Allright, been in meetings all morning so I don't have any numbers in front of me, but here's my rambling view of this Sunday's game. Let this get the discussion started on the Jags game, then to the numbers we will go from there.
It's put-up or shut-up time for this year's Pittsburgh Steelers. We got punched in the mouth on MNF last year by this Jaguars defense, and I don't want to see that type of physical dominance by them again this year at Heinz. Sunday offers a great opportunity to beat a quality football team and perhaps get on a bit of a roll heading into the playoffs. It's our last game of the season at Heinz Field, where the team is a perfect 7-0 to date. Then off to the road we go to St. Louis and to Baltimore, before (hopefully) returning to Heinz Field for at least one more game in January. But first it's time for the team to get its swagger back after last week's humbling defeat. Time to notch the season's first 'signature' win. Time to prove the haters wrong about the decision to hire Mike Tomlin. As the coach has stated time and time again, the Steelers aren't done writing the story of the season. This next chapter has the potential to drive the plot of our story in either direction.
Jacksonville is no joke whatsoever guys. On either side of the ball. Before Maurice Jones Drew was drafted, I thought they were missing that game-changing type of player they needed to make up for an offense that can be plodding at times. Last year Drew was sensational, but their young WR corps plus injuries and instability at the QB position kept them from making much progress offensively this year. This year there's stability at QB, the receivers are more polished and reliable, and they're still getting 5 yards a carry! from Taylor plus Drew's big play abilities. Their offense is finally catching up with their usually solid defense.
This would be far and away our best win of the season. Who have we beaten? Seattle was a solid W, but the Seahawks have gotten hot over the past 5 weeks, and have evolved, gotten healthier, and improved since we played them. Cleveland? Sure, I guess, but it's not going to be until at least 2008 or 2009 that the Browns really are established as a consistently quality football team each week like Jacksonville. Baltimore, at home? Meh. Buffalo at home? The week after one of their players was paralyzed? Not bad, but nothing the fanbase of the Steelers is going to get overly excited about.
Jacksonville would be the best feather in our cap though, no doubt. The Jags have road victories at Denver, at Tampa Bay, at Tennessee, and at Kansas City, plus a quality home win over SD at home.
How are they able to compete so well on the road? Simple: a QB who doesn't turn it over - 1 INT in 274 attempts this year; a varied rushing attack that averages 143.8 yards per game, second to only Minnesota; and a defense that doesn't allow you to get in a groove offensively because they stop the run so well.
Their receivers are big and physical which always scares me with DeShea and McFadden. Maurice Jones Drew is more than capable of changing the game on Special Teams as a kick returner, and finally, their front 4 are huge, strong, fast, and plenty capable of dominating the line of scrimmage against our line. In other words: they have all the right ingredients to take advantage of and exploit Pittsburgh's weaknesses this year.
For those of you concerned that the 2007 Steelers are soft, watch closely this week. You'll likely get some definitive answers either way on Sunday. After a confusing first 13 chapters filled with highs, lows, missed opportunities, and noteworthy perserverance, I think this next one tells us how the story will end. That's not to say it will tell us if the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl. Only that it will prove Tomlin is doing a great job helping grow, and growing with, this collection of players. Or perhaps that we're futher away and more pieces short than I, and many of us, have wanted to believe.
Thoughts guys? Am I giving this Jax team to much credit? I've tried not to use the word hate in my writing as much, because it's such a loaded word that obviously doesn't really delineate my feelings whatsoever about Jacksonville and it's players. But I'm making an exception now: I hate the Jaguars (read: really don't enjoy watching them play football or win 10-12 games a year only to bow out in the first round every time).