Some keys to the Steelersí victory against Jacksonville
By James Pete | October 4th, 2008
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are hurting. Donít ask me, just look at their roster. Their defensive line is decimated, with Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton both out due to injury, leaving only Aaron Smith left on the starting line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has missed most practices this week thanks to his bum shoulder. Starting running back Willie Parker is out this week, and his back-up, Rashard Mendenhall, is out for the season. Fullback and third string tailback, Carey Davis, is also out thanks to a bum ankle. Third down back Mewelde Moore will be filling in as starter, with Gary Russell and garbage can dumper Najeh Davenport joining the active roster this week to back him up. Kendall Simmons is also out for the season, as Darnell Stapleton and Trai Essex battle to fill in for the mediocre right guard.
With all this pain at several positions, hereís a quick look at a few players that will play a key role in tomorrowís game:
Mewelde Moore-Running Back: Moore will be thrust into the spotlight during tomorrow nightís Sunday Night Football broadcast. In case you are wondering, Moore hasnít started an NFL game since December 4, 2005, when he started for the Minnesota Vikings against the Detroit Lions. Moore is certainly one of the most versatile backs in the league. Heís mostly used as a receiver out of the backfield, which is why the Steelers signed him in the offseason. Not only that, but Moore is an adept return-man. Moore has been virtually non-existant this season, until Rashard Mendenhall went down last week against Baltimore. Now, heíll be the main man touching the football behind injured Ben Roethlisberger.
So what will Moore bring? Last week, he carried the ball eight times for a grand total of 13 yards. Thatís not exactly calming my football nerves. He DID catch three balls for 37 yards, including a couple of big third down catches that led to the Steelers winning, but thatís what heís supposed to do as a third down back. The difference this week is that Moore was working out with the first team, and getting most of the touches in practice. Will it help the Steelersí running game? Itís doubtful in my eyes, which will lead to some issues with Roethlisberger, who is also hurt. Perhaps Moore will be used a lot more in first and second down situations as a receiver, but without a running game, the Steelers could be in trouble. Especially with a hurt QB, and a short work week.
If Moore canít gain yards on the ground, the Steelers canít win, unlessÖ
Gary Russell-Running BackĖÖGary Russell shows the Steelersí coaching staff some of that unbelievable potential that remains tantalizing to Steelersí fans. Russell was recalled from the practice squad this week to back up Mewelde Moore. This may be his last chance to prove to the Steelersí coaches, and the NFL, that Russell isnít just another wasted talent.
Russell was good enough to split time at the University of Minnesota with New Englandís Lawrence Maroney. Russell ran for 1,130 yards on 186 carries with 19 touchdowns as a sophomore. Academic failure forced Russell to drop out of Minnesota, and he attended a local community college to try to better his grades. He never re-enrolled at Minnesota, and left several question marks about his potential in the NFL. The kid can run the ball, but many question his football IQ.
Hopefully he finds it tomorrow against the Jags. If he can provide the running, and Moore the receiving, this backfield could surprise some. Also take into account the fact that Jacksonville hasnít been all that good against the run, and Russell could break open and have a big day.
Itís not likely, but possible.
Ben Roethlisberger-quarterback: The biggest question mark is on the jersey of Ben Roethlisberger. Roeth sat out practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and only played in a limited capacity on Friday. Heís listed as questionable for tomorrow nightís game against the Jags. I donít buy it though. My bet is that Roethlisberger will be making the calls, and this is a good thing. Unfortunately, Bruce Arians has lost his mind as a play-caller, so weíll need Roeth under center to make the right calls, especially with the entirety of his backfield hurt.
It may be interesting to put Byron Leftwich out there for a few plays, however. The Jags are his former team, and Iím sure the Steelers are hammering him for information. You can also bet the farm that there is nothing Leftwich would rather do than beat Jack Del Rio and the Jaguars into the ground. This could become important as the game progresses.
Roeth always gives the Steelers a chance to win football games, and having him out there in any capacity is a good thing. The Jags have struggle against good passers this year. Look what Matt Schaub did to them last week for the proof. This could be the opening the Steelers need to get the run game going.
Chris Hoke-nose tackle: Hoke is a better-than-average back-up to Casey Hampton, and heíll be going up against a potential hole in the Jags offensive line. Dennis Norman is playing center for the Jags, and is the back-up to regular starter, Brad Meester. Chris Hoke is the key to the Steelersí already impressive defense. If Hoke can go after Norman, and force either guard and/or running back to help Norman out in the middle, the Jacksonville offense is done for the day. This double wonít allow any sleepers to hedge in an attempt to stop the force of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, as well as open up the middle for Larry Foote and James Farrior. Throw in a crazed Lawrence Timmons, and you have a whole bunch of hurt to the steady starter, David Garrard.
There are rumblings that Meester could play tomorrow night, but that doesnít change Hokeís importance. Meester has been out since training camp, so it shouldnít be too much to ask for Hoke to take down whichever center the Jags throw at him.
The Steelersí Defensive Line: The reality of the situation is pretty simple: the Steelers have to beat down this already beat up offensive line. There has really been no rhythm for the Jaguars offense this year, and itís all because of injuries to the offensive line. Unfortunately, the Steelers may not be able to take advantage. Iíve already mentioned Hampton and Keisel being out, but so will Nick Eason. Orpheus Roye and practice squad player, Scott Paxson will be adding the depth. I know, it doesnít look all that great, especially off a short week. Letís hope the depth doesnít prove to be an issue, so the linebackers can take over the game.
Of course, they may do that anywaysÖthey are that damn good.
Darnell Stapleton and/or Trai EssexĖright guard: Kendall Simmons went down last week, and the line immediately seemed to improve. Not much, but enough to hopefully open up the eyes of the Steelersí coaching staff. Darnell Stapleton stepped in nicely, and looks to have the job this week. Trai Essex, who played some guard during camp to help make himself more valuable to the team, has also looked good this week in practice. Itís unknown who will get the nod, although I suspect Stapleton will be the starter based on his performance in the second half last week. Either way, this could be the first move to solidifying a weak offensive line. It couldnít come at a better time for Ben Roethlisberger, who likely spends his day ducking any unknown noise that comes his way for fear of a sack.
The Steelersí linebackers: The Steelersí linebackers are the type that transcend the team in many ways. The defensive line is hurting, but it might not matter. Woodley and Harrison were both shedding linemen last week like they were paper in a ticker-tape parade. Foote and Farrior were attacking the ball like a group of rabid hyenas looking for dinner. This game could simply be decided by this group of five (including Timmons).
The Steelersí defensive backfield: As mentioned last week, this is the unit that is quietly, and happily, hiding behind their linebackers, but playing good football. If the linebackers continue to do their job of wreaking havoc, look for Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and especially Troy Polamalu to have a field day against Garrard. Also count on this unit for run support. So far, and for the first time in years in my opinion, this unit is playing solid football.
Overall, this is going to be a tough win for the Steelers. No, I donít think itís going to be based on their injuries. Instead, the short work week is going to bite them in the end. Still, if the Steelersí defense controls the nature of the game, and if the offense can look like something slightly better than a dead animal, then the Steelers will win a close, low-scoring game.
Call this one for the Steelers:
Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Jacksonville Jaguars 10