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Old 09-13-2006, 11:06 PM   #1
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Default Collier: Much ado about nothing

Collier: Much ado about nothing
Thursday, September 14, 2006

By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As Dallas spent the first 10 minutes of this newborn NFL season taking apart Jacksonville's decorated defense, radical adjustments within the Jaguars' coaching booth and by Jack Del Rio on the home club's sideline, seemed the obvious prescription.

But sometimes, the most radical thing you can do is nothing, and, as the Steelers have plowed through game tape in preparation for the loud collision Monday night at the northeast edge of Florida, nothing was getting a lot of discussion. At least, the degree to which the Jaguars did nothing particularly deviant to overturn a 10-0 Dallas lead on their way to an impressive, 24-17 season-opening victory Sunday.

"Jacksonville's defense is always good, and a big part of the reason is that they play their defense," said Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as he walked off the practice field yesterday. "They don't do a lot of different things."

Funny though. Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe went 4 for 5 on the opening drive and 5 for 8 for 85 yards on Dallas' first two possessions to build that 10-point lead, then went 11 for 25 the rest of the way, suffering not only prolonged harassment but the hot indignity of three interceptions. When he finally flipped one to Terrell Owens at the back of the Jacksonville end zone for an academic touchdown, the opener was down to its last 84 seconds and the Cowboys had been shut out for nearly 49 minutes.

"I think defensively we just came out and we preached and talked about the importance of doing your job and knowing your role and playing fast and trusting your teammate to do his job and play his role and play fast behind you," Del Rio blurted in the immediate glow of 1-0.

"There were a couple instances early in the game where we didn't do that, and we gave up some big plays that were a result of not trusting 'just carry out my assignment and don't try to do somebody else's job.'

"Coaches talk about that a lot when big plays happen because normally there is something that is broken down. That's really what we had -- a couple of guys sticking their nose in where it didn't belong. We settled down after the first series and a half. We settled down and played some really good defense and gave ourselves a chance."

It's not terribly unusual for Jacksonville's defense to seize every last opportunity for turnover creation and, by extension, the No. 1 by-product of turnover creation: winning. The Jaguars' three interceptions represented the fourth time in their past 11 games that they had three picks. The Jaguars' standard defensive posture is a blend of philosophies brought to Florida by Del Rio, former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo (now Jacksonville's assistant head coach/secondary), and coordinator Mike Smith, the old Winnipeg Blue Bombers' linebacker who got his coordinator's degree with the Baltimore Ravens' defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in 2000 (165 for the entire season).

"Their front seven is unbelievable," said Ben Roethlisberger, who looks like he'll make his first regular-season start since reconstructive face surgery and an appendectomy. "And they have some hard hitters in the secondary."

Two of those interceptions Sunday were by linebackers Mike Peterson and Nick Greisen, with veteran corner Rashean Mathis getting the third. Both Greisen's and Mathis' picks led to Jacksonville touchdowns during an uninterrupted 24-point blitz, and the ball-hawking only swells in intensity when Terry Cousin joins the secondary in nickel coverage.

"I love starting, but there's a certain competition that goes with being a nickel back," says Cousins, who has Super Bowl experience with the 2003 Carolina Panthers. "The game has turned into specialized plays. It's a situation where it's a must. You have to help your defense get off the field. It's a lot of pressure, but you enjoy it."

Though Jacksonville isn't shy about presenting a mix of coverages, the struggle for Steelers wideouts in this road opener is essentially in breaking down individuals in an accomplished secondary, a struggle that a veteran such as Hines Ward knows all too thoroughly.

"It's just a matter of confidence," Ward said yesterday. "As you wear your guy down, you have to continue to realize there are no really sorry players in the NFL. It's a series of one-on-one battles out there, and you're gonna win some and lose some. It's the guy who wins the majority of them and wins them when they count who's gonna win the war.

"Jacksonville has a great secondary. They have playmakers at linebacker. They're resilient and they're gonna play smart."

Just as the best adjustment might be no adjustment, sometimes the smartest thing you can do is avoid outsmarting yourself.

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