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Steelers

Jones-Drew paces Jags

| Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

Maurice Jones-Drew spent time the past few years trying to figure out how NASCAR drivers generate unfathomable speeds in the unforgiving corners of storied Daytona International Speedway.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' diminutive running back discovered it takes immeasurable talent to roar almost effortlessly around the racetrack in pursuit of a checkered flag.

Jones-Drew has the talent and the numbers -- 476 rushing yards this season -- but the Jaguars' offense has been lapped, even though the two-time Pro Bowler is the NFL's fourth-leading rusher.

The Jaguars won their season opener, 16-14, against the Tennessee Titans. But they have spun their wheels in losing four straight, mostly because the offense hasn't generated enough points to mount fourth-quarter challenges.

Jacksonville, which handed the reins to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert after ousting David Garrard shortly after the final exhibition game, are last in the NFL in total offense (270.6 yards) and passing yards per game (150).

As a result, the Jaguars are averaging only 11.8 points per game. Jones-Drew is certain Jacksonville has enough talent to turn things around against the Steelers (3-2) on Sunday at Heinz Field. But he didn't appear overly confident earlier this week.

"As an offense, we are just not where we want to be," Jones-Drew said. "Before we can go and worry about the Pittsburgh defense and how they are going to attack us, we have to fix and be confident in what we are going to do, and go out and execute it.

"That whole (Steelers) defense is full of game-breakers. They do a great job of flying to the ball. The more I keep talking about them, the worse it's starting to sound."

The Jaguars are trying to get healthy against a defense that suffocated Tennessee in a 38-17 victory. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is hoping his defense doesn't drop its collective hands against Jones-Drew, who figured prominently in Jacksonville winning four of the past five meetings between the teams, including a 31-29 win in a 2008 AFC Wild Card game.

"(Jones-Drew) has great vision, power and speed," Tomlin said. "He's not small; he's just short. He has built-in leverage. We've had issues, like many others, with him in the past."

Still, the Jaguars must lean on an unpolished quarterback who is navigating his way through the playbook.

"We don't expect them to do a lot of downfield passing," said linebacker James Farrior, who had 13 tackles last Sunday. "We expect more screen plays.

"We know Jones-Drew is going to touch the ball the majority of the time. We've been looking at the positives they have and the success they've had with certain plays."

Things haven't worked out well when Jones-Drew doesn't handle the ball, as the Jaguars' offense has received little or nothing out of its passing game. Clearly, the Jaguars are experiencing the consequences of cutting loose Garrard. It was a familiar tactic, one Jacksonville used to split with Steelers' injured quarterback Byron Leftwich.

"It's a big deal when you cut your starting quarterback, but that's not an excuse at all," Jones-Drew said. "We have to be able to go out there and make plays. Obviously, not having Gabbert here in the offseason, working on timing the routes, and throughout training camp was pretty tough. We are having some type of growing pains."

Still, the heavily favored Steelers insists they aren't dropping their guard.

"We will approach them like they are a Super Bowl-caliber team," said defensive end Ziggy Hood. "We can't take them lightly because that's all it takes for a team to get hot."

Additional Information:

Maurice Jones-Drew file

Career highlights

Category (Jaguars franchise rank)

Rushing yards: 5,724 (2nd)

Total yards: 7,890 (3rd)

All-purpose yards: 10,073 (3rd)

Receiving: 242 catches (4th)

2011 statistics

Category (AFC ranking)

Rushing: 476 yards (3rd in AFC)

Attempts: 96 (2nd)

Runs of more than 10 yards: 15 (1st)

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