The Steelers are coming off a very solid win last week against the then surging Tennessee Titans. The Steelers improved their performance on both sides of the ball. The running game found some life, the offensive line protected Ben and the defense clogged up the run and continued to shut down the passing game. Confidence is increasing all around Steelers Nation, but many are still unsure who this team really is this season (myself included). The next two contests are against 1-4 teams, but the Steelers sometimes have a tendency to ‘play down’ to their competition. Dom is certainly right in his post, the Steelers need to avoid having this game turn into a ‘trap game.’
The only addition to the players who are ‘out’ for this Sunday is Marcus Gilbert. The team wants to be careful with their young investment and did not have him practice or suit up this week. The other injuries to the team are the same as last week:
Casey Hampton (shoulder)
Aaron Smith (foot)
James Harrison (eye)
Chris Kemoeatu (knee)
Mewelde Moore (ankle)
With Mewelde Moore out, Jonathan Dwyer will probably become the 3rd down back. Rashard Mendenhall is back in the lineup and starting. That means Redman is back with his role of subbing in for Mendenhall when he needs a breather. I would hope (but sincerely doubt) that Arians and Tomlin will have a short leash on Mendy. A hamstring is always a nagging injury (just ask Foster of the Texans), and he could have a hard time getting back to full speed this week. With Kemoeatu and now Gilbert out, Jonathan Scott must fill in and will do so on the right side.
There are three key injuries for the Jags this week. The two biggest are on defense. Starting OLB Clint Session is out with an elbow injury and RCB Derek Cox is doubtful with a groin injury. Session is in his 5th season but in his first with the Jags. His injury puts strain on an already thin linebacker core. Derek Cox would more than likely have lined up against Brown/Sanders. This certainly helps the chances of Big Ben finding someone deep down field. Even if Cox plays, you have to doubt that with a groin injury he will have the speed to keep up with anyone with quickness. RG Jason Spitz is out with a quad injury. He is only a backup, but like Session his injury puts a strain on the bench.
Tomlin’s main focus of the week will be how to stop MJD. Pocket Hercules has surged in the past couple of weeks and is always dangerous. Tomlin says that B-Mac is still trying to get back to 100%. Curious that he’s not on any injury report, so what does he mean? Could the “100%” mean playing up to standards? Tomlin seems very happy with the way that Lewis and Gay have stepped up, and it’s a good problem to have. Tomlin is happy with Timmons’ play on the outside while filling in for Harrison. Even though Mendy is coming back, Tomlin did say that they would see how practice would go and if that would lead there to be split time between the three backs. Tomlin had some very interesting insight with rookie players especially those at the quarterback position – just young men being able to seize an opportunity (Gabbert being one of them). He feels the Jags have done an ok job with managing Gabbert – no a limited playbook but still keeping him out of ‘hot spots.’ The most curios statement from Tomlin ‘when [Gay and Lewis] step up when given an opportunity and play at a high level, then we’re not going to fix it if it’s not broken.’ So what about the running game wasn’t broken prior to Redman and Dwyer stepping up?
The return of Aaron Kampman is hitting the headlines pretty hard down in Jacksonville. One of their feature DE’s, Kampman suffered an injury back in week 8 last season. He is expected to have limited time this Sunday – roughly 15-20 snaps. Rashean Mathis is also high on the radar. The corner leads his team in interceptions and always has big games against the Steelers. Mathis’ three touchdowns from interceptions all have come against the Steelers. Mathis is a good shutdown corner – he kept an explosive Steve Smith to only 15 yards when the Jags faced off against the Panthers. To say the least, he could be a pain in the ass for Wallace. Mathis has had mixed results with other receivers – he was burned against a Bengals rookie wideout this season. But expect him to be aggressive against one of the fastest human beings in the NFL.
Coach Tomlin hung up on the Jacksonville media the other day. Turns out he didn’t appreciate them harping on the 2008 playoff loss. They say sour milk, Tomlin says it’s old news. I agree with Tomlin. That was four years ago. Careful Jacksonville, you’re starting to sound like Seattle…. and you WON that game in 2008.
This is a critical game for both teams. The Steelers desperately need to keep the momentum going and not fall into a drowsy state after that win against the Titans. The Jags desperately need to right the ship or it’s curtains for del Rio later on this season. The game will be decided in the trenches once again. Both teams will be looking to establish the running game – whomever stops whom will be set up nicely for the win. If the Steelers offensive line can continue its good play from last week, this should actually be a fairly easy contest. If the Jags can’t get to Big Ben and can’t stop the run, then it will be a fairly big blowout. I see it being a bit of a back and forth game, but the Steelers D will keep the Jags out of the endzone for the most part.
Final score Steelers 24 Jags 13
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