They're the first team in NFL history to do so, but the Jaguars are having trouble with their calling card this year. A physical, run-oriented team in the mold of Bill Cowher's Steelers, the Jaguars lost much of their identity when the interior of their offensive line was wiped out before the opener ended.
Their replacements for tonight's game in Jacksonville are: Uche Nwaneri at left guard, Dennis Norman at center, and Milford Brown at left guard. And after averaging 149.4 yards per game to rank second in the NFL last season, the Jaguars average 126.5 per game to rank 12th.
"Yeah, but you know what, they're playing well," Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke said of the replacements. "You watch the last two games and these guys are doing well. They're doubling really hard, the center's really athletic. Milford Brown, I've played against him a little bit and I know he's real physical. The interior guys, they're playing solid together, so I'll have my hands full."
Hoke is starting in place of Casey Hampton, who's out with a groin injury, but the Steelers are 12-1 in the regular season when Hokes starts. In fact, the last time the Steelers beat the Jaguars – 2004 in Jacksonville – Hoke was in the lineup. The Steelers have dropped four in a row since to the Jaguars, who have the Steelers' full attention -- even if they're lining up across Dennis Norman instead of Brad Meester.
"You know me," Hoke said. "I think everybody's All-American or All-Pro so I can prepare that way. I never underestimate anybody until after I play them so I don't fall into the trap."
It's the attitude that has the Steelers poised to pull off an upset, even though they'll be without Hampton, DE Brett Keisel, RB Willie Parker, RG Kendall Simmons, and FB Carey Davis. It's their solid depth that gives them a chance to avenge last year's two losses at Heinz Field. Of course, they say they're not out to avenge the playoff loss.
"Revenge doesn't work in this league," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "Everyone knows what they're doing against each other and vice versa. After the first quarter, you can throw revenge out the door."
At least Smith is playing this year. The league's best 3-4 defensive end could only watch as the Jaguars rushed for 404 yards in two games against the proud Steelers' run defense.
This time, it's the Jaguars with the banged-up secondary. Free safety Reggie Nelson (knee) will be replaced by Gerard Sensabaugh, and right cornerback Drayton Florence will be replaced by Brownsville's William James (formerly William Peterson). Star cornerback Rashean Mathis has also missed practice time this week with a bruised shin. The Steelers will focus on stopping the running back combo of Fred Taylor (59-213) and Maurice Jones-Drew (38-169), and of course the quarterback draws of David Garrard, who sealed the playoff win last season with a late fourth-down scramble.
Garrard's top target this season is Matt Jones, who was arrested for cocaine in the summer, cleaned up his act, and leads the team with 22 catches for 244 yards. Still, the Steelers know what to expect.
"When you have backs like that, you have to run the ball" said Smith. "They're the best duo in the league. Whether they're starting their first or third-string linemen, they have to run the ball. That's what they do."
After all, they are the new Steelers.