No game interests Jaguars fans more than a game against the Steelers. Attendance figures confirm it, TV ratings confirm it and e-mail to the senior editor of jaguars.com confirm it.
The mail to "Ask Vic" this week has been at its highest volume of the year. It's always that way when the Jaguars play the Steelers. The number one week in "Ask Vic" e-mail history was in the days following the Steelers' dramatic win in Jacksonville in 2004. Frankly, the column hasn't been the same since. It changed forever that week.
So what should we expect this Sunday at Heinz Field? Another classic between these two teams? Yeah, that's exactly what I'm expecting.
All of the ingredients are there: two 9-4 teams needing a win to make it into the playoffs; a classic venue; real football weather that's supposed to put some white in the sky and some mud on the players' pants; a showdown of Pro-Bowl hopefuls; a head-to-head clash between two teams that pride themselves in their ability to run the ball and stop the run.
Who would've ever thought Jacksonville would get so fired up about Pittsburgh? This is the Jaguars' number one rival; no doubt about it. The Titans claim the distinction because they're in the same division with the Jaguars and there's no guarantee the Jaguars and Steelers will play each other once a year, but when the Steelers are on the schedule, as they have been each year since '04 and will be back on the schedule next season, they are the opponent that produces the greatest interest.
What a shame these two teams aren't still in the same division.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Steelers.
- Run the ball—It trumps everything, especially in cold, wet, windy conditions.
- Don't let him bounce—You thought I was going to say stop the run, didn't you? I guess you could call it stop the run but the Steelers don't run the ball between the tackles as they always had. These days, they get their yards to the outside. Willie Parker bounces everything to the outside and the Jaguars have to funnel him back to the inside.
- Win the QB battle—Whether it's Ben Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch, David Garrard has to outplay him because the team with the best quarterback usually wins.
- Stay away from the heaters—They can make you soft.
- Exploit the loss of Aaron Smith—This is a significant setback for the Steelers. The Jaguars must find a way to capitalize.
- Win the battle of special teams—Heinz Field is notorious for bad kicks and great returns. Jaguars special teams are superior to the Steelers and that's a major advantage the Jaguars must exploit.
- Make the big play—There will be one play in this game that will turn it in the winner's favor. The Jaguars have to be the team that makes that play.
- Beware the screens—The Steelers love to screen. They'll screen all day if you let them. Don't let them.
- Win the coin toss—This is very important because it would likely allow the Jaguars to have the wind in the fourth quarter.
- Be gracious in victory—Because there's a chance the Jaguars will be going back there in three weeks.