Jacksonville defense: 12th overall (15th passing, 11th rushing); Scoring- 10th- 19.0 ppg.
Jacksonville offense: 7th overall (17th passing, 2nd rushing); Scoring- 6th- 25.7 ppg.
Pittsburgh defense: 1st overall (3rd passing, 3rd rushing); Scoring- 2nd- 16.8 ppg.
"Offensively, they've got an outstanding quarterback who's really had a great year. I know that Willie Parker is down for them, but Najeh Davenport has done a nice job stepping in. He looks like a very solid replacement."
Defensively, the statistics once again don't tell the entire story when it comes to the Steelers. Although Pittsburgh finished with the top overall defensive ranking, they allowed 28.5 points per game in their final four contests. During that stretch, the Steelers defense allowed an average of 373 total yards while going 1-3. One of the main reasons for the major dropoff in play has been the season ending biceps injury to defensive end Aaron Smith. Smith is one of those rare defensive ends who can both rush the passer and play the run very effectively. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio shrugged off the Steelers lack of effectiveness over the final quarter of the season– "I think statistics, particularly late when you basically have your spot sewn up, I'm not sure I put a lot of stock into that kind of stuff. I know when you put on the tape, you see talented players, you see challenging design with the schemes and what they're doing. To me, it's a big challenge for us. We're going to do what we can to understand the strengths and make sure we are prepared to handle the problems that they can present. They are numerous."
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.
Jack Del Rio was asked if his team's recent success against Pittsburgh (three consecutive victories) factors in at all to this particular matchup–
"No, nothing from before is going to factor in, in my opinion; you get an opportunity to go compete. Things that occurred in the past, good and bad, will be left in the past unless you can somehow manage to get me a few points on the scoreboard before we can start, I'll take them. But beyond that it's going to start zero-zero, we'll play for 60 minutes and more if need be. We're going to put forth the best effort we can and spend the week preparing for that opportunity."
The Jaguars will attempt to do what no other team has done before–win twice in Pittsburgh in the same season. The Jaguars head coach was asked what he thought about the feat–
"I've heard that. I started hearing that. Somebody came up with that stat and then now it's being circulated. I think what's great about sports is that when you compete in athletics, there are a lot of things that come up like that are talked about before that have no bearing on the outcome of the game. Certainly the Steelers heard all about that. We were playoff entrants with them. We got knocked out, they went on and won the whole thing. So, the whole time they were being told they couldn't do it, why they couldn't and nobody had ever done it. I just don't think you can get caught up in that kind of stuff. Obviously, we're respectful of the history of this game and it's always nice to read and hear and learn about different things like that, but the team that goes out and plays the best football is going to advance and the team that doesn't is going to sit home."
Although the Jaguars finished the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league before treating their season finale in Houston as little more than a dress rehearsal, they lack big game experience, especially at the quarterback position. David Garrard was inserted into the Jaguars playoff game in New England two years ago for some mop-up duty, and faced a prevent defense that had already sewn that particular game up. The Jaguars head coach was asked if Garrard's inexperience would be a factor-- "At this point it's an unknown. Obviously Ben (Roethlisberger) had that two years ago and now he's considered an experienced guy, but it certainly didn't deter him from playing outstanding football and leading that team to a championship. So I think that's an unknown. You get to find out starting Saturday night."
The Jaguars team, as a whole, lacks postseason experience, due to the playoff drought that the franchise has faced, as this will be just their second January game in the last eight years. Del Rio talked about his preparation for what could be an over-exuberant team–
"As a team I think we want to understand, yes, the magnitude of the game, the importance of the game, it is more important because it's a single elimination tournament. But how you prepare to play well and how you go about playing well remains the same - fundamentally sound, have your eyes where they belong, block and tackle, your basic things, better than the other guy. That's what it comes down to, is execution. I think that we have a core of guys that were here a couple years ago that were … We were trailing 7-3 in the middle of the third quarter (at New England). We eventually lost that game, but certainly I think they have experience, they understand. We want to draw from some of that experience and be better this time out."
As kickoff approaches for the Jaguars, they will have to put aside their big game inexperience and play solid football. The football gods may have smiled upon them somewhat as they're ready to face a Pittsburgh Steelers team which is extremely undermanned on offense and defense, and playing their worst football entering the postseason. If Jacksonville can take care of the football and continue their physical imposition over these Steelers, it is likely that they'll notch their first playoff victory since January 16, 2000.
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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