Saturday, January 5, 2008, 8:00 p.m.
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Kickoff Temperature: 44 degrees, 30% chance of precipitation
Line: Jaguars by 1
Records: Jacksonville- 11-5, second place in the AFC South, Pittsburgh 10-6, AFC North Champions
Series Notes: Jaguars lead the all-time series 11-8. Jaguars have won three in a row including a 29-22 thriller last month at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh offense: 17th overall (22nd passing, 3rd rushing); Scoring- T9th- 24.6 ppg. Vs. Jacksonville defense: 12th overall (15th passing, 11th rushing); Scoring- 10th- 19.0 ppg.
As the statistics clearly show, Pittsburgh loves to run the football on offense, and they have done it very well with the talented duo of Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Parker broke his leg a couple weeks ago in a game against St. Louis, and he, along with the 1316 yards rushing he racked up this season will be unavailable. Davenport has been a nice backup for the Steelers, as he's averaged 4.7 yards per carry to go along with his five touchdowns this season.
Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers signal caller and he has rebounded in a big way from a tough 2006 campaign. Roethlisberger set franchise records in 2007 by passing for 3154 yards, 32 touchdowns, and the second-best quarterback rating in the NFL at 104.1. Roethlisberger can do it all as a quarterback, as he can throw the out, throw the ball short with accuracy, throw the long ball, and move in and out of the pocket, and his stellar 2007 campaign has earned him another trip to the Pro Bowl.
When the Steelers air it out, their primary target is former Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward. Ward leads the team with 71 receptions and seven touchdowns, and makes all the tough catches in traffic. Ward is also one of the best blocking receivers in the entire league. The Steelers best deep threat is Santonio Holmes, who has averaged 18.1 yards per catch, and led the team with 942 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Tight end Heath Miller is a great red-zone target as he's caught 47 passes this season and seven touchdowns. Nate Washington and Cedric Wilson are both average to above average receivers.
Pittsburgh often likes to throw the football early to get leads, then pound opponents on the ground to put them away. The Steelers main weapon in this game could be tight end Heath Miller, as he's one of the very best receiving tight ends in the game, and the Jaguars have had big problems covering tight ends effectively this season. Miller caught just two balls for 24 yards in the last meeting between these two teams, but one of which was a touchdown. Jacksonville must get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger like they did in the previous meeting to have a legitimate chance to disrupt the timing of the Pittsburgh passing game.
Jacksonville offense: 7th overall (17th passing, 2nd rushing); Scoring- 6th- 25.7 ppg. Vs. Pittsburgh defense: 1st overall (3rd passing, 3rd rushing); Scoring- 2nd- 16.8 ppg.
The Jaguars are all about running the football, but Jacksonville has found an effective passing game to balance out the offense since David Garrard returned from injury. Garrard finished 2007 as the league's third-ranked passer with a 101.9 rating, and Fred Taylor finished his season by going over 100 yards for five consecutive games and is playing the best football of his illustrious career. Reggie Williams has turned into the Jaguars big play receiver in the passing game as he's set a new Jaguars franchise record by catching 10 touchdown passes. The Jacksonville offense set new franchise records in 2007 for most points scored (411), most touchdowns (50), and most touchdowns passing (28).
The Pittsburgh front three consists of Pro Bowler Casey Hampton at nose tackle, along with Brett Keisel and either Travis Kirschke on the outside. Kirschke is the replacement for defensive end Aaron Smith, who went down for the season with a torn biceps injury. The Steelers get a great pass rush from outside linebacker James Harrison, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level as evidenced by his 98 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and seven forced fumbles. Opposite Harrison is Clark Haggans, who has chipped in with 58 tackles and four sacks. Starters on the inside for Pittsburgh are James Farrior and Larry Foote. Off the bench the Steelers sub-in rookies Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers secondary is headed by Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has missed the last three games with a knee sprain. At the free safety spot is Tyrone Carter, who has filled in for the ineffective Anthony Smith. Pittsburgh has a solid set of corners in Ike Taylor and veteran DeShea Townsend. Taylor and Townsend have combined for five interceptions this season.
The Jaguars offense must find a way to gain positive yardage on early downs to stay out of third and long situations which the Pittsburgh defense thrives. The Jaguars must find a way to block James Harrison, because he is quickly becoming one of the very best linebackers in the game. Jacksonville needs to run the ball right at Pittsburgh just as they did approximately three weeks ago to open up big plays in the passing game.
Steelers kickoff return- 21st (22.1 ypr.); punt return- 30th (6.1 ypr.); punting- 18th (42.4 gross); net punting- 17th (38.5 avg.); kickoff coverage- 16th (22.6 ypr. allowed); punt coverage- 14th (8.6 ypr allowed)
Jaguars kickoff return- 13th (23.3 ypr.); punt return- 8th (10.1 ypr.); punting- 25th (41.6 gross); net punting- T24th (37.6 avg.); kickoff coverage- 4th (19.7 ypr. allowed); punt coverage- 11th (7.8 ypr. allowed)
Steelers: PK Jeff Reed , P Daniel Sepulveda, LS Greg Warren, KR/PR Allen Rossum.
Reed is 23/25 on field goals with a long of 49 yards. Rossum is averaging 23.3 yards per return on kickoffs, and 6.4 yards per punt return.
Scobee is 12/13 on field goals with a long of 48 yards. Jones-Drew is averaging 26.2 yards per kickoff return. Northcutt is averaging 9.2 yards per punt return.
Special teams have been a big concern for the Jaguars of late. In the game at Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, they failed to convert on two extra point attempts, and rookie punter, Adam Podlesh averaged just 29 yards per punt. To make matters worse, the Jaguars came into last Sunday's game at Houston with the best kickoff coverage team in the NFL, and allowed not one but two kickoffs returned for touchdowns. The Jaguars special teams need to step up in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.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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