The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend at Heinz Field. This renews an old rivalry from the AFC Central Division. The Steelers and Jaguars had one of the fiercest, and most physical, rivalries in the NFL back then. In fact, Steelers/Jaguars was, at that time, the equivalent of what Steelers/Ravens is today.
But those days are long gone. The current Jaguars have a 1-4 record, and seem to have been completely declawed.
The Jaguars are the final game of a 4-game stretch against the AFC South. The Jags would likely be in last place in the AFC South were it not for the injury that has kept Peyton Manning out of the Indianapolis Colts’ lineup. Without Manning, the Colts are winless, and are one game behind the hapless Jaguars.
The problems for the Jaguars started when they decided to cut starting quarterback David Garrard during training camp. In Garrard’s place, the Jaguars are starting rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
It’s difficult for any rookie quarterback in the NFL. But when you play for a team like Jacksonville that is almost totally devoid of offensive talent, it makes things doubly difficult.
Gabbert is averaging only 152 yards per game passing. That’s REALLY bad. In fact, it’s the lowest average of any starting quarterback in the NFL. And to make things even worse for Gabbert, he’ll be facing the Steelers’ defense which is ranked #1 in the NFL against the pass.
Fortunately for Gabbert, he will have the option of handing the ball off to running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew is one of the best runners in the NFL. He’s ranked 4th in the NFL in rushing yards, and he’s having a much better season than any of the RB’s the Steelers have faced so far.
“There’s probably no one in football that means more to their team than Maurice Jones-Drew, in terms of the things he’s capable of doing and the things he does,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “When you watch him on tape, he’s a very physical runner. He has great vision, power and speed.”
We know that the Steelers have had difficulty stopping the run this season, so Jones-Drew should provide a challenge for them. Thankfully, the Steelers seemed to remember how to stop the run last week. If they play like they did last week, then stopping Jones-Drew will be a real possibility. But if they play like they played prior to last week, then they may be in for a long day.
Fortunately for the Steelers, Aaron Smith is still hurt, so Ziggy Hood will get the start at left defensive end. Ziggy’s presence strengthens the Steelers run defense, and it also seems to help LaMarr Woodley. Both of those players will need to have a solid game in order to stop Jones-Drew.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Jaguars actually have a pretty good defense. They’re ranked #8 in the NFL. However, they should have difficulty stopping the Steelers’ high-powered offense. The Jaguars’ secondary is suspect, and I think they’ll have difficulty matching up with the Steelers’ speedy young receivers.
This game isn’t likely to stir up memories of the old AFC Central battles between these two teams. But it should result in a win by the Steelers, and that’s all that really matters.