Matchup of the game
By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Jaguars offensive tackle Khalif Barnes vs. Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen
Khalif Barnes, 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, has gone from the second round of the NFL Draft to the first option for the Jaguars at left offensive tackle. Barnes made his first NFL start last Sunday night and the improvement up front was dramatic.
With Mike Pearson starting at left tackle, the Jaguars rushed for 12 yards and allowed two sacks in a 20-7 loss against Denver on October 2. With Barnes replacing Pearson last Sunday night against Cincinnati, quarterback Byron Leftwich wasn't sacked and running back Fred Taylor broke free for his first 100-yard game of the season (132 rushing yards) in a 23-20 victory.
Such a profound upswing can't be attributed entirely to Barnes' presence in the lineup, but nor should it be viewed as a coincidence. Barnes arrived from the University of Washington purportedly possessing all the skills he needed to succeed in the NFL short of toughness (much the way Max Starks came to the Steelers from the University of Florida). He ought to play tougher today than he did a week ago based on a confidence level that has to be soaring.
Veteran Kimo von Oelhoffen (6-foot-4, 299 pounds), along with fellow defensive end Aaron Smith, has been an integral but underrated part of the Steelers' run-stuffing success. In any 3-4 defense, reliable end play is essential to containing a running game, and the Steelers contained San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson to the tune of 62 yards on 18 carries (a 3.4 average; Tomlinson had gone over 100 yards in each of his two previous games, pushing 200 on Sept. 25) in Monday night's 24-22 victory.
When it comes time to rush the passer it'll be fill-in right outside linebacker James Harrison trying to make Barnes' life miserable. Harrison took over for Clark Haggans (groin) against the Chargers and made his fifth NFL start memorable not because of his ability to rush the passer but for an acrobatic, one-handed interception and a 25-yard return that included hurdling Tomlinson.
Despite limited playing time on defense, Harrison ranks tied for third among Steelers with two sacks and first with three tackles for a loss.
The Matchup: The Steelers have already encountered one rookie left tackle this season, but weren't able to exploit the situation. New England lost left offensive tackle Matt Light early in what became a 23-20 victory over the Steelers on Sept. 25. Rookie Nick Kaczur replaced Light and lined up next to rookie left guard Logan Mankins. The Steelers didn't alter their defensive approach, and didn't do enough to prevent Tom Brady from completing 31 of 41 passes for 372 yards. They'll have to either scheme better or win more one-on-one battles against Barnes. EDGE: STEELERS
Last week: Strong safety Troy Polamalu didn't cover San Diego tight end Antonio Gates exclusively, but Polamalu covered Gates often and helped limit Gates to five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. Better still, the Chargers and Tomlinson didn't run wild even though Polamalu was paying so much attention to Gates. Neither Tomlinson or Gates was able to beat the Steelers single-handedly, and in the end the Chargers came up short. EDGE: STEELERS