The Steelers' defensive line is decimated by injuries, and DE Brett Keisel and NT Casey Hampton will miss their third and second consecutive games, respectively. Add in back-up DE Nick Eason listed as out for Sunday night's game at Jacksonville, it's difficult to see that unit providing any help against the Jaguars' downhill running game. James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence have been injury-free and very effective in the Steelers' 3-1 start. Fire blitzes and anything else they can do to plug the middle and make tackles will be exploited.
Those linebackers no doubt remember Garrard's 43-yard scamper on 4th-and-2 in the playoffs last year. They brought pressure up the middle, and despite Foote's insistence on a missed holding call, Garrard broke loose. The Jaguars have lost both starting guards, Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams, and the starting center from last year, Brad Meester. If the Steelers can take advantage of a new line still gelling, they can force Garrard to throwing into Pittsburgh's talented secondary.
CB Bryant McFadden vs. WR Matt Jones
McFadden played so well in place of veteran CB Deshea Townsend, who missed the first two games of the season with a heel injury, he will remain the Steelers starting right CB opposite Ike Taylor. McFadden has two interceptions to go with strong run support, but the Jaguars will be looking to exploit a serious height mismatch by getting Jones on McFadden whenever possible.
Jones was arrested for possession of a controlled substance this off-season, the latest in a string of incidents involving the former first-round pick. This season, though, Jones is finally showing signs of the potential the team thought he had out of Arkansas, and he's using his 6-foot-6 height to the Jaguars' delight. He has 21 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown so far. He's not an outside-the-numbers deep threat, but he's turning into a dominant possession receiver, with whom McFadden may struggle.
TE Heath Miller vs. SS Brian Williams
Considering the Steelers lack of depth in the offensive backfield, they're likely to use 3-WR sets even more than usual against Jacksonville. Because FS Reggie Nelson and starting CB Drayton Florence won't play due to injuries, the Steelers are going to want to show 3-WR sets with Miller on the field and one running back. This will force the Jaguars to put Williams on Miller due to his large advantage in pass coverage against any Jags linebacker.
Williams is quicker than Miller, but Miller is the better all-around athlete. Roethlisberger will be looking to put the ball high and let the 6-foot-5 Miller go up and get it. If Miller is lined up with WR Santonio Holmes on his flank, the Steelers can work in some option routes based on how the Jags choose to defend them.
Steelers K Jeff Reed vs. Jaguars K Josh Scobee
It's been quite a while when the Steelers could say they hold a special teams advantage over their opponent. Reed was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 3-field goal, 11 point performance against Baltimore last week. Also, the kick coverage unit has turned into a positive for the Steelers, averaging 19.9 yards per return, the lowest number they've allowed in years.
Scobee struggled in Pittsburgh last season, and his inability to hit an extra point in the regular season game, and a missed field goal in the playoff game put more pressure on his team to hold of two furious Steelers' comebacks. The Jaguars went for it on fourth down 33 times last season, converting 19 of those attempts. Both marks were by far the highest in the league. They're already 5-for-6 this year. Maybe Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio doesn't have faith in Scobee, but Reed has been on the money in his last 20 games.
|The Coolong Scorecard|
Neal Coolong writes a blog called "On The Black Side" and his match-ups column appears weekly on Steel City Insider.