Early struggles may have led some to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers were in trouble.
Coming off a dominating victory, the defending AFC champions have a chance to continue proving the doubters wrong when they host the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Injuries and inconsistency led to a mediocre start for Pittsburgh (3-2), including losses to Baltimore and Houston and a last-second victory over winless Indianapolis.
Heading into last week’s matchup with Tennessee, many wondered if the Steelers could overcome injuries to defensive standout James Harrison(notes) and running back Rashard Mendenhall(notes), as well as starters in the secondary and offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger(notes) also entered the game with a slightly sprained left foot.
None of those issues seemed to matter, though, as Pittsburgh rolled to a 38-17 victory with Roethlisberger’s five touchdown passes tying a career high.
“People were saying the Pittsburgh Steelers was banged up, and they didn’t have any guys to fill the roles,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley(notes) said. “But we had guys that (were) ready to come in and play.”
Mendenhall is ready to go after sitting out last weekend with a hamstring injury. Jonathan Dwyer(notes) and Isaac Redman(notes) handled the load against the Titans, with Dwyer rushing for 107 yards on 11 carries in his second NFL game and Redman carrying the ball 15 times for 49 yards.
Mendenhall, however, will be running behind the Steelers’ sixth different offensive line combination. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert(notes) is out because of a sore right shoulder he initially hurt in Indianapolis in Week 3, then aggravated against the Titans.
“We had a lot of guys filling in so we just got back to the basics, I think, on both sides of the ball,” Woodley said. “And that really helped us out.”
Jacksonville (1-4) hasn’t used Jones-Drew in the passing game as much this season, though the veteran has rushed for at least 84 yards in each of the team’s five games. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry and ranks fourth in the NFL with 476 rushing yards.
“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,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “When you watch him on tape, he’s a very physical runner. He has great vision, power and speed.”
Still, Jones-Drew’s production hasn’t been enough to carry the Jaguars.
Coach Jack Del Rio accepted blame for last Sunday’s 30-20 loss to Cincinnati, though he didn’t have much to do with the turnovers and mental lapses that cost Jacksonville a win.
That came after rookie Blaine Gabbert(notes) threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Jason Hill(notes) for a 20-16 lead with 8:24 remaining. However, Gabbert also later fumbled a snap when Jacksonville was driving in an attempt to tie the game.
“It is frustrating to be in the situation we are in right now with our record, but the main thing is we have to stick together,” linebacker Paul Posluszny(notes) said. “We have to stick together as a team, come together, learn from the mistakes we made … and start playing some winning football.”
Gabbert has completed only 49.5 percent of his passes, and his 71.2 passer rating ranks 30th in the league. Del Rio, though, is confident in his young signal-caller.
“We’ve got a good young quarterback that’s playing well, we just need to find ways to close these games out,” Del Rio said.
The Jaguars’ defense won’t have linebacker Clint Session(notes) (elbow) and likely won’t have cornerback Derek Cox(notes) (groin), but they’re expected to get end Aaron Kampman(notes) back. The two-time Pro Bowler has missed the team’s last 13 games with a knee injury, but he should start and play 15-20 snaps in his season debut.
The Steelers won 26-21 at Jacksonville in the most recent meeting Oct. 5, 2008. The last matchup in Pittsburgh came Jan. 5, 2008, when the Jaguars won 31-29 in a wild-card game.
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