Stillers @ Jacksonville
The last time the Stillers opened at Alltel was in� �96; at that time, the B&G were the kings of the AFC and the Jags, emerging from their inaugural 3-13 campaign, were considered to be a mere speed bump on the Stillers return trip to glory.� It didn�t play out that way; that Jag O-line, featuring bookend tackles Boselli and Searcy, beat down the Stillers D-front putting Lloyd, Gildon and the unlamented Steve Conley out of the game.�� The Jags controlled the pace, controlled the clock and did, pretty much, whatever they pleased.�� In that game, we saw two teams headed in opposite directions; the Jags went to the AFC title game that year while the Stillers foundered in the New England fog.� In the seasons following through �99, excluding the aberrant �97 campaign, the Jags were a 16-game powerhouse while the Stillers, beset by injury, FO dissension and a general lack of talent, sank in the shoals.�
The high-water mark for the Noll/Cowher Stillers was surely the �95 Super Bowl.� The downward turn to follow was suggested by the �96 opener but the bell tolled earlier that winter when Jagland signed Searcy.� This man was the first pick in the Donahoe/Cowher era; his departure to the Stillers rising rival was a terrible sign of things to come.��
Everything changes, and in the NFL that happens fast.� The Jags had their chance but that�s all over now.� Injuries crippled their team last year; that and an extraordinarily poor job dealing with the cap will ruin this squad now and in the mid-term beyond.� The Jags were +$30M over last winter and project to be even deeper in the red following this season.� In contrast, the Stillers with Omar Khan in the fold seem to be getting a handle on their finances.� Beyond that, for the first time in at least (3) seasons, Pittsburgh looks to have some real state-of-the-art type talent on the roster.� If in �96, the Jags were rising past the Stillers, the opposite is true today.� Finally, that is what this game is about; the Stillers will arrive in Florida with a real sense that they are an up and coming� team.� Coach Cowher�s theme for 2001 is �re-capture�; that will begin for real when the B&G put a beating on the Teals.�
- Control the pace:� It will be hot and humid in Jacksonville; all other things being equal, the team that keeps its defense rested should win.� Jacksonville has some injuries on the O-side especially on the O-line and at TE.�� However, excluding McCardell, their skill people are ready and those players do retain explosive ability.� Generally, the Stillers have been able to run on the Jags and this game should be no exception.� If the running game bogs down, well, Coach Mularkey seems to have established some possession passing attack featuring a balance between the WR, TE and RB.� The Stillers scripted some excellent opening drives in pre-season; they�ll need another to open this Sunday and they�ll need a follow-up too.
- Get out early:� The Stillers offense is not build to come back; their best chance for success resides with the power game.� Jacksonville can make up ground fast but if they�re forced to throw, Fred Taylor may not factor.� Jacksonville does retain a multi-dimensional offense but if the Stillers can accomplish some long scoring drives early, Jax may be forced to flatten out.�
- Turnovers:� The Stillers were +13 in 2000; the Jags were in the red.� Turnovers give field position, scoring opportunities and get the D-side back under the fog machines.� Kordell has been prone to make bad throws but may have gotten a grip; the Jags don�t figure to force the issue as, excluding Kevin Hardy, they don�t have a lot of big play defenders.� Brunell is an exceptional QB when he breaks contain but pretty ordinary within the pocket.� Against this man, the Stillers will need to hold the edges and get pressure up the center.� Trapped in the pocket, Brunell has a history of throwing INT in clusters.� Scores off turnovers can erase any offensive advantage whether that is TOP on the Stillers side or the Jags quick-strike capability and, on form, the Stillers have an edge in this department.
When Jacksonville has the ball:� The Jags may look to go deep early and then control game with their stable of RB.� If they are successful, that could force the Stillers to get airborne and, on form, that has to be advantage Jax.� However, the Jags are beat up on the O-line; Boselli is questionable and his back-up, former Dukie Gannon Sheppard, has no pedigree and almost no experience.� Rookie Maurice Williams will start at ROT; I�d look for Aaron Smith to take advantage.� LOG Brad Meester is a solid player but ROG Zach Wiegart is coming off ACL surgery in 2000.� OC Jeff Smith was projected as a reserve but the Jags starter, John Wade, got hurt before camp began and is out for the year.� Last season, when the Stillers won for the first time at Alltel; KVO set the tone on the opening snap when he bull rushed up the gut and trapped Taylor for a 4-yard loss.� Hampton can do the same and, if the Stillers are to dominate, will have to get that done.� Here are a couple match-ups:
- CB Deshea Townsend/Dwayne Washington vs. WR Jimmy Smith/Sean Dawkins:� These are (2) big WR; Deshea is a good cover guy but may have problems getting up to defend against these men.� Dwayne Washington had a great game against Smith last season; at 3RS a couple of years ago, DW brought (2) INT back for TD against the Jags.� Smith had a number of health issues last winter and may not be at full strength.� On the other hand, Dwayne hasn�t played since he had his bell rung in the Twin Cities; we�ll see if the fog has lifted for this man.
