Behind Enemy Lines: Steelers at Jaguars

JagNation editor-in-chief Charlie Bernstein asks Steelers team expert and SteelCityInsider.com publisher Jim Wexell some questions about this weeks matchup. Some of the issues discussed are the injuries to the Steelers offensive line, game plans, the health of Ben Roethlisberger, and climate.

1. Both the Steelers and the Jaguars have been decimated by injuries early on. Who will step in for Kendall Simmons this Sunday, and how much of a dropoff is it?

Kendall was injured late in the first half last week. Darnell Stapleton stepped into the RG spot in the second half and RALLIED the Steelers from a 13-3 deficit to the overtime win. Ha. There's some truth behind that joke, because many considered Simmons the weak link on the line. Kendall would probably include me in the "many" but, as has been pointed out, LG Chris Kemoeatu has had his problems, as have center Justin Hartwig and RT Willie Colon. However, Hartwig is an improvement over last year's center and Colon is playing out of position. If Stapleton or Trai Essex have a poor game at RG this week, Colon will be moved to his natural RG position over the bye week and Max Starks will play RT. Funny, people keep talking about injuries, but the second-stringers are equal in ability to the first-teamers -- maybe even better.

2. With the struggles of the Jacksonville secondary, do you believe that the Steelers will try to open the game up and set up the run with the pass?


Who knows what lurks in the mind of OC Bruce Arians. My guess is Mewelde Moore will have a big game. Again, people are pointing out that Moore is their 4th-team back, but really, Rashard Mendenhall was No. 2 because he was the No. 1 pick, and Carey Davis was No. 3 for really no good reason other than he was already on the field as the fullback. Moore was No. 4 only because Arians had him pegged as the third-down back, even though he didn't throw to him until the Ravens game was on the line. Moore should play all three downs and get 20-plus carries and 5-plus receptions as Ben tries to give his shoulder a rest (and his body) in relying on this underrated runner.

3. Special teams was an issue for Pittsburgh last season, but they certainly seemed like a much improved unit Monday night. Are the Steelers coverage units better this season?


The Steelers' coverage units are much better with Keyaron Fox and James Harrison coming up the gut and William Gay and Anthony Madison as gunners. They try to give Harrison, their best pass-rusher, as many kicks off as they can, but with Carey Davis and Andre Frazier out, the teams will likely need Harrison, particularly if the weather's not too hot in Jax Sunday night.

4. We believe Ben Roethlisberger is not only one of the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL, but also one of the very best. How banged up is Ben right now?


Ben just got a cortisone injection in his right shoulder, which has been sore since the opener. It has me worried. Otherwise, same ol bumps and bruises. Really, I'm more worried about him getting skittish with that line and those playcalls.

5. Backup wide receiver Dallas Baker is from my hometown of New Smyrna Beach, FL. How has he progressed, and do you believe that he can stick around in the league for a while?


Dallas will be one of those guys who'll be on the roster, off the roster, on the PS, off the PS. He's a hard-working, likeable guy who will always be on the team's speed dial, but right now he's biding time in front of Limas Sweed.

6. With the Jaguars power running game and the Steelers injuries on the line and in the backfield, it seems as if Jacksonville is more equipped to play in Pittsburgh's climate and vice versa. With the nice Florida weather help the Steelers offense get back on track?


The Steelers don't really perform well in hot weather. With Kemoeatu a sieve in pass pro, and Simmons being replaced by, well, anyone, this team must run the ball. And with FB Carey Davis injured, and the top two TEs sucking in Arians' fullback spot, the Steelers may be forced to use former Penn State fullback/pro TE Sean McHugh as a bulldozing power fullback in front of Mewelde Moore. This power game will occur in spite of Arians, and who knows? He may like what he sees this week and have patience with it.

7. What matchups in the Pittsburgh defense can the Jaguars take advantage of?


The Steelers are worried about that one play where Garrard drops back, waits until seven blockers hold their men, and then takes off through any of the many holes. Seriously, if you can get NT Chris Hoke out of the game, the Steelers' run defense will be without an anchor in the middle and you should be able to run the ball. Remember, Aaron Smith's playing Sunday night. So even with Casey Hampton out, you won't be able to run the ball like you did last year.

Jim Wexell is the publisher of SteelCityInsider.com. His new book "Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon" is available at PittsburghSportsPublishing.com.


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