Three years ago, the Jaguars and Steelers played two of the most exciting football games in recent memory. The deciding play of each game was the final play of each game, and those two games may represent the only two-game series in NFL history in which each game ended on a touchdown.
Then, this was the hot-new rivalry in pro football. The Jaguars were an up-and-coming team, and the Steelers were a perennial playoff team. We had no idea the Steelers would fall to the level they have. Clearly, at 0-3, the Steelers are in a distinct rebuilding phase.
The point was made to coach Tom Coughlin this week that the Steelers are desperate for a win. Coughlin shot back that the Jaguars are also desperate for a win.
Oh, yeah, the Jaguars' desperation is extreme. If you doubt that, consider what a loss would mean to this team, especially with Baltimore, Tennessee and Washington to follow Sunday's game.
The Jaguars are pursuing the Super Bowl. A win over the Steelers this Sunday is an absolute must. A loss would severely damage the Jaguars' chances of even making the playoffs.
Pittsburgh has no such playoff illusions. The Steelers know what they are: a depleted football team trying to prove they're on the way back. That's what makes them dangerous. They have the energy of a young team that likes to play football. Ask the Titans.
Here's 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Steelers.
- Exploit the secondary--The Jaguars passing attack should enjoy a huge mismatch against the Steelers secondary, which is ranked 30th in the league. The Steelers have no one who can cover Jimmy Smith, and he should have a big-play day.
- Sack the quarterback--Steelers quarterback Kent Graham is immobile and, at times, indecisive. He also plays behind a subpar pass-blocking line. It's a tailor-made situation for a Jaguars defense that's having trouble rushing the passer.
- Protect Brunell--Don't be fooled by the Steelers' lack of sacks. Their pass-coverage has been so bad they haven't had time to get to the quarterback. They have strong pass-rush talent in their linebacking corps, and Mark Brunell is on a gimpy leg. Protecting Brunell is absolutely critical.
- Stop the run--The Steelers' identity rests with its running game. That much never changes in Pittsburgh. If the Steelers can't run the football, they can't win.
- Run the ball early--The Steelers gain momentum with their ability to stuff the run. A couple of early-game gainers would go a long way toward controlling the Steelers' energy levels.
- Double Burress--Rookie Plaxico Burress has yet to make his mark in the league, but his size and skill offer a distinct threat, especially against shorter cornerbacks in the red zone. Burress requires extra attention in defending the fade route in the end zone. He can't be allowed to emerge on this particular Sunday.
- Screeeen!--The Steelers love to throw the screen pass, especially to Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, a big, powerful running back who loves to turn upfield with a full head of steam. The Steelers are one of the few teams who will even throw the screen pass in the red zone. The Jaguars must smell it out.
- Put the crowd into the game--Jaguars fans are dying to be a factor. Let them. Play aggressively early and the crowd could be too much for a struggling Steelers team to overcome.
- Forget about Monday night--Playing tight will only worsen the situation. It's time for the Jaguars to quit crying about the Indianapolis game and begin playing with the enthusiasm of a team that loves to play the game.
- Don't be smug--The Steelers may not be the Titans or Ravens or Colts, but they are deserving of the Jaguars' best effort. The Steelers are a proud franchise looking for one big win to kick-start their recovery. Make them get that win against somebody else.