Key Match-ups: Steelers-Jaguars

Neal Coolong looks at the key match-ups between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars

The Coolong Archive
Week 14: @ Patriots
Week 13: v. Bengals
Week 12: v. Dolphins
Week 11: @ Jets
Week 10: v. Browns
Week 9: v. Ravens
Week 8: @ Bengals
Week 7: @ Broncos
Week 6: Bye
Week 5: v. Seahawks
Week 4: @ Cardinals
Week 3: v. 49ers
Week 2: v. Bills
Week 1: @ Browns
ILBs Larry Foote and James Farrior vs. RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew

Foote said it the best this week, sometimes, a defense can just lose Jones-Drew. Most teams usually pick him up when they read the length of his last name as he scampers down field. He off-sets Taylor's power, as the 11-year veteran is having a career year. Together, they make up perhaps the best 1-2 rushing combination in the NFL. MJD is a bit quicker, Taylor is a bit stronger, but both of them run inside and out, and the Jaguars lead the AFC in rushing yards with 1,870.

Foote and Farrior are formidable run-stoppers for the AFC's best rush defense. They've given up 944 yards on the ground going into Sunday, which is the exact amount Taylor has gained this season. It is crucial for Foote and Farrior to stay disciplined in their pursuit, as both Taylor and MJD have excellent cut-back skills, and a nose for the big play – Taylor had an 80-yard touchdown run last week against Carolina, the longest of his career. The Steelers need to be wary of both backs as receiving options as well. The Jacksonville duo has 38 catches between them.

FS Anthony Smith vs. QB David Garrard

It's probably a safe bet to think the Jaguars will test Smith after he was burned deep twice by New England last week. Once was on a hard play-fake, the other, a wide receiver throwback pass on which Smith allowed a receiver behind him. Smith is very strong in run support, but he will have to stay disciplined, given Garrard's accuracy and precision (he's the NFL's third-rated passer at 103.3). With the amount of running plays the Jaguars call, it's going to be tempting to try to sell Smith on a play fake.

Garrard has provided a great deal of stability to the quarterback position, something the Jaguars haven't had since the days of Mark Brunell. Head coach Jack Del Rio probably earned himself a contract extension based on his decision to jettison veteran and former 7th pick overall Byron Leftwich in favor of Garrard. That decision has paid handsomely, as Garrard has one interception in 10 starts to go along with 13 touchdowns. He's the perfect keeper of the offense in Jacksonville, and his 65 percent completion rate helps back off the safeties, which in turn lets the Jags continue to pound their opponent into submission on the ground.

WR Santonio Holmes vs. CB Brian Williams

This is perhaps Pittsburgh's biggest mismatch advantage. Williams is a bigger, stronger corner than average, but like many corners, he does not possess the top-end speed to cover Holmes deep down the field. The Jaguars' aggression in the secondary leads to big pass plays (20th in the NFL, giving up 7.06 yards per attempt), and with safety Reggie Nelson (four interceptions) listed as questionable, Pittsburgh might take a look deep down the field – something they haven't been able to use much the last few weeks.

Williams is one of several playmakers in the Jaguars' secondary. Nelson is one of the best rookies in the NFL, and, along with veteran Sammie Knight, make up a very opportunistic deep coverage tandem. This affords Williams with some room to try to make a big play. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, and if back-up QB Charlie Batch is playing, it might lessen Pittsburgh's ability to come up with a deep pass. If they do, Williams is going to have to be careful with the deceptively fast Holmes outside the numbers.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Reggie Williams

Patriots WR Randy Moss had a monster game against the Steelers (seven catches, 135 yards and two touchdowns, he dropped a third), but much of it came on a 63-yard touchdown pass where Taylor had deep help. Smith bit badly on a play-fake, and wasn't within 10 yards of Moss when he caught it. Taylor shadowed Moss all game (the first time he has done that), and played well overall.

Williams is not Moss, but possesses the same size, and Garrard looks his way more than any other Jaguars receiver. While the Jags attack primarily on the ground, they have to be implementing more of a passing plan against the Steelers considering how susceptible Pittsburgh's defense looked last week. They will want to test the secondary, and see if they've mentally recovered from the clinic QB Tom Brady and Moss gave them last week. Williams is Garrard's best option, and while Taylor won't shadow him, it would be in Pittsburgh's best interest to blanket him, in efforts to nullify Jacksonville's precision passing attack.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Jaguars
  Offensive line x
even Quarterback even
  Running backs x
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
even Defensive line even
x Linebackers  
  Defensive backs x
  Special teams x

Neal Coolong is the author of Die Hard Steel and his match-ups column appears weekly at Steel City Insider.

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