Matchups

Jacksonville (11-5) at Pittsburgh (10-6)

Jacksonville Jaguars Defense
11th Ranked against the Run
15th Ranked against the Pass
Jacksonville Jaguars Offense
2nd Ranked in Rushing
17th Ranked in Passing

Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
3rd Ranked against the Run
3rd Ranked against the Pass
Pittsburgh Steelers Offense
3rd Ranked in Rushing
22nd Ranked in Passing

In one of two AFC wild card games that are rematches of late regular season contests, Jacksonville will come to Pittsburgh for the first round of playoffs this Saturday. Unlike the Titans meeting with San Diego on Sunday however, the Steelers – Jaguars game really is a virtual repeat of their previous meeting since it takes place on Pittsburgh’s home turf again. Jacksonville came away with the victory in Week 15 on a messy playing field after the Steelers had tied the game late in the fourth quarter.

No opponent has ever beaten the Steelers at home in the post season as well as in a home regular season game in the same year during Pittsburgh’s entire 75 year history. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Jacksonville has not had much respect for Pittsburgh traditions. The Jaguars win three weeks ago broke a seven game home winning streak by the Steelers, and Jags running back Fred Taylor rushed for 147 yards; previous to that the Pittsburgh defense had not allowed any single player to rush for over 100 yards against them in more than three years.

One would fully expect that whatever happened the last time these two met that allowed the Jaguars to run for better than 200 yards on the number one ranked defense in the NFL will have been corrected if it’s possible to do so. What the Steelers will probably be concerned about is whether the problem presented by Jacksonville’s offense is one that can even be solved. It may well be that the Jaguars simply have a big, physical offensive front who are powerful enough to push the Pittsburgh front seven out of the way to make room for the ground attack and that they have enough endurance to keep doing it for the entire game.

What was made clear during their last visit is that the Jaguars aren’t put off by the kind of miserable weather that is often present in the Steelers home venue. Since Pittsburgh apparently won’t have any advantage in case of cold rainy conditions it will probably be better for the Steelers if the conditions are dry even if the temperature drops well below the 62 degree average that Jacksonville is used to playing in.

The reason for that is that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will probably have to throw the ball a lot against the Jaguars. Willie Parker, the fourth ranked rusher in the NFL is out for the season with a broken leg sustained in the Steelers Week 16 win over the Rams. Pittsburgh backup running back Najeh Davenport filled in nicely to finish that game but whether Davenport can have the same success against a better Jaguars run defense remains to be seen.

Another problem the Steelers need to correct, especially if they plan to attack Jacksonville’s somewhat vulnerable secondary, is the breakdown of the Pittsburgh offensive line under the pressure of the Jaguars pass rush. Roethlisberger was sacked five times by Jacksonville last time they played, while the Steelers didn’t drop Jags QB David Garrard for a loss even once.

This one is there for Pittsburgh to win or lose, but Ben will likely need to hook up with wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and with tight end Heath Miller for some touchdowns. If the Steelers defense, which has been slumbering over the last several games lives up to it’s reputation and comes alive again in the playoffs, and if the front four can open some gaps for Davenport and can protect Roethlisberger then Pittsburgh could outscore the Jaguars.

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