The Steelers defense prides itself on stopping the run, and that will be put to the test this week when the task at hand is stopping Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew when they host the Jaguars on Sunday at Heinz Field.
"Whether you talk about offense, defense or special teams, there's probably no one in football that means more to their team than Maurice Jones-Drew, in terms of the things he's capable of doing and the things he does," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "When you watch him on tape, he's a very physical runner. He has great vision, power and speed. He's not small; he's just short. He has built in leverage."
Jones-Drew is the NFL's fourth-leading rusher through five games with 96 carries for 476 yards, a 5.0 yard average. He had his best performance of the season against the Carolina Panthers in week three, rushing for 122 yards. In all five of the Jaguars games this season he has rushed for at least 84 yards. He has also caught seven passes for 67 yards, numbers Tomlin expects to see increase.
"We've had issues, like many others, with him in the past," said Tomlin. "He's a very competitive football player, and they put the ball in his hands. Maybe not as much in the passing game this year, as they have in the past, but I'd imagine that's a function of them getting settled at the quarterback position. We expect that to increase. We have to not only defend this man in terms of the running game, but we have to be sharp against him in the passing game. That includes the screen game."
With James Harrison still sidelined due to a fractured orbital bone, Lawrence Timmons will continue to work at right outside linebacker. Tomlin was pleased with Timmons' performance last week against Tennessee and his ability to adjust to the new role.
"I thought he did some nice things, particularly against the run," said Tomlin. "I think he had five or so tackles in the game, and he did a few more things than we even anticipated. He moved around late in the game in some sub-package football, allowing Chris Carter to do the simplest assignment when he was rotating.
"We value position flexibility. Lawrence has done it before. We expect him to do it, and do it well. It was a good start. He is going to have a few more weeks there, and we expect him to continue to improve."
Bryant McFadden opened the season as the starter at left cornerback, but a nagging hamstring injury sidelined him for three games, putting William Gay in the starting role.
McFadden returned to the field on Sunday against Tennessee, but Gay remains the starter with Keenan Lewis also seeing increased playing time.
"I think he is getting pretty close to healthy," Tomlin said of McFadden. "At this point we have liked what the other guys have done in the interim, talking about William Gay and Keenan Lewis. Such is life in the NFL though. When those guys step up and are given an opportunity and play at a high level, then you are not going to fix it if it's not broken.
"McFadden has done a nice job of working while he is waiting for his opportunity to get back into the rotation, and to me, those are all good issues to have. We have a reliable veteran cornerback that we know is capable of playing good football and is moving closer to 100% health, and we have some guys who have answered the call in the interim and have showed us that they are capable of playing salty football. So those are good issues."
The annual Steelers food drive to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will be held at the Steelers-Jaguars game on Sunday, Oct. 16. Volunteers will be stationed around Heinz Field to collect non-perishable food items to help the needy in the Pittsburgh area. Giant Eagle will match the donations on a pound-for-pound basis. Fans can donate online by visiting the Steelers Virtual Food Drive.