- RB Fred Taylor vs. LB Kendrell Bell:� Jags 2 was a horror last year; Taylor had 234 yards rushing, most of that on about (7) cutback runs.� Generally, these started left and went right and, generally, they came out of a (2) TE set.� The Jags put a scrub TE over Porter; Joey got no better than a draw and, when Boselli crushed Henry, Porter was dragged under.� Boselli is hurt now and KVO brings more than Henry; more than that, the Jags may be unable to work this set.� They have only (2) TE on the roster and (1), Kyle Brady, is battling a staph infection.� The Jags have just a single FB, and given their OL problems may not want to use their reserve as faux-TE.� If the Jags try anyway, Bell has the speed to close on Taylor�s cutbacks; this is exactly why the Stillers brought him in.
- Single back, multi-WR vs. the Stillers dime:� The Jags do have some depth at RB with Stacey Mack and camp sensation Elvis Joseph backing up Taylor.� I�ve said what I�ve had to say about the Stillers dime previously; if the Jags can get Coach Lewis to sit Holmes and Bell, it could be a long day for the B&G defense.� Beyond that, the Stillers have been susceptible to the swing pass to any RB; I think the Jags will look to clear out Townsend and swing the ball to Gildon�s side.� The Stillers need to find an answer and, maybe, have one in Kendrell Bell.
When the Stillers have the ball:� The Jags secondary is suspect with or without LCB Fernando Bryant.� FS Marlon McCree is a rookie, RCB Aaron Beasley is strong and quick but neither fast nor especially fluid turning to run.� Sub-starter LCB Jason Croft is a decent nickel but lacks size and instincts to play in the base.� This secondary can be had and injuries have decimated the Jags LB corps; they�ll enter the game with only (3) healthy players at that position. In short, this matches weakness on weakness; the Jags pass defense is poor but the Stillers haven�t demonstrated the ability to take advantage.
Up-front, RDE Tony Brackens is out but the Jag D-line still has some players; however, none of those men bring what Brackens has to offer. Everyone knows the Stillers want to run; the Jags will probably bring SS Darius Donovin up to for run support and dare the Stillers to throw.� Hopefully, they will; Dom Capers is gone and the new D-Head Gary Moeller has had his LB dropping and the DB playing a deep contain.� Anything underneath should be open; Breuner will get his chances but the Stillers will need the WR to hang on.�
- ROT Marvel Smith vs. SOLB Kevin Hardy:� If Brackens was available, he�d flip-flop to LDE and line up over Smith thereby keeping Breuner on the LOS all day.� Brackens will not play and his back-up, Paul Spicer, will probably take his beating from Gandy.� LDE Renaldo Wynn is a player Marvel should handle though the Jags may move Larry Smith outside; Smith was a 2nd round pick in �99 but has disappointed at DT.� He has some athleticism though and could factor on the edge.� However, the real threat here is Hardy coming off the corner.� This man is a legit Pro Bowl player and, after re-negotiating this spring, will be free to exit Camp Coughlin following this season.� Hardy�s contract drive begins Sunday; we�ll see how Marvel holds up.
8.� Stiller interior OL vs. Jags DT: Over the years, the Stillers have had problems dealing with Gary Walker; this man penetrates well and can be a
���� disruptive interior force.� Jags #1 pick Marcus Stroud is listed as a back-up LDT but should get a lot of snaps.� Stroud is a power player who was
brought in to anchor; Rich Tylski has had problems with that type.� The Stillers want to run the ball and to do so have to get some movement inside.
This match-up is winnable but will be no walkover.
- Stiller FB vs. MLB Hardy Nickerson:� If Kreider can go, I�d think the Stillers had this in hand; if not, the Bus will be meeting the� Hardware Man with some regularity.
10.� Spike vs. Beasley/Croft:� A team with a true #1 type WR would have little to fear from the Jag secondary.
Summary:� Though dangerous on offense, the Jags project as a mediocre team overall.� If the Stillers are playoff-worthy, this is a game they should win. In the NFL, the karmic wheel reaches high RPM.� The Stillers are moving up and the Jags are going under; Stillers win, 24-13.��