River City Rage, the blogger at Big Cat Country has been kind enough to answer some questions about the Jaguars, Steelers, and next Monday's showdown on Monday night.
Behind the Steel Curtain: River City Rage, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Let's get right to it. Tell us about what you saw in Week 1 against the Cowboys that impressed you.
River City Rage : Heart. Jacksonville faced a rough situation after the first quarter. The Cowboys put ten points on the board and looked to be physically dominating the game. Jacksonville never gave up (save for a few "fans") and stuck with it and kept up the physical intensity. Also, MLB Mike Peterson and DT Marcus Stroud playing hurt showed their teammates the intensity that's come to represent Jaguar football. Obviously it's hard to pick out just one thing. I really enjoyed seeing WR Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford getting rough and tough with the Cowboy's secondary. There were a lot of questions about our offense, especially the passing game that were somewhat answered (or at least relieved) by their performance.
Behind the Steel Curtain : How convinced are the Jacksonville faithful that Byron Leftwich has what it takes to lead the Jaguars to a Super Bowl?
River City Rage: Well, at the very least the "Start David Gerrard" movement has shut up for a bit. David showed that he's not an answer at Quarterback in the pre-season. Is Jacksonville 100% behind Byron, that's to be determined. When he completed 10 passes in a row against Dallas, that gave him some "political capital", but the thing with Byron is that he just doesn't care. He lets it just roll off his shoulder like a pass rush and does his job. What you have to remember about Jacksonville is that we've only had two starting quarterbacks. The Steelers have had many people line up under center, we've only had two, and the first one (Mark Brunell) is pretty near and dear to our hearts after the 96-99 seasons. Furthermore, Brunell just sort of exploded with productivity; we've never had to develop a QB before Leftwich. So, we're learning here. I think Byron will demonstrate that he's a winner and the fans will follow, but admittedly, we're still rookies when it comes to following the team.
Behind the Steel Curtain: What about the Steelers worries you? Are there any matchups that you feel clearly favor Jacksonville?
River City Rage: Hmmnn. I worry about our ability to withstand the traditional Steeler ground attack. Once the Cowboys were behind by a few points they gave up on the run and from there it was just a matter of pressuring Drew till he threw his INT's. With the Steelers it's a 60 min game decided between the Offensive and Defensive lines. If Jacksonville starts allowing the Steeler run game to take hold, it's game over. One Jacksonville beat writer wrote that "If the Steelers rush for 150 yards, they'll win. Over a hundred but under 150 is a gray area for them. Under a hundred and the Jaguars win." I think that's a pretty good rule of thumb. I like our D-line against the Steeler O-line, even with Hayward's absence. I think the WR's have OK matchups against the CB's and Safeties, with the experience edge going to Pittsburgh.
Behind the Steel Curtain : How big of a concern is the loss of leading sacker Reggie Hayward? Who's going to pick up the slack on the line?
River City Rage: Rob Meier is going to move from backup DT to DE. Rob's a solid backup and play's a lot more than most people notice. Coach Del Rio and Smith do a pretty good rotation of all four line positions. Rob even led the AFC in Sacks for all DT's. Look for Bobby McCray, Marcellus Wiley and pass rush guys Jorge Cordova and Brent Hawkins to see some time on the line as well. Jacksonville has a lot of depth on the line and I think we'll see a lot of interesting looks for Ben or Charlie to figure out. I'm not particularly concerned with Reggie being gone (not to underestimate Reggie's importance, he's a big time playmaker) but we'll adapt and move on. That's what good teams do: they survive despite the absence of players. Y'all know something about that.
Behind the Steel Curtain : I really admire Fred Taylor and all that he's accomplished, but I wonder if he will be able to be as productive at his age as he's been in the past. Tell us a bit about the Jacksonville running game.
River City Rage: Three words. Maurice Jones-Drew. At some point this season MJD is gonna break for a huge open field run and people will notice just how gifted of an athlete he is. Sure, he's short, but man that boy is lightning in a bottle. Fred's an important guy on the team and he looks great so far, but we've also got a little secret in FB Derrick Wimbush. Losing Greg Jones hurt because he's sorta the heir apparent to Taylor in the Backfield, but we've got some guys who are just itching for the chance to play and produce. I'm not saying we'll be the new Denver where backs just appear out of nowhere and become 1200 yard rushers, but we've got depth. It's all on Taylor's back though, as confident as I may be in our backups, I'd love to see Freddy get 1300 yards and a dozen TD's and not have to worry about it.
Behind the Steel Curtain: One more and we'll let you go. Got any predictions for Monday Night?
River City Rage: Complete and Utter Blowout of the Steelers...hopefully. Realisticaly, I see a close ball game, much like the last time we played. Probably come down to a field goal or a 4th quarter drive. Lots of running, lots of intensity on the lines, definitely a close game. I'll call it 24-21, Jacksonville.
Thanks again for stopping by to chat with us. Folks, check out Big Cat Country throughout the week for Rage's excellent content leading up to Monday's big game!