 Preview: Steelers vs. Jagoffs

Cheaters!

San Diego Charger fans think they got the shaft?

Last season, Steeler Nation wept as a glorious season came to an abrupt and premature end at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The subsequent week, the Jagoffs embarrassed themselves against the New England Spycams Patriots.   This wasn’t really surprising since Jacksonville only managed to beat a badly banged-up Steeler team through the help of some of the most atrocious refereeing in playoff history.   The league’s Director of Officials even apologized afterwards, acknowledging the Jaguars horrific cheating led to their undeserving victory.  This was little consolation to Pittsburgh fans that had to sit through an entire off-season wondering what might have been.

The Jaguars were rebuilt under Jack Del Rio with the idea of getting, tall, big players on the roster at most of their positions. Guys like Marcus Stroud (now with Buffalo) and John Henderson are 6’8” tall. Matt Jones is a 6’6” wide receiver and Marcedes Lewis is 6’7” tight end. They had another 6’6” wide receiver in Ernest Wilford (now with Miami) and drafted 6’4” wide receiver Reggie Williams with the 10th overall pick.  With all that beef, the Jaguars got themselves a big quarterback in 6’4” 250 pound Byron Leftwich.

While Leftwich’s arm was enticing, he just simply could not reach his potential because he didn’t have very good pocket presence and his long delivery threw off his anticipation, something that is paramount for a QB in the NFL.  Del Rio made the bold move to give up on Leftwich, a former 8th overall pick, and go with unproven David Garrard.  The move paid off in spades for the Jaguars as Garrard, who is a big QB in his own right, had a tremendous season and far better than anything that Leftwich provided the team.  Despite a terrible performance in the playoffs, the team felt going into the season that it’s only a WR and a pass rusher away from becoming a Super Bowl contender.

Unfortunately, this season has seen Jacksonville stumble out of the gate with a 2-2 record.  A combination of a mediocre receiving corp and D-coordinators learning how to game plan Garrard has led to new challenges on offense.  Plus, they still can’t manage to get by the Indianapolis Colts.

STEELER DEFENSE vs. JAGUARS OFFENSE

Jacksonville runs a West Coast offense, but a unique one in that they do like to go deep with the passing game and love to run the ball up the middle. In fact, the past two seasons they have ran the ball up the middle close to 69% of the time. The NFL average is 51% of the time. Most West Coast Offenses run up the middle only about 40% of the time.

The big part of their offense is their running backs, perhaps the best tandem in the league.  They’re almost the perfect compliment to each other with Fred Taylor being the every down back whose size and speed make him a ferocious guy to tackle while Maurice Jones-Drew is the smaller, speedier, big play back who can do it all, be it run the ball, returns, receiving, etc.

Obviously, this game will be no different than last year’s regular season debacle where both backs rushed for 100 yards EACH against the Steelers vaunted run defense.  Of course, that Steeler team was missing DE Aaron Smith, who is very clearly the main man along the defensive line.  We will be playing with backups at the other end and NT but the key to run stopping will still be Smith.  We did a good job of bottling up Ravens RB Willis Mcgahee last week but started to falter against his backup late in the game.  The Jags will keep coming at us with Fast Freddie and Pocket Hercules so expect a lot of run-blitzes and the like as stopping the running game will be the priority.  It’s not like we have to fear QB David Garrad beating us.

The biggest knock on Garrard has been his conservative nature.  They clearly tried to protect him and turn him into a “game manager” last year.  Not that being conservative is necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t lead to a lot of passing touchdowns, although it also doesn’t lead to too many turnovers.  Still, he averaged a lousy 27 passing attempts a game last year and in the QB driven NFL, that isn’t going to cut it.  He only had 3 picks last season and already has 4 this year which is a sign both that they’re trying to open up the offense and that he’s not ready to be put into a position to win games with his arm.

To be fair, he doesn’t have much to work with as the receivers are not much to brag about, other than Mercedes Lewis, who shows some potential. Matt Jones hasn’t made the transition to WR very well. He seems fast, but not very quick and takes awhile to get going full speed.  The guy who has scary potential is Troy Williamson whose size and speed gets him great separation, but he doesn’t understand the nuances of the game and has horrible hands.  I’ve never been a Reggie Williams fan. He just lacks separation and is not great at catching passes in closed quarters.  Key off-season pick up Jerry Porter has always been overrated. Scouts love his size and speed. But the fact is he’s never had 1,000 receiving yards in a season.  Plus he has a history of injury problems and has already missed time this year crying about some boo-boos.

Between CBs Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, and returning Deshea Townshend we should be more than ready to control their passing game.  Unless the running game begins to gash us, I honestly don’t see Garrard passing for more than 100 yards against our smothering secondary and hostile linebackers.

STEELER OFFENSE vs. JAGUARS DEFENSE

The Jags play a standard 4-3 Cover 2 with the pass rush being almost exclusively generated by the D-Line with fast cover linebackers and rarely blitzing. They decided after the Patriots playoff embarrassment that they desperately needed to get more pressure on the QB if they were going to take the team to the next level, so they traded up to get DE Derrick Harvey out of Florida.  His presence should give DEs Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward some rest so they can be more effective.  John Henderson is still a stud and Rob Meier is a high motor guy who gets to the QB pretty well. That being said, they did miss old Marcus Stroud as the team finished 28th in defending runs up the middle.

Of course, running is going to be a problem for the Steelers since they’re down to 3rd down back Mewelde Moore, practice squad fodder Gary Russell, and the Dumptruck Najeh Davenport in the backfield.  It would be nice to make this a low-scoring smash mouth type game but I honestly can’t see the Steelers trying to grind out drives with such a hideous selection of backs.  Plus, we’ve seen O-coordinator Bruce Arians is a pass-happy fool and this gives him a good excuse to chuck the ball 35 times.

Unfortunately, the Jags do have some quality starting corners. I like Rashean Mathis, even though his pass defense stats are not great, he’s got a habit of making picks. Brian Williams is very solid opposite of him. They had problems last year with the nickel corner as Aaron Glenn didn’t have anything left in the tank, so they brought in Drayton Florence to help them out.  Reggie Nelson had his growing pains, but showed some flashes of brilliance and has the potential to be an All Pro some day.

Without sounding like a broken record, the entire passing game will be predicated on keeping Ben Roethlisberger vertical long enough to go vertical.  Last week, they didn’t do as bad a job as it seemed.  A bunch of the offensive disarray seemed to be Ben holding on to the ball and running around looking for a big play long after he should’ve made the quick read and got rid of it.  I don’t think the Jags pass rusher is near as ferocious as Baltimore’s but I actually think their secondary might be a tad better.  How this will play out is anybody’s guess.  I would like to see the Steelers go back to the three-step-THROW offense they ran week one against Houston.  When they went no-huddle last week, the offense came alive and I think that’s because Ben doesn’t do hot reads unless they’re running an up-tempo offense.

Playing Jacksonville in October is fitting since they’ve been a House of Horrors for the Steelers as of late.  There was the horrific showing two years ago when Ben’s brains were still scrambled from the motorcycle accident and his body hadn’t recovered from spleen removal.  Last year, we got run over at home.  Then there was the screw job in the playoffs.  I have no idea what fate awaits us this week.  I just hope the game doesn’t end 6-3 due to a last second field goal when the ref calls a phantom pass intereference penalty on Troy Polamalu.

Next Steelers Game View full schedule »
Sunday, Sep 2121 Sep8:30at Carolina PanthersBuy Tickets

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