1. stillerfreak: With the weather and field conditions expected to be poor Sunday (28 degrees, wind and snow) do you expect the Jags to try to establish the run early with Fred Taylor running between the tackles?
The Jaguars always try to establish the run regardless of the conditions, that's their offensive identity and what they do best. Expect to see quite a bit of Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew early and often, as well as some bootlegs and passes to the tight ends.
2. labguy1: I'd be curious to hear your take on the Jags' wideouts. They invested some early picks in bigger guys and took Matt Jones on his workout and potential, so what is his opinion of their production and growth to this point? Busts? Still works in progress?
The Jaguars' wide receivers are solid, but unspectacular. Reggie Williams has turned into a big-play guy as he likes to work over the middle and has the ability to break tackles. Dennis Northcutt has been a solid possession guy for the Jaguars and he can occasionally get open for a big play. Ernest Wilford is clearly a possession receiver and David Garrard's favorite third-down option. Matt Jones has all the physical skills that anyone would want in a wide receiver, but he often lacks effort and heart. Rookie John Broussard has been injured for much of the season, but he is a legitimate deep threat when on the field.
The Jaguars' receivers as a whole are much improved, but nobody will confuse them with Pro Bowl players. They remind me somewhat of the group that Tom Brady had prior to this season --all very solid; none spectacular.
3. 2mdPittFan: David Garrard has looked pretty solid this season. Do you think he can handle the amount of confusion the Steelers create on defense before and during the snap?
Good question. Garrard played well against both San Diego and Indianapolis' defenses, which are similar in the fact that they both disguise their coverages and blitzes very well (even though one is a 3-4 team and the other a 4-3 team). Pittsburgh has a much better defense than either team, so it will really be something that we'll have to wait until Sunday to find out. With the Jaguars' offensive game plan usually being very conservative, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will likely put Garrard into situations where they won't try too much.
The loss of Stroud and Hayward won't make too much difference in the run defense, as Stroud hasn't been the same player for at least two years, and Hayward is more of a pass rusher than run stopper. In fact, during Stroud's four-game suspension, the Jaguars' defense improved eight spots in run defense and two places overall despite facing four teams with winning records. If anything, the Steelers will have a much easier time throwing the ball without the threat of Hayward rushing the passer.
5. Tyranid: I'm used to Jacksonville being the type of physical team the Steelers were under Bill Cowher. But I was a bit shocked seeing the box score against Tennessee. I didn't watch the game, but how were that many rushing yards put on the board? Was it a fluke? How does the more finesse Steelers team now match up against Jacksonville?
I would hate to say that the Tennessee game was more or less a fluke, because they certainly gashed the interior of the Jaguars' defense, but the Jaguars haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since. The Titans came in with a college-style spread offense and the Jaguars were keying on Vince Young. Young simply took two steps to his right or left, then handed the ball off (misdirection) and the middle of the field was wide open to run. The Jaguars have since made adjustments and are now eighth in the league in run defense.
Teams that have found success against the Jaguars' defense have found it when they've spread them out and threw the football. Jacksonville hasn't been able to sustain very much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and the good QBs in the league, like Ben Roethlisberger, have picked them apart. The more finesse Steelers will have a better shot throwing the ball Sunday, unless the weather doesn't comply.
6. Tyranid: Being a UCLA alum and an avid follower of Pac-10 football, I've been a fan of Maurice Jones-Drew for a long time. How does the Jacksonville offense change when he's in there? Are there situational substitutions that bring Drew in or is it just based on how winded Fred Taylor is?
Jones-Drew plays almost exclusively on third down, and the team subs him in and out throughout the course of the game. If Taylor has a long run, then Jones-Drew is subbed in. If Jones-Drew runs for a big gain, then it's Fred's turn. Jones-Drew is the main running back in goal-line situations as well, due to his north-south running style and his short, powerful frame.
7. Tyranid: Does Jacksonville have deep speed at WR to take advantage of the backup Steelers Ss on play-action, fake screen-passes, etc. like NE did?
The only Jaguars receiver with deep speed is rookie John Broussard, and he's played in just eight games this season and has only four catches. Jacksonville/s passing game is certainly more horizontal than vertical.
8. phillysteelfan: Do you agree that the Jacksonville defense is more vulnerable to the pass and that the Steelers may be better off if they come out and spread them out and use the pass early on to set up the run?
The numbers don't lie, and the Jaguars have the 27th ranked defense against the pass. If I were the offensive coordinator of any team, I would throw the ball to set up the run against the Jaguars.
9. VandilayIndustries: How much of the Jags' success this year do you attribute to Garrard as opposed to the WRs finally "getting it"?
Almost all of the Jaguars' offensive success should be attributed to Garrard. He has made strides as a quarterback that nobody in Jacksonville thought was even possible, based upon the way he finished last season. Garrard has always had the physical tools, but he couldn't read a defense, and couldn't go through his progressions prior to this year. With some hard work and good coaching from Mike Shula and Koetter, Garrard has transformed himself into one of the top 10 NFL quarterbacks and it doesn;t appear as if he'll regress.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.