Stillers-Jags Preview(Game #11)
Coming off yet another heartbreaking loss, the Stillers return to prime time football with a Sunday nite battle against hated division rival Jacksonville. Cowher�s team is still in the hunt -- albeit slim -- for a playoff spot, while Coughboy�s Jaguars are playing out the string of a disastrous season.
* When the Jags have the ball, Brunell will operate with his full complement of skill players finally healthy and in a groove. Taylor is back toting the ball out of the backfield, and appears to be fully recovered. Smith and McCardell are having quality seasons, and TE Brady has become more involved in the Jags attack as a big target who can find open room created by the heavy attention paid to the wideouts. When healthy and clicking, as they appear to be, this fivesome of skill players is easily in the top 5 of the NFL. The problem for Jax has been, that the NFL is an 11-man game, not 5 as in the NBA. The OL has been decimated by injuries. Even backup Zach Weigert, who started vs. Pgh. earlier this year because of Searcy's injury, is on the shelf, and the esteemed Todd Fordham is the starting RT. Brendan PigStai is the starting RG by virtue of injury default. The Jags would like to be able to use Taylor and run the ball, but unless there's a total Stiller collapse, I cannot see how this rag-tag OL will be able to effectively block what has been a very feisty, disruptive Stiller front 7. Kimo and the boys will more than hold their own along the DL, and LBs Porter, Holmes, and Kirkland will stop Taylor for meager yardage. The Stiller defense is vulnerable to cutback runs, which Taylor does quite well, but I think the "D" is more than stout enough to limit Taylor's yardage and effectiveness. The key matchup will be Smith and McCardell against Scott and Washington. This is pretty much a no-brainer. With a very limited chance of success in running the ball, the Jags will look to their WR duo to carry the load. My main concern here is the amount of cushion that the Sofa King, Chad Scott, has been giving away lately. This absurdity began in Baltimore a few weeks ago, when he was giving Travis Taylor more cushion than exists at Hugh Heffner's Playboy Club. Just as Jax did to Deon Figures and Willie Williams back in '96 and '97, Brunell will have no qualms in hitting 14-yard passes all nite long. And then, once Chad becomes too overeager, Brunell is more than capable of conducting a very convincing play-action fake, and/or a pump fake, and then hitting his man deep. DeWayne has had a Pro Bowl caliber season thus far. With this game being shown on national TV, this is his chance to shine against very good competition in front of a large audience. If DeWayne passes this test, he might just get a berth. If he fails, the Jags offense will roll and DeWayne will sit at home and watch the Pro Bowl on TV.
* When the Stillers have the ball, expect to see more of the same mundane offense --- Stewart handing the ball off to Bettis; and Stewart firmly entrenched in the pocket with very few rolls or boots; and Stewart throwing a plethora of screens & 6-yard curls. The Jags have had their share of injuries on defense, most notably to Carnell Lake and ILB Hardy Nickerson. It won't be a cakewalk, but our OL, along with the strong blocking of FB Dan Kreider, will be able to punch holes into the front 7 of the Jags, especially with Nickerson out. Coughlin has to realize that his front 7 cannot match up against the power-running game of the Stillers. The key matchup, therefore, will be how Coughlin uses his DBs to help support the run, versus the Stillers non-existent passing game. SS Donovin Darius, who ordinarily might have to worry about covering the TE, will probably ignore the 1-catch-per-game Breuner and spend 80% of his time within spitting distance of the LOS in run support. Likewise, CBs Bryant and Beasley (or Jason Craft, who could start if Beasley's back acts up) might very well --- as they have in the past -- ignore starting WR Courtney Hawkins and cheat up in run support. This chess game will surely be the key matchup. The extra DBs near the LOS will cause a lot of disruption to the Stiller ground game. If this offense could make the Jags pay, with some crucial downfield completions, then Jax will have to peel back some of this forward presence, but if all this offense does is attempt 7-yard curls to Ward and Hawkins, the Jags will essentially have their cake and eat it, too. One other note -- the Jags pass defense struggled last week when Seattle made last-second substitutions that caused confusion in the Jax secondary. No need for Jax to worry about that this week. Coach Gaypride has enough trouble simply getting the playcall in to the QB within about 23 seconds.
* Spec Teams: Neither team is blessed with impact special teams. V-tech alum/rookie Shyrone Stith gives the Jags some production in the return game, but it's not as daunting as facing Mason or Mitchell. Hollis is a decent kicker. Hopefully Poteat can provide a big return or 2, to help out in the battle for field position. And, of course, hopefully Kris Brown can boot a few kickoffs to at least the 7-yard-line.
*Each team is coming off a pretty tough loss. As recently as a couple years ago, a nite game on national TV pretty much ensured a Stiller victory. Obviously, that's no mas. Out of frustration, our defense is due to crack a bit, and I fear this is the game that this could occur. However, Cowher will have his 53 players revved and ready for this prime-time showdown against a bitter rival, and Bettis and the offense will produce just enough points to eke by the Jags, 19-16.