Stillers-Jags Preview (Game #1)
The Stillers open the 2001 campaign against a bitter rival -- the Jacksonville Jagoffs.� Although neither team made the playoffs last year, both teams have a strong dislike for one another, and this figures to be a rather emotional season opener for both clubs.� The Jgas come into the game rather beaten up and ailing, but Coach Tom Coughlin will hardly allow that to serve as an excuse.� The Stillers had a decent pre-season, and with relatively few injuries, come into the game upbeat and confident.�� It�s apparent that both teams want to win this key divisional game in order to get off on the right foot this season.�
* When the Jags have the ball, they�ll bring a pretty good arsenal of offensive weapons.� QB Mark Brunnel isn�t as much of a threat to scramble as he was 4-5 years ago, but he�s more than capable of sliding away from pressure &/or scooting from the pocket, and hitting receivers downfield for big plays.�� His splendid WR combo has been beat up all during camp, but if McCardell and Smith show up on Sunday in reasonable health, they will pose a tremendous challenge to the Stiller secondary, which will be forced to play without starting CB Chad Scott.� Look for Jax to try to exploit Scott�s backup, D. Townsend, early and often.� Townsend is a very good cover-corner, but may be under strict orders from the staff to give the softee cushion that Cowher often loves to use versus Jax.� If so, the Jags will counter that with a steady diet of easy, pitch-and-catch 15-yard curls.� The Jags O-line has been disheveled and� banged up.� Boselli has a sore knee but should play.� Rookie Maurice Williams will get the start at RT, which should please Stiller LOLB Jason Gildon, who�s been the brunt of all too many Leon Searcy bludgeonings the past 4 years.� The Stillers were nicked up a bit by opposing TEs in preseason, so Jax�s big TE Jones might play a key role.� The key matchup will RB Fred Taylor and the Jax patchwork O-line, versus the Stiller run defense.� No one should be able to forget the last meeting between these 2 teams, in which Fred Taylor ran wild en route to a 4 TD, 234-yard effort, the most ever given up by a Stiller defense.� Most of the yardage, as you should recall, came at, around, or just under the big Pro Bowl linebacker, Jason Gildon.�� Don�t think for a minute that Coughlin has forgotten the ease in which his team ran around their right end and up right tackle, and Coughlin most assuredly will continually send Taylor into that region to see if Gildon will perform his same Casper-The-Friendly-Ghost act as he did last November.�
* When the Stillers have the ball, it�ll be the same ol� grind-it-out offense, led by RB Jerome Bettis.� Mularkey will mix in some snazzy formations and pre-snap motion, but the bare essentials of the Whalecrap Offense will likely remain the same.� Of course, the Jaguar secondary is nicked up, and there should be plenty of openings for Plex, Troy, Ward, and Shaw to exploit, so it would behoove Mularkey to exploit that weakness from time to time, beginning early in the game.� Due to the hot weather and his asthma, Bettis will receive some breaks from Fu and Amoz.� One problem for the ground game will be the absence of starting FB Dan Kreider.� Witman and Cushing will take turns trying to plow holes in the Jaguar defense, but neither brings anything close to the kind of punch that Kreider brings to the table.�� The Stillers get a nice reprieve in that studly DE Brackens is out, so Gandy should have no problem dominating the backup.� Marvel Smith will get a stern test from DE Wynn and OLB Hardy, and this should serve as a good litmus test to see if Smitty has gotten his technique back in order after a fairly horrendous preseason.� Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game will be to see exactly what top-secret tactics Coach Mularkey unveils against the Jags.� Mularkey has supposedly kept his top-secret offense off-limits all of camp, in a Cold War-like operation purportedly designed to keep the Russians, er the Jags, in the dark as to how the vaunted 29th-ranked Stiller passing offense will attack.�� Should be interesting to see if the lack of practice in executing said offense in the preseason will allow Stewart and Co. to actually run the top secret offense.� The key matchup will be the Stiller ground game, led by the O-line, against the suspect Jaguar run defense.�� Cowher won�t be looking for any kind of shootout, and he�d prefer to wear down the Jags and chew the clock on the shoulders of the running game.� Although it�s hard to tell what new Def. Coord. Moeller will do, it seems to reason that Coughlin will counter with a variety of run-blitzes and extra men stacking the line in order to slow down The Bus and dare Stewart to throw the ball into deceptive, confusing coverages.�
* Spec Teams: Give the Stillers a nice edge here.� Brown has looked decent on his KOs, and the coverage teams should be ready and able.� Hank and Troy give the Stillers 2 good threats in the return game.� Jax has few weapons in their return game, and their kicking game has been sporadic.�
* Synopsis: On paper, this has all the looks of a royal asswhipping.� Of course, back in �96, just months after the Stillers nearly won Super Bowl 30, the vaunted Stillers ventured down to Jax on opening day and lost to a pitifully weak Jax team.�� Looking back at Cowher�s 9-year career, it turns out this was no aberration; rather, this is a sure-fire trend that Cowher has solidified year in and year out since his 2nd season (after winning his season opener as a rookie coach).� Consider the past 8 openers:
�93 - lost a very winnable home game to San Fran.
�94 - got thoroughly whipped, dominated, and embarrassed in every phase of the game in a hideous home loss to Dallas.
�95 - at home, against a very weak, poor Lions team, eked out a sloppy 3-point win in OT.
�96 - at Jax, lost to the 3-13 (in �95) Jags in one of the shoddiest, most ill-prepared opening-day efforts ever witnessed in the NFL.
�97 - Once again at home against the Cowboys, got thoroughly whipped, dominated, and embarrassed in every phase of the game in a hideous 30-point loss.
�98 - in yet another sloppy opener, the Stillers sputtered, slumbered, and slothed themselves in an eked-out win over a very poor Ravens team that was plagued all day by a plethora of special teams blunders.�
�99 - after the opening-day laugher over junior varsity Cleveland, the Stillers went to Baltimore, and in a repeat of the �98 opener, sputtered, slumbered, and slothed themselves in an eked-out win over a very poor Ravens team that was plagued all day by a plethora of special teams blunders and lousy QB play.�
�00 - Facing the Ravens at home, the Stillers once again sputtered, slumbered, and slothed themselves throughout the entire game, and allowed the bumbling Ravens to steal a win at 3 Rivers.
Ergo, I cannot, in good conscience, predict anything other than a sloppy team-stink by Cowher and Co. this Sunday.� The good news is that it�s a long season.� It�s quite do-able to overcome an opening-day loss and make the playoffs, so don�t fret after the Jags win on Sunday, 19-13.