Sunday, December 16, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Kickoff temperature: 32 degrees, 60% chance of snow
Line: Steelers by 3.5
Records: Jacksonville- 9-4, second place in the AFC South, Pittsburgh- 9-4, first place in the AFC North
Series notes: Jaguars lead all-time series, 10-8, and are winners of two in a row including last season when the Jaguars shut out Pittsburgh, 9-0 on Monday Night Football during week two.
Five most important things for the Jaguars:
1. Stop the pass. The Jaguars defense comes into Sunday's game ranked 27th
in the league against the pass. The Steelers have very capable receivers
and the fourth-rated quarterback in the league in Ben Roethlisberger. The
Jaguars need to reverse this year's trend of bad pass defense and keep the
Steelers under 240 yards passing.
2. Play snow-ball. The weather is likely to be poor and field conditions won't be favorable to outside runs, juking, or dancing. The Jaguars will have to take advantage of the conditions, as well as the absence of Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith and run directly at Pittsburgh and control the line of scrimmage. That will lead to their best chance of victory.
3. Win special teams. The Jaguars return men are explosive, and the Steelers coverage units are below average. The Jaguars need to make a big play in special teams, it's the only phase of the game where they have a decided advantage.
4. Don't Free Willie. Steelers running back Willie Parker leads the NFL in rushing with 1217 yards on the season, and Pittsburgh is 6-1 when Parker goes over 100 yards this season. If the Steelers can run the ball effectively, it will be a very long day for the Jaguars.
5. Cover Heath Miller in the red zone. Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller has caught six touchdowns this year and he is the Steelers best red zone threat. The Jaguars have had trouble covering tight ends this season and they must match-up against Miller if the Steelers get in the red zone.
1. Look for a big day from James Harrison. Harrison is quickly becoming
one of the most explosive linebackers in the league, and the match-up of
Harrison vs. Khalif Barnes strongly favors the Steelers.
2. Look for Garrard on the run. In recent weeks, the Jaguars have gone away from quarterback David Garrard running the football on designed draws or scrambles. If the Jaguars are going to pull an upset at Heinz Field, Garrard will have to make plays with his feet as well as with his arm.
3. Look for a lot of Jaguars runs to the right. The right side is the side which has been vacated due to Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith's injured bicep. Look for the Jaguars to challenge backup end Travis Kirschke as they run behind Tony Pashos.
4. Look for a Heath Miller touchdown. The Jaguars have done a poor job at covering tight ends, and Miller is one of the best. Look for Miller to get open often.
5. Look for a big play by Matt Jones. Yes, I said it--a big play by Matt Jones. Jones hasn't done much this year, but he has a flare for the dramatic. Jones has a giant height advantage against the Steelers cover men and I believe that he can make a big play.
The Steelers throw it better, they stop the pass better, they stop the run better, and they have a more established quarterback. The Steelers have a better kicker, who's used to kicking in nasty conditions, and they have a future hall-of-famer in Hines Ward. All signs point to a Pittsburgh victory, especially because the spread (Steelers by 3.5) says so. I'm abandoning all logic in this one and predicting an ugly, sloppy game in which the Jaguars find a way to get it done.
Final score- Jaguars 20, Steelers 17.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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