The [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] currently sit at thirteen point favorites over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The last time they were a huge favorite, they put forth a less than inspiring effort against the Seattle Seahawks. Oh how things change one week to the next in the wacky NFL. The team we saw last week is a far cry from the one that sputtered through the first quarter of the season.
However, since reverse psychology worked so well last week…
The Steelers will lose. After last last week’s impressive performance, they’ve grown soft. They’re reading their own press clippings. This has trap game written all over it. Bet the under.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. JAGUARS OFFENSE
Blaine Gabbert. Rookie quarterback. Four words which are music to [intlink id=”124″ type=”category”]Dick LeBeau[/intlink]’s ears. There’s nothing our Hall of Fame defensive coordinator enjoys more than torturing young quarterbacks.
The 1-4 Jags currently rank dead last in passing offense. The Steelers, as noted earlier this week, have the best pass defense in the NFL. Since taking over in week three, Gabbert has completed less than 50% of his passes, thrown 2 picks (against 3 TDs) and, most interestingly, fumbled the ball five times. Perhaps the 10th overall pick will develop into a capable quarterback somewhere down the line, perhaps the Jags will head to Los Angeles in 2013 with hometown hero Andrew Luck behind center. Either way, I don’t like his chances this week.
The Jags only hope is to ride superstar running back Maurice Jones-Drew until the wheels fall off. Last week, the Steelers much maligned run defense (which has shot all the way up from dead last to 16th overall) did a great job corralling Chris Johnson. Whether they actually improved the run D or Johnson has just given up now that he’s received a fat contract is a legitimate question. Nobody questions the heart of Pocket Hercules, however. If the Steeler run D is indeed still vulnerable, Jones-Drew will let us know.
Neither Casey Hampton nor Aaron Smith practiced this week which would indicate they won’t go on Sunday. Chris Hoke had an outstanding game at nose tackle last week so it’ll be interesting to see if he can duplicate his effort this week. [intlink id=”44″ type=”category”]Ziggy Hood[/intlink] should have been starting all along. If [intlink id=”70″ type=”category”]LaMarr Woodley[/intlink] has a similarly dominating performance, I’d imagine the Steelers will have no choice but keep him in the starting line-up even when Aaron Smith is healthy (yeah, right).
LeBeau deserves all the credit in the world for going back to the lab and coming out with a brilliant concoction only a mad scientist like himself could cook up. Re-watching last week’s game tape, I noticed Ryan Mundy on the field quite a bit. I remember him playing a bunch in the Houston game as well. At first I thought he was just spelling a banged up [intlink id=”60″ type=”category”]Ryan Clark[/intlink] but Clark was still out there. LeBeau has come up with this crazy scheme where he plays six defensive backs, three corners and three safeties, behind two linemen and three ‘backers. If you’ve wondered why [intlink id=”57″ type=”category”]Troy Polamalu[/intlink] is seemingly everywhere, that’s because in that alignment he is. LeBeau basically lets him do whatever the hell he wants, he can either charge the line of scrimmage like a fourth linebacker or drop into coverage like another CB.
Giving the best play-making safety in the NFL history more chances to make plays? Genius.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. JAGUARS DEFENSE
While I’ve been picking on the poor pitiful Jags all week, their defense has been halfway decent. They rank tenth against the run and tenth against the pass. If their offense didn’t turn the ball over so much and they weren’t on the field every five minutes after three-and-outs, they’d probably rank even higher. Over the off-season, they added former Penn Stater Paul Posluszny, who had 140 tackles last year and is leading the team thus far this season.
Jacksonville also added ex-Browns linebacker Matt Roth, who they’ve concerted to DE, and he currently leads the team in sacks. Jeremy Mincey, who led the team last season, has been playing well in place of injured 2010 free agent bust Aaron Kampman. Kampman played very well with the Green Bay Packers before coming over to the Jacksonville where he’s spent the better part of the past two seasons battling injuries. Head coach Jack Del Rio expected him back this week so we’ll see if that is indeed the case. The Jags had a woefully bad defense last year as their inability to generate any pressure basically hung their secondary out to dry. Its been better this season despite the fact they got 32 points dropped on them by Mark Sanchez and the anemic Jets offense and blew a lead in surrendering 30 points to rookie Andy Dalton’s Cincinnati Bengals last weekend.
The Steelers will likely start yet another new offensive line combination with Jonathan “Turnstile” Scott taking injured rookie Marcus Gilbert’s place at right tackle. Well, he was horrific at left tackle, at least now he’s playing the easier of the two tackle positions. The return of Max Starks at left tackle made a world as Ben Roethlisberger suffered only one sack and one knockdown last week. LG [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Doug Legursky[/intlink], who made a crushing block which sprung Jonathan Dwyer for a 76 yard gain, will start in place of Chris Kemoeatu.
Speaking of Dwyer, [intlink id=”88″ type=”category”]Rashard Mendenhall[/intlink] will return to the starting line-up this week. He’s been abysmal this season but he’s also been running behind a totally ineffective line. If he flounders this week, there will be no excuses as the duo of Dwyer and [intlink id=”168″ type=”category”]Isaac Redman[/intlink] found 158 yards of daylight thanks to their blocking against the Titans. I hope the team still manages to give Redzone at least 8-10 carries, especially in short yardage. Mewelde Moore is a game-time decision which affects the offense in that if he plays, Redman will likely be limited to playing only when Rashard needs a minute to pray towards Mecca while Dwyer probably won’t even dress. If MM can’t go, Redman will be the third down back with Dwyer sliding into a change-of-pace role.
Next week, the Steelers travel out to Arizona to face a putrid Cardinals team. It’s not exactly a gimme considering their coach knows all our tricks and the east-west trip has historically been a bitch (who can forget Eric Green puking his guts out after a long gainer from Neil O’Donnell back in 1994?) but it’s a game the Steelers should win. After that, Hell Comes To Pittsburgh in the form of back-to-back games against the Patriots and Ravens. Its imperative the team pick up all the easy Ws they can get between now and then, starting on Sunday against an overmatched and undermanned Jacksonville team.