Over the past couple of days, I have been reading numerous predictions online with regards to how the Steelers vs. Jaguars game will supposedly turn out this upcoming Sunday. While I have a great deal of confidence that the Steelers will inevitably take care of business at home, I do have an unsettling feeling inside that the Steelers themselves might be ripe for a proverbial “trap game” if they do not ready themselves properly for Sunday’s showdown. So for today’s article I will not only delve into how and why Sunday’s game could be a much tougher matchup for the Steelers than many are currently anticipating, but I also will discuss what the Steelers can do to combat the certain strengths that Jacksonville has working in their favor. Hit the “Continue Reading” button if I’ve peaked your interest:
Background to Sunday:
Many in Steeler Nation are writing this week’s game against the Jaguars off as an easy “W” that will move our boys in Black and Gold to 4-2 on the young season. Don’t get me wrong, they have significant evidence to back up their collective opinion that the Steelers will roll over Jacksonville:
For starters, Jacksonville’s Offense collectively is a statistically weak unit. The Jaguars’ largest point total for a game in the 2011 season is only 20. Their 11.8 points per game is 31st in the N.F.L. and they have the worst passing Offense in the League with 150 yards per game and are also ranked last in the League in total yards per game averaging 270.6 yards for each of their five contests.
Moreover, the Steelers’ Offense came to life last weekend as Big Ben threw for 5 TD’s while the O-Line played better with the return of OT Max Starks. The Steelers’ Defense also came to play and stuffed the Titans Offense essentially the entire game. Moreover, they did it without their stud OLB James Harrison who missed the game with a broken orbital bone. Thus, last Sunday’s 38-10 romp was without a doubt the Steelers’ most complete and finest performance of the nascent 2011 campaign.
Riding high, the Steelers should be able to destroy an opponent like the Jaguars right? Well, as a “Worrier” I have an enormous amount of uneasiness with regards to the Steelers’ upcoming game against the Jaguars. This matchup has all the trappings of a classic “trap game,” and if the Steelers aren’t aware of how Jacksonville can hurt them (or they allow specific things to happen), they might be in for a rude awakening. In the following section I will describe exactly how the Steelers could get burned by Jacksonville this weekend, and also the ways that they can prepare for the most dire of circumstances to easily beat the Jaguars.
Trap Game? The Reasons Why:
Steelers “Caught With their Pants Down” Numerous Times Before with Lax Attitude Against Jacksonville:
There is no time and no excuse for the Steelers to rest on their laurels after last Sunday’s big win. The sad but true fact is that the Steelers have been caught napping against Jacksonville squads that were not of Pittsburgh’s caliber many times over the last 16 seasons. Take 1995 for example when the expansion Jaguars (who finished 4-12) beat the future A.F.C. Champion Steelers and dominated the entire game behind the stellar play of QB Mark Brunell. How about in the 1996 season opener when Jacksonville blasted the Steelers again and Greg Lloyd was lost for the entire season? Do you remember the 2000 season when the (5-5) Steelers desperately needed a win to stop their 2 game slide and keep themselves in the thick of postseason contention? On a Sunday Night at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh let a (3-7) Jaguars team clobber them. I’ll never forget the image of Fred Taylor racking up 234 yards rushing and scoring 4 total TD because it is unfortunately emblazoned into my brain. How about the 2001 season opener when Jacksonville (who finished 6-10 and 5th in the A.F.C. Central) took the Steelers down again and didn’t allow them to score a TD the entire game? Or what about in 2006 when a sub-par Jacksonville shut out the Steelers on Monday Night Football 9-0? Better yet, how about when in both 2007 games where the Jaguars went up to Pittsburgh in December and January and came away with not one, but two wins?!
I’m sure you don’t want me to drudge up anymore painful memories, so I’ll leave it at this: The Steelers should not take this team lightly no matter who is on it, because as has been the case over the duration of the rivalry, Jacksonville can win against Pittsburgh in games they are not supposed to. So what should the Steelers do to combat this god-awful history? The remedy for not short-changing and getting spanked by an opponent unexpectedly is actually pretty easy. The Steelers just need to come into tomorrow’s game with a cool yet alert confidence and play their own game. While the Jaguars might be one of the 2-3 worst teams in the League, Pittsburgh should not disregard the fact that Jacksonville has always played them tough no matter what their record has been and handed them their asses on numerous occasions. They should treat the Jaguars like any opponent and realize they have a football game to play against professional football players. If the Steelers are looking past this game to their games against New England and Baltimore in a few weeks they might find themselves on the losing end of the game.
