Wild Card Weekend 1/5/08: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Signature game early in Tomlin’s career
Game 2: Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville. 8pm
Three weeks ago the Jacksonville Jaguars shredded the Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain behind the running of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew as the Jags shocked the Steelers 29-22 in the muck of Heinz Field. Today, not only does rookie coach Mike Tomlin go for his first playoff win as a head coach – he is also looking for revenge.
This summer, coach Jack Del Rio made the personnel move that will define his coaching legacy when he replaced franchise quarterback Brian Leftwich–who had been struggling the past two seasons with backup David Garrard. Garrard, Del Rio and the Jags have been rolling ever since.
Spearheading the Jags attack is a running game that resembles the Steelers of a year or two ago. Led by Fred Taylor (avg.111 yds. the last five games) who has found the fountain of youth this season to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season and 10,000 in his career. His counterpart Jones-Drew finishes what Taylor starts. His bowling ball frame and low center of gravity make him hard to bring down. Jones-Drew is a threat on special teams as a returner as well.
The Jaguars have a receiver by committee which suits them just fine. In the first meeting, the Jags had success passing on first down. Look for more of the same today. Reggie Williams is Garrard’s primary target and if it gets tight, look for Williams to make a big play. Ernest Willford and Dennis Northcutt have been reliable all season and should contribute as well.
Defensively, Jacksonville is as stout against the run as any team in the league. John Henderson, Rob Meir and Grady Jackson are as big as they come and they should have success stopping a wounded Steeler running attack. This will only improve the play of the back seven. The Jags have enough depth in the secondary to deal with Pittsburgh’s passing attack.
The Steelers have to find a way to run the ball without burning out Najeh Davenport. Make no mistake, losing Willie Parker for the playoffs is the one thing the Steelers could not afford. The Steelers will go with the three-headed monster of Davenport, Gary Russell and Veron Haynes to try and mix speed and power into the rushing attack.
Pittsburgh looks to be healthy at receiver and Ben Roethlisberger will be looking for them today. Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington can all cause problems, but I think the key in the passing game will be tight end Heath Miller. If he can get into the middle of the field, he should open up the sidelines for Holmes who loves to go deep.
Defensively, the Steelers will have to find away to corral the running game, they will miss Aaron Smith in pass rushing situations and if Troy Polamalu isn’t 100%, the secondary is in for a long day.
Deep down, I want this game for Tomlin and the Steelers but the loss of Parker will be too much to overcome.
Jags 24 – Steelers 17