Steelers Team Report
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By beating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime Monday, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) can afford to lose in Jacksonville this Sunday, regroup over their bye week and get ready to play at Cincinnati Oct. 19.
A victory in Jacksonville would be a bonus for them at this point because of all their injuries. They are without their top two running backs, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall, guard Kendall Simmons, and two-thirds of their starting defensive line will miss a second straight game, nose tackle Casey Hampton and end Brett Keisel.
Starting fullback Carey Davis also appears to be out this week with a severely sprained ankle.
They signed running backs Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell to join the only healthy back left after Monday night’s carnage, Mewelde Moore. Still, the pass probably will be their weapon of choice in Jacksonville Sunday night behind the right arm of Ben Roethlisberger, which remains sore from an opening-game injury.
“I guess so,” offensive tackle Willie Colon said. “We have to let Ben do what he does. We have to let the receivers run and we have to block.”
“When you lose your starting running back, you lose your first-round drafted back, you lose your starting fullback?” Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes asked out loud yesterday. “I mean, what else is there for you to do? You can only throw the ball and hope someone comes in and fills in, like Mewelde did.”
They passed at will against Jacksonville last January in their 31-29 playoff loss, with Willie Parker out because of a broken leg. Roethlisberger completed 29 of 42 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also was intercepted three times and sacked six times.
“In the playoffs, we went to the hurry-up and the spread and it really got us back in the game,” receiver Hines Ward said. “Hopefully, we can learn from that and maybe exploit some things there.”
The Steelers have had trouble protecting Roethlisberger this season. He has been sacked 15 times, putting him on a pace for 60, which would easily be the most in team history. Nevertheless, Jacksonville ranks only 24th on defense against the pass in the NFL and the Jaguars have just five sacks through four games. The Jags rank 14th on defense against the run.
“Whatever it takes for that to get done and us to come out with a victory, that’s what we need to do,” Colon said.
The Steelers have rushed for more yards than any team since the 1970 NFL merger, and they won’t turn into a West Coast offense overnight in Jacksonville.
“All in all, this team is not going to change,” Ward said. “We’re still going to try to run the ball regardless of who is at the running back position. That’s what we do, that’s what we built this team on. Don’t look for us to pass the ball 50 or 60 times, it’s not going to happen unless we’re behind.”
How about 40 Sunday night?
Series History: 21st meeting. Jaguars lead the series 12-8, including victories in the past four meetings, including their only playoff meeting last January. The Steelers are 3-7 in Jacksonville, but they’ve won two of their past three games there since 2002.
• Coach Mike Tomlin admitted he erred when he called a timeout just before Ben Roethlisberger threw a 10-yard TD pass against the Ravens in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead for a 20-13 lead.
“That’s one of the many mistakes that I make from time to time,” Tomlin said. “I told my football team this after the game, that I’ve got to learn to trust our quarterback in terms of managing the game from a play-clock standpoint.”
• QB Ben Roethlisberger has been begging his coaches to let him use the no-huddle offense more often. They went to it for a series against Baltimore, and that’s when Roethlisberger threw a 38-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes.
“Ben has always been an advocate of the no-huddle,” Tomlin said. “He likes to get the keys to the car.”
• Kicker Jeff Reed was selected AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his three field goals against Baltimore, including the overtime winner from 46 yards. Reed is perfect on seven kicks this year and it was his seventh game-winner.
• A national audience saw linebacker Andre Frazier strapped to a gurney and carted off the field when he was injured on the opening kickoff Monday. The Steelers said he had an injury to his spine. However, he’s practicing this week.
“He looks to be remarkably fine,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “All indications are this guy’s got a chance to move on and play this week, providing he passes some tests, which people are pretty confident he will. So, it’s really a blessing. It’s always scary when you see somebody lay flat and they bring a board out. A lot of that probably was for precautionary reasons, but you want to exercise a little caution under those circumstances.”
By The Numbers: 100—Ben Roethlisberger’s career touchdown passes, including postseason. He threw his fourth scoring pass Monday against Baltimore.
Quote To Note: “I can’t tell them anything they don’t already know. Pittsburgh and the Jaguars have been playing each other every year now.”—Former Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich, on secrets he’s passing his new teammates.
Strategy And Personnel
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice for the second straight day Thursday, but he should be fine to play in Jacksonville Sunday night.
Roethlisberger has a sore right shoulder when he was bounced to the ground by Mario Williams in the opening game. He has played through it but this is the first time in two weeks he has missed two days of practice.
His health has been an issue because he has had a slight hyperextension of his knee and a sore shoulder, and he has been sacked 15 times.
The Jaguars sacked Roethlisberger 11 times in two games last season, both in Pittsburgh, one a playoff game. Roethlisberger has been the most sacked quarterback over the past two seasons—93 times.
“He felt a little better today,” coach Mike Tomlin said after practice. “In a nutshell, he wasn’t quite well enough to go, so it was another opportunity for Byron Leftwich to get some reps and we proceeded on.
“Like in recent weeks I think he’s going to be fine, but we have all of the confidence in the work of Byron Leftwich if that should happen as well.”
Leftwich was Jacksonville’s starting quarterback from 2003 until they released him after their 2007 training camp. The Steelers signed him this summer when Charlie Batch had his collarbone broken in their first preseason game.
• The Steelers signed RB Najeh Davenport, released by them June 28, and RB Gary Russell from their practice squad. They placed rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall (broken left shoulder) and G Kendall Simmons (ruptured Achilles) on injured reserve.
They released S Grant Mason from their practice squad and added two: G Doug Legursky and DE Jordan Reffett.
• RB Mewelde Moore, who had four 100-yard games in Minnesota since 2004, likely will start against the Jaguars.
• LB James Harrison is second in the NFL with 5.5 sacks, half off the lead. No Steelers linebacker ever was the league sack champ.
• P Mitch Berger has put nine of his 21 punts inside the 20.
• WR Santonio Holmes took over the punt return duties Monday night from Mewelde Moore and likely will return again this week.
• RB Najeh Davenport, who re-signed with the Steelers this week, will not play in the backfield Sunday unless there is another injury. Gary Russell will back up Moore.
• G Darnell Stapleton will start at right guard, replacing injured Kendall Simmons. Stapleton and Trai Essex were supposed to compete for the job but it has been all Stapleton this week with Essex getting only a few snaps with the first team.
Game Plan: The Steelers will try to throw it more against Jacksonville, out of necessity both because their backfield has been depleted and the Jaguars have always been tough to run against. Defensively, they want to limit what the Jaguars do on the ground and will not worry as much about their passing game, other than to contain David Garrard from breaking out of the pocket as he did to beat them in the playoffs.
Matchups To Watch: Steelers WR Santonio Holmes, their big-play threat, vs. CB Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville’s best cornerback.
Steelers ROLB James Harrison, second in the NFL with 5.5 sacks, vs. Jaguars LT Khalif Barnes.
Steelers run-stopping ILB Larry Foote, vs. Jaguars RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, who riddled the Steelers last season on the ground.
Injury Impact: The loss of RBs Willie Parker (knee sprain) and Rashard Mendenhall (broken shoulder, IR) means that Mewelde Moore should start with Gary Russell and Najeh Davenport backing him up. If FB/RB Carey Davis (sprained ankle) cannot play, TE Sean McHugh will play fullback.
• LB James Harrison, second in the league with 5.5 sacks, did little in practice Thursday. He has a thigh injury, but is expected to play.