Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the key matchups in today's Jaguars-Steelers game.

RT Eben Britton vs. LOLB LaMarr Woodley

Woodley looked more explosive in Pittsburgh's Week 5 win over Tennessee than he had in his previous four games. The good news for him is Jacksonville represents Woodley's most favorable match-up to date. If he pounds away at Britton (whose off-season back surgery kept him out of Week 1 and he still doesn't look comfortable), he'll wear him down over the course of the game, setting up a dominant advantage in the second half.

Britton is going to have to find ways to slow Woodley down at the line, and keep his rookie quarterback's eyes clear. Along with getting help from TE Marcedes Lewis, Britton will have to control Woodley at the point of attack, and stay in front of him. Woodley likes to attack the tackle straight up, so Britton should be prepared for bull rushes for four quarters.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Blaine Gabbert

Polamalu has been outstanding in coverage so far this season. He's recently been playing off the weak side of the line in an effort to chase down the stretch plays Pittsburgh's opponents have been running at them. But in 3rd and long situations, Polamalu has dropped back and made plays on the ball. A few of them have been very close to interceptions, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get his hands on one today.

Gabbert is having a difficult time in his first season. Blitzes are confusing him, and he doesn't seem to be on the same page with his receivers. The result of that is Jacksonville's 270 yards per game average – last in the NFL. The Jaguars' plan in the passing game will be to keep it simple and quick, and to avoid Polamalu at all costs. He's going to have to complete passes to keep Polamalu away from RB Maurice Jones-Drew, and the rest of the Jaguars' 11th-ranked rushing attack (120.6 yards per game).

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Jags run defense

Jacksonville has defended the run well this season, one of the few highlights the 1-4 Jaguars have had. They recognize and pursue quickly to the ball, and tackle very well. The offseason acquisition of former Browns DE Matt Roth has helped their run defense, and they're getting fairly consistent performances out of their defensive line.

The Steelers had huge success in play-action last week, and will want to try to re-establish that with lots of power running early in the contest. Jonathan Dwyer rattled off a 76-yard run last week on a classic Steelers power running play, Mendenhall's bread-and-butter. He's said to have recovered from the hamstring injury that relegated him to emergency RB duty last week, and he'll be looking to join in the offensive resurgence in Pittsburgh.

NT Chris Hoke vs. C Brad Meester

Hoke played very well in Casey Hampton's absence last week, and the Steelers got the kind of performance fans are used to out of their run defense. After Titans RB Chris Johnson picked up 21 yards on his first carry, he was limited to 30 on his next 12 carries. Hoke was a big part of that, getting penetration on several stretch runs, blowing the play up in the backfield.

It's likely the Jaguars will employ the same zone running plays the Steelers' opponents have run against them this season, and in order to get Jones-Drew moving, Meester will have to force his assignment down the line. If not, the Jaguars offense will be stagnant.


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