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fordfixer
10-05-2008, 12:46 AM
Steelers face familiar foe
By JIM WEXELL
For The Tribune-Democrat
Published: October 05, 2008 12:14 am
http://www.tribune-democrat.com/sports/ ... d=topstory (http://www.tribune-democrat.com/sports/local_story_279001459.html?keyword=topstory)

PITTSBURGH — The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) emulate the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1), and were so good at it last year they won twice at Heinz Field.

They’re the first team in NFL history to do so, but the Jaguars are having trouble with their calling card this year. A physical, run-oriented team in the mold of Bill Cowher’s Steelers, the Jaguars lost much of their identity when the interior of their offensive line was wiped out before the opener ended.

Center Brad Meester injured his biceps in training camp and isn’t due back until Week 7. Guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams got hurt in the opener and are out for the season.

Their replacements for tonight’s game in Jacksonville are: Uche Nwaneri at left guard, Dennis Norman at center and Milford Brown at left guard. And after averaging 149.4 yards per game to rank second in the NFL last season, the Jaguars average 126.5 per game to rank 12th.

“Yeah, but you know what? They’re playing well,” Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke said of the replacements. “You watch the last two games and these guys are doing well. They’re doubling really hard, the center’s really athletic. Milford Brown, I’ve played against him a little bit and I know he’s real physical. The interior guys, they’re playing solid together, so I’ll have my hands full.”

Hoke is starting in place of Casey Hampton, who’s out with a groin injury, but the Steelers are 12-1 in the regular season when Hoke starts. In fact, the last time the Steelers beat the Jaguars – 2004 in Jacksonville – Hoke was in the lineup. Since then, the Steelers have dropped four in a row to the Jaguars, who have the Steelers’ full attention – even if they’re lining up across Dennis Norman instead of Meester.

“I think everybody’s All-American or All-Pro, so I can prepare that way,”Hoke said. “I never underestimate anybody until after I play them so I don’t fall into the trap.”

That kind of attitude that should benefit the Steelers, even though they will be without Hampton, DE Brett Keisel, RB Willie Parker, RG Kendall Simmons, and FB Carey Davis. It’s their solid depth that gives them a chance to avenge last year’s two losses at Heinz Field. Of course, they say they’re not out to avenge the playoff loss.

“Revenge doesn’t work in this league,” said defensive end Aaron Smith. “Everyone knows what they’re doing against each other and vice versa. After the first quarter, you can throw revenge out the door.”

At least Smith is playing this year. The league’s best 3-4 defensive end could only watch as the Jaguars rushed for 404 yards in two games against the proud Steelers’ run defense.

The Steelers also have a healthy safety tandem this year. Troy Polamalu played in both games last year, but was clearly limited by injuries. Ryan Clark did not play in either game.

This time, it’s the Jaguars with the banged-up secondary.

Free safety Reggie Nelson (knee) will be replaced by Gerard Sensabaugh, and right cornerback Drayton Florence will be replaced by Brownsville’s William James (formerly William Peterson). Star cornerback Rashean Mathis has also missed practice time this week with a bruised shin.

The Steelers will focus on stopping the running back combo of Fred Taylor (59-213) and Maurice Jones-Drew (38-169), and of course the quarterback draws of David Garrard, who sealed the playoff win last season with a late fourth-down scramble.

Garrard’s top target this season is Matt Jones, leads the team with 22 catches for 244 yards. Still, the Steelers know what to expect.

“When you have backs like that, you have to run the ball” said Smith. “They’re the best duo in the league. Whether they’re starting their first- or third-string linemen, they have to run the ball. That’s what they do.”

After all, they are the new Steelers.