Friday, October 14, 2011

The Jax Jags Are Always Trouble for the Steelers

Jacksoville's Maurice Jones-Drew is one tough hombre.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a scary team, and not just because of their ugly uniforms.

Everybody seems to assume the Steelers will win, and they probably will. After all, the Jag-yu-arrs are 1-4 and starting a rookie quarterback for an offense that is No. 32 in the NFL in both passing and total offense. With just 59 points in five games, the Jags are next-to-last in the NFL in scoring. Add in the fact that head coach Jack del Rio is on the hot seat, and the Jaguars look like tabby cats.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't care. Jacksonville has always meant trouble for the Steelers.

The Jaguars still feature running back Maurice Jones-Drew ("Pocket Hercules"), the NFL's eighth-rated defense and veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis, who has a knack for absolutely torturing the Steelers with interceptions at crucial times.

"Pocket Hercules"
Throw in the fact that, historically, the Jaguars are 3-0 at Heinz Field, including a wild-card playoff game in January 2008 ... and, yes, the Jaguars are a scary team.

We're worried about Jones-Drew, who has a 5.0 yards-per-carry average for 476 yards, which makes him the league's fourth-leading rusher. Jones-Drew also gets involved in the passing game and provides a nice outlet for rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Although Jones-Drew accounts for 40 percent of the Jaguars' offense -- which is a ton -- Jacksonville has some other talented players on offense, including Pro Bowl tight end Mercedes Lewis, wide receiver Mike Williams and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the impressive first-round draft choice starting just his fourth NFL game.

Rashean Mathis tortures the Steelers.
Then there is 31-year-old Rashean Mathis, historically a thorn in the Steelers' side. On Oct. 5, 2008, Mathis returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown at Heinz Field. More galling, also at Heinz Field, Mathis intercepted passes -- one returned for a touchdown -- on back-to-back possessions in the January 2008 playoff game the Steelers lost to the Jags.

That game remains a bitter memory for Steeler fans and, of course, for coach Mike Tomlin, who cut short his conference call with Jacksonville media on Wednesday, after being asked about that game, saying "I'm not going to cry over four-year-old spilled milk" and asking for "legitimate questions."

Jaguars beat writer Tania Ganguli  neatly summed up Mathis's success against the Steelers ...

"Historically some of Mathis' best games have come against the Steelers.
In 2005, he intercepted then-Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox in overtime and returned it for a game-winning touchdown. He also partially blocked a punt in that game. In 2006, Mathis had two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Steelers and was named AFC Defensive player of the week. In the 2007 post-season, he intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice when the Jaguars played in Pittsburgh during the AFC wildcard game. He returned one of those interceptions 63 yards for a touchdown. In October 2008 Mathis took his only interception of the game 72 yards the other way for another touchdown."