Steelers ready to move mountains

The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't won a playoff game this decade, but few teams, if any, confound the Steelers as they do. In their last three games against the Jaguars, the Steelers have won by two points (2002), one point (2004) and lost in overtime (2005). Why?

The Jacksonville Jaguars match up with the Pittsburgh Steelers because they can stop the run. It's no coincidence they've overachieved against the run-oriented Steelers since drafting 6-6, 306-pound Marcus Stroud with the 13th pick of the 2001 draft and 6-7, 325-pound John Henderson with the ninth pick of the 2002 draft.

The two defensive tackles have combined for four Pro Bowl appearances and last year spearheaded the best run-stopping performance against the Steelers in 2005.

The Steelers gained only 2.4 yards per carry in the overtime loss, and after the game Jacksonville crowed about its defensive tackles, Henderson in particular. The Jaguars felt his performance against Steelers guard Alan Faneca was the difference in the game.

"I don't think that's a true statement, but he is a good player," said Faneca. "It is going to be a hard day's work. They've got some big guys up front and they play hard and physical like us. You're not going to see too many big runs. It's going to be a smash-it-out, try-and-get-a-couple-here-and-there game."

Last year against the Jaguars the Steelers gained only 73 yards on 30 carries. Last week the Jaguars allowed 88 yards to the Dallas Cowboys with Stroud playing only half the game with an ankle injury. He's questionable tonight, but practiced late in the week and is expected to play.

Stroud's replacement last week, Rob Meier, will start at defensive end in place of Reggie Hayward, the Jaguars' sack leader in 2005. The Jaguars' other defensive end, Paul Spicer, is questionable with a groin injury but is also expected to play, as is the questionable middle linebacker Mike Peterson (knee).

The Steelers could barely budge the Jaguars' defensive line last season and then were burned in overtime by the secondary when quarterback Tommy Maddox was intercepted by Rashean Mathis, who returned the interception 41 yards for a touchdown.

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play quarterback tonight for the Steelers and Mathis is the man to watch.

"He's a great corner," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward. "He takes chances. That's how you get picks sometimes. He's a veteran with decent speed, decent size and he knows the game. You have to be very conscious of running your routes the way you're supposed to. He watches a lot of film and sometimes he jumps things based on tendencies. He reads combination routes, so if a tight end does this he'll sit on certain stuff based on our tendencies. Last year he did that. He read a route from the tree and bit on the curl and right when Tommy was ready to throw it he was already breaking on it."

Defensively, the Steelers will concentrate their efforts on stopping old nemesis Fred Taylor. The 30-year-old halfback missed last year's game with an ankle injury, but Taylor has rushed for 676 yards in eight career games against the Steelers and will start tonight. He set the Three Rivers Stadium rushing record with a 234-yard game in 2000 and has scored eight career touchdowns against the Steelers, the most he's scored against any team.

Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich lost go-to receiver Jimmy Smith prior to the season, but is working with three tall, young receivers who combined for 14 catches in their opener. Ernest Wilford (6-4, 218) and Reggie Williams (6-4, 214) are third-year pros and Matt Jones (6-6, 238) is in his second year.

"You've got to get your head around because these guys do a great job of positioning themselves on defenders and Byron does a good job of putting the ball where they can make plays," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher.

"If you don't get your head around, these guys will just pluck it over your head. You've got to get in position so you can see the ball and you have a chance to go up and minimize their height advantage so that you have a chance to play the ball just like they do."

The 12-4 Jaguars made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, and they believe they've picked up from where they left off.

"We are not just the two tackles," said Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio. "They are both great players, but we are more. We have some good football players here and I think the more we get opportunities to play against great teams like we do this week, the more people will get an opportunity to form their own opinions."


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