MJD Can Eat them Alive and In Turn Can Cause Other Problems for the Steelers’ Defense:
Sure the Steelers may have shut down CJ2K on the ground last Sunday, and they do indeed deserve kudos for their stellar effort which kept one of the N.F.L.’s best players in check for an afternoon. Yet, Chris Johnson has always come up historically short against the Steelers, and Johnson has never quite burned the Steelers’ quite like Jacksonville’s Pro Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew has done in games past. In addition, Jones-Drew is having one Hell of a season thus far.
Jones-Drew has rushed for 476 yards on 96 carries so far this season which is an average of almost 5 yards a clip. He is without question the Jaguars’ best Offensive Weapon, and ranks 4th in the entire N.F.L. in rushing. The Steelers may have stopped CJ2K, but they couldn’t find a way to stop the hobbled Arian Foster on the ground the week before. Moreover, they allowed Joseph Addai to gash them for huge plays in their Sunday Night clash against the Colts two weeks ago. Finally, it was another small RB like Jones-Drew that has skills catching the ball in addition to his nifty running skills that really gave the Steelers’ Defense fits: Ravens RB Ray Rice.
If he can, look for Jaguars’ Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter to use Jones-Drew in the same way that Jones-Drew has been in the past against Pittsburgh, in addition to the way that the Ravens used Rice in their season opener against the Steelers. Don’t think for a second that Koetter won’t be going to Jones-Drew, run or pass, early and often to get their team in 2nd and 3rd and manageable situations. I’m sure all of you remember that 43 yard dumpoff pass he took to the house from Garrard in the 2007 Wild Card game don’t you?
That is the key to the entire game right there. If the Steelers’ Defense can win the battle on 1st and 2nd Down and force the Jaguars’ Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert into long yardage to go situations, they will not have any trouble covering or containing any of Jacksonville’s pass catchers. Mike Thomas can be blanketed by Ike Taylor all game long, and Gay, Lewis, and McFadden can perform adequately against Jacksonville’s less than stellar WR corps to stop the outside passing game. Yet if Jones-Drew can get 4.0+ yards per clip early in the game, cause the Steelers to bring more than 7 men in the box at a time, and maintain that type of success against the Steelers’ suspect Run Defense and Defensive Line, Gabbert can go to a safety net that is any young QB’s best friend: a Pro Bowl TE in the form of Marcedes Lewis.
While Lewis hasn’t put up gaudy stats this season (8 grabs for 87 yards), he is still at an advantage when matched up against the inferior James Farrior or molasses-slow in pass coverage Larry Foote. Lewis made the Pro Bowl last season and set a Jaguars receiving TD record in 2010 with 10 TD grabs. Pittsburgh can’t be lulled to sleep because Gabbert could pick them apart if the Steelers are only sending 3 man rushes, and he could hit Lewis as well as the Jaguar backs all day long. Lewis is deadly in the Red Zone and the Steelers must account for him at all costs. In the passing game it is vital for Pittsburgh to keep Lewis either in front of the sticks, or keep the Jaguars from down and distances where Lewis and the backs can get open to win.
As I’ve stated before, MJD must be contained and average no more than 3.5 yards per carry and the Steelers must do it with no more than 7 in the box on a consistent basis against Jacksonville’s mediocre Offensive Line. Pittsburgh’s Defensive Line must importantly win at the point of attack and not allow MJD any sort of running room. Furthermore, the Steelers must take MJD out of the short passing game as well with Timmons, Foote, Farrior, or somebody, and create 2nd and 3rd and long situations for the Rookie Gabbert. If the Steelers can put the pressure on Gabbert to convert plays with large distances to go, they should be able to romp.
Many in Steeler Nation are confident in the team’s ability to defend the run after last weekend. Yet I would like to see one more solid performance against a top-tier Running Back before I go fawning over how great the Steelers’ Defense indeed is against the run. How the Steelers will handle Jones-Drew and how they will handle the Jaguars short and intermediate passing game if he is successful will be the biggest key to the game and also a great litmus test to see how good the Steelers’ Defense really is.
