Steelers Face Familiar Foe; Steelers-Jaguars Wild-Card Game

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Saturday, January 05, 2008
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist


Three weeks ago, the Jacksonville ground game had its way with Pittsburgh's defense in the Steelers' backyard.

Verron HaynesThis Saturday, the same thing can't happen, or Pittsburgh's season will be over.

In Week 15, Jacksonville bested the bad weather and the Steelers by running for 224 yards in a hard-fought 29-22 victory. That was the last time the Steelers played at home, and to make sure that the likely last home game of the season goes much better, Pittsburgh's going to have to put that defeat behind them, along with a subpar finish to the regular season.

The Steelers lost three of their last four games, knocking themselves out of contention for the no. 3 seed, or a first-round bye. Along the way, defensive end Aaron Smith was lost for the season, and so was Willie Parker, who was the NFL's leading rusher at the time of his injury.

Those players won't be on the field on Saturday, and neither will tackles Marvel Smith (knee surgery) and Max Starks, who suffered a meniscus injury in the rather meaningless 27-21 loss at Baltimore on Sunday, and won't be available for the postseason.

Ben Roethlisberger isn't 100 percent, as he was held out of the Ravens game due to a sprained ankle, but he'll have to grin and bear it, as will the rest of the Steelers who take the field, because it's that time of the year when you win or go home, and as nice as it would be to be able to rest up and put some ice packs on those aches, there's still more football to play yet.

As for the Jaguars, they come into the game having lost their regular season finale as well, but had previously won six of seven, with their lone loss being a 28-25 defeat at Indianapolis.

The last time the Steelers were in the playoffs was also the last time the Jaguars were in the playoffs. Whereas Pittsburgh made a run from wild-card to the Lombardi Trophy, the Jaguars fell to the New England Patriots the same weekend.

That season was the only other time the Jaguars have been in the playoffs since 1999, when they lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game, culminating a four-year run where Jacksonville went from expansion to elite.

Hopefully the Steelers' edge in playoff experience pays off this weekend, as they come in battered and bruised.

The key, as if it needs mentioning, is to keep Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew from combining for another big day. Taylor ran for 147 yards and the game-winning touchdown, with Drew adding 69 yards (and five catches for 30 yards) and had a big 20-yard run on the game-winning drive in the fourth. The two averaged more than six yards a carry on the way to combining for 216 of Jacksonville's 224 rushing yards that afternoon.

Aside from keeping them from breaking the big run like they're both capable of, the Steelers' vaunted run defense needs to buckle down and prevent the Jaguars from getting chunk after chunk of yardage like they did the last time around.

What can't be forgotten is that David Garrard also threw for three touchdowns that day, and all in all, the Jaguars offense held the ball for 37:39, an advantage that tells the story of their performance on both sides of the ball that day.

Speaking of the other side of the ball, the Steelers didn't turn it over that day, and Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, but he was held to 16 of 33 passing for 146 yards and was sacked five times.

Big Ben might not be able to move around too much on Saturday, so the O-line is going to have to give him time to throw, because no one wants to have to run for their lives on a bad ankle. The more time he gets to throw, and the more able he is to move, the more efficient he'll be, and that's the target.

Pittsburgh also needs to get something going on the ground, because a one-dimensional offense plays right into Jacksonville's hands, because if so, they'll be bringing the pressure as often as possible, and against a line that's given up nearly 50 sacks this season, that will be the ultimate test.

Despite all of the issues that the Steelers are dealing with, and the way the recent meeting went, you've still got to go with the home team.

The Steelers haven't lost to the same team at home twice in one season in their history, and even though they haven't had the best of luck in conference championship games at home, they've taken care of business in the first couple of rounds in their last several playoff appearances. The last time the Steelers lost a home playoff game (prior to the AFC title game) was 1992, when they lost 24-3 at home to the eventual AFC champion Bills in the divisional round, in Bill Cowher's first year on the job.

It's going to be tough for the Steelers to keep that streak going, but they can do it. If they do, it could mean a rematch with the New England Patriots, or if Tennessee knocks off the Chargers in San Diego, a trip to Indianapolis -- and I don't think anyone, including one Nick Harper -- can forget what happened the last time the Steelers went to Indianapolis in the postseason.

But, to make it to the second weekend, you have to make it past the first. That's the test in front of the Steelers this weekend, and here's to them passing it with flying colors.