A week ago, the Jaguars were preparing themselves for a classic matchup of the two top offensive trios in the league. This Sunday's game would seem to offer only a mismatch.
The passing-game trio of quarterback Mark Brunell and wide receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell will face a Pittsburgh Steelers pass-defense that is ranked 30th in the league. It's a pass-defense that has surrendered a litany of long completions, and has been guilty of blown coverages at critical stages of games, such as on Tennessee's game-winning touchdown pass this past Sunday.
"They do some things to leave their guys out there exposed," McCardell said of Steelers cornerbacks Dwayne Washington and Chad Scott. McCardell wasn't talking about blitzing.
"You can quickly be 30th in the league when you blow a couple of coverages. I think they'll make sure they do it right this week," McCardell added.
The Steelers are winless, and have never won at Alltel Stadium, even in their Super Bowl season of 1995, when the Jaguars were in their inaugural season. Then, Brunell was in just his second pro start, McCardell had just broken into the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns, and Smith was a backup on the Jaguars.
Nothing would seem to suggest the Jaguars will have any difficulty dismissing the Steelers a sixth time in Jacksonville and a fourth consecutive time overall; the Steelers haven't even scored a touchdown against the Jaguars since midseason in 1998. So, why have Jaguars players been guarded, almost wary of the Steelers, in their comments this week?
You might say the Jaguars are in no position to boast, following a 43-14 humiliation in Indianapolis Monday night. You might also say the Jaguars believe the Steelers are better than their record and their statistical rankings.
"They have to have our attention, just the way the games have gone in the past; grudge matches," McCardell said.
"Pittsburgh's defense has always given us trouble. We've always had trouble with their secondary. They get to where they need to be," Smith said.
That was especially the case in the Steelers' last win over the Jaguars, when Washington intercepted two passes and returned both of them for a touchdown in the Steelers' 30-15 win. Last year, early in the season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers defense was just as suffocating, holding Brunell to a mere 85 yards passing.
However, the Steelers defense declined markedly at midseason a year ago, and hasn't made it back to its old ways.
"It's got to be a big day. With the quarterback and the wide receivers we have, we ought to throw the ball," Smith said of Sunday's game. Of course, Smith is the NFL's leader in receptions and yards receiving, and the Steelers wouldn't seem to have anyone who can cover him. That's what the Jaguars are hoping.
"We need to win. We all feel that we need to bounce back. We've got to get on a roll. We can't play roller-coaster style football," McCardell said.