By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers visit Jacksonville for a Sunday night game against the Jaguars on NBC:
STEELERS ILB LAWRENCE TIMMONS VS. JAGUARS QB DAVID GARRARD: Last week, the Houston Texans had the Jaguars on the ropes, but after a Matt Schaub touchdown pass put the Texans ahead 24-20 with 7:06 remaining, Garrard brought the Jaguars back, mostly with his legs. He scrambled for two first downs, then broke a tackle and scored from 5 yards out with 1:48 to play. He gained 13 yards on third-and-10, then picked up 9 more a few plays later on fourth-and-8. Don't forget, it was Garrard's 32-yard run on a fourth-and-2 in overtime that got the Jaguars in position for the field goal in overtime that eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs in 2007. "Thank God we have a quarterback like David who can do it with his arms and legs," said Fred Taylor. The Steelers now have someone on their sub-package defense who can be used to neutralize Garrard's running, and his name is Lawrence Timmons. A linebacker who can cover, rush, run and hit, Timmons would be an ideal spy on Garrard.
STEELERS RB MEWELDE MOORE VS. JAGUARS MLB MIKE PETERSON: With Willie Parker out for at least this game with a knee injury, with Rashard Mendenhall on injured reserve, with Carey Davis nursing an ankle injury, the Steelers have two healthy running backs – Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell – plus the team added Najeh Davenport early in the week. Davenport did not attend a training camp after being released by the Steelers after the draft, and Russell was brought up from the team's practice squad. Moore is neither as big as Russell nor as fast as Parker, but he is a better receiver than either of them and he has some starting experience with the Minnesota Vikings. What Moore showed in overtime against the Ravens would be enough for me to make him the starter on Sunday night against the Jaguars, because he's a fine receiver, a willing blocker and he doesn't tippy-toe around when running the ball. The Steelers have to be able to run the ball to have a chance to win any game they play, and it looks like it will have to be Moore, with Russell as a complement, trying to get it done against the Jaguars.
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. JAGUARS CB RASHEAN MATHIS: The Jaguars built a 21-7 lead against the Steelers in that Wild Card Game in January, and it was Mathis' interception and 63-yard return for a touchdown that gave Jacksonville its first lead. Mathis is one of the top big-play cornerbacks in the NFL, and he does have a knack for scoring touchdowns against the Steelers, with two in the past four meetings. Roethlisberger can expect to be under pressure on Sunday night, but even with that being careless with the football could prove to be deadly. Throwing the ball away, or taking a sack, or doing both often, is better than giving Mathis an opportunity to make a game-changing play. In two games against the Jaguars last season, Roethlisberger passed for 479 yards and five touchdowns, which proves there are plays to be made in the passing attack. But a poorly timed turnover can negate a whole bunch of positive plays and turn the momentum of the entire game.
STEELERS KICK COVERAGE VS. JAGUARS KR BRIAN WITHERSPOON: Speaking of momentum-changing plays, the Steelers took the opening kickoff in that playoff game against the Jaguars and drove 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Maurice Jones-Drew returned it 96 yards to the Steelers 2-yard line. That short touchdown, and then Mathis' interception return for a touchdown gave the Jaguars a 14-7 lead and completely erased any positive that came from the opening drive. Jacksonville has been using Witherspoon, a rookie from Stillman College as its primary kick returner so far this season, and he has shown himself to be good at it. He's averaging 15.8 yards (No. 3 in the AFC) on punt returns and 29.7 yards on kickoff returns (No. 4 in the AFC).