Leftwich: Steelers always a big deal to Jaguars
By ALAN ROBINSON – 5 hours ago
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Byron Leftwich feels so different wearing Steelers black and gold rather than Jaguars teal and black for one of the AFC's best rivalry games, he called former teammate Marcus Stroud to ask, "Hey, did you feel this way, too?"
Like Leftwich, Stroud was a longtime Jaguars player who also needed to shift loyalties after going to Buffalo.
"He said it was weird as hell for him, too," Leftwich said Wednesday. "I'm quite sure it's going to feel funny on Sunday, being on the other side, But it's a situation where you've got to deal with it — they've moved on, I've moved on."
What hasn't moved on is the Steelers-Jaguars rivalry, one that occurs nearly as often as it did when the teams were in the former AFC Central together from 1995-2001.
The teams meet Sunday for the third time since December and the sixth time since 2004 and, as usual, the game will be important to both. The Steelers (3-1) want to stay atop the AFC North heading into their bye week; the Jaguars don't want to slip to 2-3 in the AFC South, where Tennessee is off to a 4-0 start.
Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger's backup in Pittsburgh, won two of his three starts against the Steelers with Jacksonville from 2003-06. The Jaguars let him go last year after coach Jack Del Rio chose David Garrard as his starter, and Leftwich later played three games for Atlanta before signing with Pittsburgh in August.
"It came down to a guy believing in another guy and nothing's wrong with that," Leftwich said of his Jacksonville departure. "Sometimes a coach wants a certain quarterback leading his football team and that's fine. I never thought I was his (Del Rio's) guy, from the beginning."
It's hard to argue with the decision. Garrard led Jacksonville to an 11-5 record, the second round of the playoffs and two wins in Pittsburgh in a month's time, including a 31-29 wild-card playoff victory in January.
Jacksonville became the first team to win in Pittsburgh twice in a season, and Leftwich said the Jaguars' success against a team they have long emulated reflects how much they put into playing the Steelers.
Del Rio points to Pittsburgh as a model franchise, and the Jaguars mirror the Steelers like no other team with their emphasis on a strong running game and a physical style of play. Last season, the nomenclature "Steelers of the South" was frequently given to the Jaguars.
No wonder the Jaguars have won their past four against the Steelers, and six of the past nine_ as Leftwich said, nobody needs to tell the Jaguars when it's Pittsburgh week.
"The coaches are going to make sure they're ready to play Sunday," Leftwich said. "For them, it's not like it is with the Steelers. You don't get to be on national TV every week. They (the Jaguars) are going to be up and they're going to try to come out and play well so everybody can see they're a good team."
Given Leftwich's extensive knowledge of Jacksonville's playbook and system, he would seem to be an asset given the Steelers' short week of preparation. The Steelers beat Baltimore 23-20 in overtime Monday night, only to return to their practice complex a few hours later to start working on Jacksonville.
"I've already talked to him," Roethlisberger said. "The whole first (quarterbacks) meeting, I was asking him who he knows, what he knows, little tidbits about each guy. It's a big help to have him here."
Given how frequently the teams play and the detailed scouting reports, Leftwich wonders how big a help he can be unless he plays in Jacksonville.
"This is the third meeting (since December) and especially because they played in the playoffs, if you play a playoff game, the scouting is so great that you know just about everything about the opposing team," Leftwich said. "I'm quite sure I don't have anything top secret they don't already know."
What concerns the Steelers is playing another physical opponent so soon after losing right guard Kendall Simmons and first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall to season-ending injuries against Baltimore.
Until they added running backs Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell on Wednesday, the Steelers were down to one healthy running back.
"Back to back, that's what the schedule's put on us," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We played Monday night and we've got to travel down to Jacksonville and it's going to be another physical game. We know it, but they know it as well.