Jags, healthy Taylor try to end Pittsburgh's winning streak

Saturday, December 4th 2004, 11:12 am
By: News On 6

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Fred Taylor knows what's coming.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are planning to do everything they can to slow down Taylor, Jacksonville's biggest offensive threat the last three games with 394 yards rushing and 54 more receiving.

Taylor expects to see the line of scrimmage stacked with defenders as well as constant blitzes. The matchup could be key when Pittsburgh (10-1) puts its nine-game winning streak on the line Sunday night against the Jaguars (6-5).

``I'm always up for a challenge,'' Taylor said.

This might be the biggest one of the season, too.

The Steelers have the league's best rushing defense, allowing 75 yards a game. They have surrendered just 209 yards on the ground in the last five games and haven't given up a touchdown rushing over that span. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have 544 yards rushing the last three games.

Taylor has 66 carries in that span, but coach Jack Del Rio would prefer to get him at least 25 against the Steelers.

``I like the idea of getting Fred more and more touches,'' Del Rio said. ``I think he's done a nice job. I think we need to be physical and continue to run the football and be good at it.''

The Jags were ineffective running the ball early in the season because of nagging injuries to Taylor and both starting guards and the loss of left tackle Mike Pearson (knee) for the season. Taylor had a stress fracture in his foot during training camp that slowed him early, then he sustained a hip pointer against Houston on Oct. 31.

But he has looked as sharp as ever the last three games, and the Steelers recognize that.

``Fred Taylor definitely is a good back. He's proven that against us time after time,'' linebacker Joey Porter said. ``Our focus is to stop the run and pressure Leftwich.

``If we take the run away, then go after the quarterback all day and pressure him into making bad throws, I feel we have a good chance to come out on top.''

If the Steelers win, they would improve to 11-1 for the first time since their Super Bowl winning season in 1975.

But they will need to play better in Jacksonville, where they are just 2-6 since the Jags joined the league in 1995.

The Jaguars' first home victory came against Pittsburgh that season, and the franchise will honor the inaugural team Sunday night as part of a 10-year anniversary. Maybe having some of the former players on hand will give the Jags a boost after losing the last two games against Tennessee and Minnesota.

The players and coaches are approaching this game as a must-win situation considering they have lost three of the last four and slipped a game back in the crowded AFC wild-card picture.

``Some things don't really need to be said,'' said Del Rio, whose team is two games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South. ``Some things grown men can figure out for themselves. I think for us certainly it's no secret that the cushion that we may have had at some point is gone and it's imperative that we play well.''

And that probably means finding a way to run against the Steelers.

The Jags also hope to stop the run, something Pittsburgh has done equally well this season.

The Steelers, second in the league and tops in the AFC in rushing, expect Duce Staley back in the starting lineup after missing the last four games with a hamstring injury.

It will be the third consecutive game in which the Jaguars have faced a key player returning from injury, and they're hoping for better results this time.

Tennessee's Steve McNair returned from a chest injury and helped the Titans beat Jacksonville two weeks ago. Minnesota's Randy Moss came back from a partially torn hamstring last week against the Jags and caught a pivotal touchdown pass in the second half.

Steelers coach Bill Cower said Jerome Bettis still will share the workload with Staley. Bettis has 481 yards rushing and three touchdowns the last four weeks.

``They're going to let him go until he's tired,'' Bettis said. ``Physically, it's going to be harder for him to be out there a consecutive number of plays just because of conditioning. You go from virtually no carries to 30 carries a game.

``I had to do it out of necessity, and my tongue was falling out. I would expect they wouldn't want that to happen to him because he's been inactive four weeks.''