Rashean Mathis Plays his Best Against Pittsburgh and Bruce Arians is still the O.C.:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m freaking stoked with regards to the Offensive explosion put on display by the Steelers’ Offense last Sunday against the Titans. The fact that Bruce Arians actually used numerous 3 step drops in his game-plan to not have Ben murdered and used his TE’s and Hines Ward in the Red Zone like somebody with common sense was a refreshing change to the norm. Yet I haven’t leaped onto the “Arians Bandwagon” just yet. I can’t even say that I’m colored impressed by only one solid game this season. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “old habits die hard,” and history has shown that Arians could revert back to his normal and ineffective at times playcalling at any minute.
Probably the biggest thing Arians should pay attention to is that Pittsburgh should be wise to at least respect Jacksonville’s Pass Defense and should also know there is a familiar foe playing CB that has eaten the Steelers passing game alive in seasons past. It will be an interesting matchup to watch between Mike Wallace and Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis (if he is covering him), and I will be paying very close attention to see how it plays out over the course of the game.
So how do you negate a guy that in 6 career games against the Steelers has accumulated 15 tackles, 6 INT’s, 12 Passes Defended, and taken 3 of the INT’s to the house for scores (including one game winner in O.T. in 2005)? Well here’s how the Steelers can circumvent Mathis and prevent him from changing the game with his ball skills.
If I personally see Mathis taking back another Pick-6 against the Steelers I will be beyond violently ill. How and why the Coaching Staff or Big Ben hasn’t at least tried to shy away against this guy in past engagements blows my mind, and if Mathis burns the Steelers yet again due to Pittsburgh constantly challenging him I’m going to lose my mind.
Arians by no means should ignore Wallace (or whoever is being covered by Mathis), but he would be wise not to call too many plays that allow Mathis make too many plays on the ball. He should exploit the Jaguars weaker CB’s and LB’s in pass coverage and hit Wallace on screens and pop passes to keep Mathis honest yet not able to burn the Steelers. Arians should roll with the momentum of his gameplan from a week ago that consisted of many quick and intelligent throws to his playmakers as well as understand that #27 has come up big time and time again against his team. Arians should at least proceed with caution with regards to Mathis and know that the 31-year old can still bring his A game. Arians cannot revert to his old-self calling running plays with Mendenhall that everybody knows is coming and put his team in situations where they “have” to throw. As long as he can build off of his success from last week the Steelers should be fine. Yet if they sputter on Offense, Jacksonville will just keep hanging around, and a big play from Mathis might be just what they need.
Jaguars Have Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain:
Jacksonville Head Coach Jack Del Rio knows the Steelers extremely well, and his teams are a perfect 3-0 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Granted, Jacksonville hasn’t played the Steelers since the 2008 regular season, but Del Rio should have enough tape and knowledge of the Steelers complied somewhere to at least give his over-matched team a fighting chance. Regardless of whether or not Del Rio will keep his job, every game played between these two teams over the last 10 seasons (7 games total) has been decided by 9 points or less. I believe that as long as Del Rio’s boys are allowed to stay in the game and hang around the better chance they have for a big play to be sprung and momentum shifted towards them and they could pull a win out of their asses yet again.
In addition, Jacksonville’s players I’m sure know that this is somewhat of a rebuilding season and their Coach could be a lame-duck. Yet what better way to send Del Rio off than to beat one of the franchise’s biggest rivals on the road, and do it while nobody gives them a chance? I’m sure the Jaguars are hungry to play their best game of the season against the reigning A.F.C. Champions, and try to beat them yet again at Heinz Field. Who knows? Maybe a road win against Pittsburgh and a strong finish to the season are exactly what the doctor ordered to let Del Rio maintain his job? Probably not. Yet, the Jaguars will be geeked up to play against one of their biggest rivals, and will be liable to not leave any mental stone unturned, no gadget plays in the bag, or heart filled play out on the field.
So how does a team stop its vastly inferior opponent that has nothing to lose and everything to gain dead in their tracks? Well, the Steelers need to come right out and hit the Jaguars in the mouth, literally and figuratively. The Steelers need to get ahead early in the game and score points often, and Pittsburgh needs to break Jacksonville’s will before they know what hit them and destroy any shred of confidence that they may have had in thinking they could pull an upset. If they can break the Jaguars will by Half Time, the game should be signed, sealed, and delivered. But if they don’t do it by near the end of the 3rd Quarter, anything can happen (positive or negative or both).