Key Match-ups: Steelers-Jaguars

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in tonight's wildcard rematch between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Coolong Archive
Week 17: @ Ravens
Week 16: @ Rams
Week 15: v. Jaguars
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
RT Willie Colon vs. DEs Reggie Heyward and Brent Hawkins

Colon hasn't been the greatest pass blocker this season, but considering the Steelelers depth on the offensive line is down to nothing with the losses of Marvel Smith and Max Starks, much of what the Steelers want to do will key off Colon's ability to slow down Jacksonville's pass rush. The Steelers could have an advantage if they spread the field with four receivers in an effort to force their excellent pass rushing linebackers into coverage. Colon's ability to lock down his assignments will free TE Heath Miller up as a receiving option. If not, he'll have to stay in and provide help.

Hawkins had two sacks against the Steelers in their Week 15 win, and his relentless motor off the defensive left side consumed Colon and the Steelers overall pass protection. He also wreaked havoc in the running game, despite RB Willie Parker gaining 100 yards on 14 carries. Heyward has been injured, but returned in Week 17, and should be able to play Saturday.

NT Casey Hampton vs. LG Vince Manuwai and C Brad Meester

Jacksonville's power zone running philosophy fits Manuwai and Meester very well, and with the loss of DE Aaron Smith, the Steelers have yet to figure out how to shut down the run like they are used to doing. It's critical for Hampton to get a push off the likely double-team coming from Jacksonville's best interior linemen when they zone block right, and keep his shoulders square to force the back to the outside. This will be especially important on 4th down, as Jacksonville will go for it, and converts 57.6 percent of their tries (19-for-33). Hampton was mostly shut down in Week 15, and the Jags ran all day en route to the victory.

If Meester can get to Hampton and control him at the point of attack, Manuwai – one of the best pulling guards in the league – can get outside and do some serious damage on the linebacker. This is their bread and butter, and RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew have both had very successful seasons running in it.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Jacksonville's pass rush

It's probably too late in the season to assume Roethlisberger isn't going to be met with a heavy pass rush. With Trai Essex making his first start at LT this season, it's not a bad bet to suggest Jacksonville will come after him on land, air and sea. Roethlisberger is having a fantastic season, and one advantage the Steelers may have is he's used to completing passes despite all falling apart around him. The Steelers can use their depth at WR (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington) to shorten up their passing attack, and cut the amount of time in Roethlisberger's hands, much like the team did in the 2005 Playoffs.

Hawkins and DE Paul Spicer had a field day the last time these teams played, and DT John Henderson nearly always gets a push into the backfield. This collapses the pocket, and eliminates Roethlisberger's ability to step up in the pocket. If the Steelers' interior cannot hold the middle, the ends will eventually collapse. It's imperative that Roethlisberger at least have some room to escape and improvise. They will have to do better than the 4-for-13 on 3rd downs they had in Week 15.

TE Heath Miller vs. LB Justin Durant

With offensive line struggles in recent games, Miller has become less and less of a priority in the passing game. Pittsburgh has more success overall when they get Miller involved early. He has a knack with coming up with a big reception in the first few drives. It would make sense to put Miller in the pattern, adjusting him on the fly to find the soft spot in the zone. This might leave an overmatched tackle combination for the Steelers exposed, but Jacksonville will have to adjust coverage if Roethlisberger is still completing passes, despite taking big hits.

Durant, a rookie from Hampton, is having a great season, but Miller is a tough match-up for anyone. If Pittsburgh identifies him in coverage, they would want to flood his area, and force him into coverage decisions. Though very athletic, covering Miller down the seam and in the flats isn't likely to be advantageous for him. If the Steelers are able to get Miller to chip the end, and get into his pattern quickly, Durant, the best combination of size and coverage ability among the Jags' LBs and secondary, will have a tough time neutralizing him.

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