Stillers-Jags Preview(Game #4)
The Stillers, off to their 1st 0-3 start since '86, limp down to Jax for a fight against what has always been a bitter archival. Cowher lost to Jax as an expansion team (something Cowher enjoys doing any time an expansion team joins the league), and the Black n' Gold have never defeated the Jags down in Jax. The Jags are probably still smarting from the thorough whipping they received up in Indy last Monday nite, and they'll probably be looking to take out some frustrations on the visiting Stillers. Teams coming off a road Monday nite game, have a challenge in terms of preparation time, so it will be interesting to see how Jax looks when the game unfolds.
* When the Jags have the ball, QB Mark Brunell leads a dangerous attack full of quality skill players. RB Fred Taylor has returned from injury, and should be ready for an increased workload. Jimmy Smith is one of the premier WRs in the AFC, and Keenan McCardell, while overrated by some, is a solid receiver who complements Smith pretty well, as does rookie #1 pick RJ Soward from Souther-ren California. TE Kyle Brady is a capable outlet for Brunell. The Jags O-line, once one of the most vaunted in all of football, has been ravaged by injury and is fairly mediocre right now. Boselli still mans the LT spot, but after that, it's sheer chaos. Rookie Meester mans the LG spot, and with center J. Wade now out of the season, Neujahr or Smith will have to step in and assume the centering chores. Ex-Stiller Brendan PigStai is the starter at RG, due to a slew of injuries, and Zach Pillar assumes the RT job in place of the injured ex-Stiller Leon Searcy. As if these injuries aren't enough, Brunell is being listed as a day-to-day case, due to an injured calf. If Brunell cannot suit up, then Jamie Martin (1 career NFL start) will play QB, which would be an immense boost for the Stillers. The Stiller defense must manhandle this patchwork Jag line, especially if Brunell sits, because Martin starting at QB would cause the Jags to run much more than they'd like to. If Brunell plays, another key is to minimize his scrambling, which perennially has killed the Stillers. Since the o-line is so patched up, I'd like to see some aggressive blitzing -- none of this namby-pamby 2, 3, and 4-man rushes --- so that we can harass Brunell and limit his time and vision in the pocket. Kirkland is going to have to be very active, both in stuffing Taylor as well as shutting down Brunnell's scrambles. Likewise, Porter is going to have to step in up against Boselli, both in run-stuffing and containment on the pass rush, since Brunell naturally prefers to roll to his left when he scrambles.
* When the Stillers have the ball, they'll face a Jax defense that was exposed last Monday nite against the superb Indy offense. If Indy showed anything in that game, it's that the Jax secondary is ripe for the picking. CBs Beasley and Bryant are adequate but hardly among the NFL elite, and FS Stewart is having to step in for the injured Carnell Lake. The key for the Stiller offense is to integrate their 4 WRs in 3 or 4-WR sets, and get matchups and/or receivers running into open spaces. I'm hoping to see more from the new "spread" formation Gilbride used last week, in which we went to a 1-back set and used Geason as a slot man on the strong (TE) side, with 2 WRs on the weak side. This formation can easily be adapted with the use of a WR in place of Geason. Either way, we need to use this formation to both pass and run out of. The Jax front 7 is no chopped liver, of course. Wynn, Walker, Payne, and Brackens are tough up front, and ex-Stiller Nickerson leads a solid LB crew, along with veterans Marts and Hardy. Running slow counters with the Whaleshoit Formation against this front 7 will be as foolish as doing it against the Ravens, which we proved in Week 1 was pretty damn silly. Quick hitting runs with hat-on-hat blocking, while not cute, are essential to beat down this Jax front 7. With plenty of speed and experience in the Jax LB corps, combined with hard-hitting SS Darius, let's hope Gayrpide minimizes the use of his favorite play, the screen pass.
* With Jax coming off a road Monday nite game, there's a chance their preparation time will be diminished. On the other hand, Coughlin & Jax will be looking to "kick the dog around" after the embarrassment on MNF, and the Stillers could very well serve as that dog. Jax will take advantage of the weekly defensive chaos, and their defense should be stingy enough to limit Gaypride's stale attack. Assuming Brunell will play, the Jags will keep their perfect home record vs. Pgh. intact, with a 26-20 win.
The Still Mill