Steelers Visit Jaguars: 5 Things To Know
Twenty years ago, the neophyte Jacksonville Jaguars got their second win ever against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. Since then, the connection between the two teams, despite the fact they are no longer in the same division, remains strong.
On Sunday, the Jaguars take aim at the Steelers, a team that fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, in an effort to claim their first win of the season. This is also the first home start for Blake Bortles, the man who has been compared to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, many times over. How will he play as the starter for the first time in front of the home crowd? That is just only one of the questions which must be answered for the hometown faithful.
Here are some things we must know about Sunday’s game according to John Oehser and Jaguars.com.
PRESSURE AND CREATIVITY
Think Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will call a few blitzes Sunday? The Jaguars do, and history says they’re right. LeBeau, one of the NFL’s more-respected coordinators, is known to call a variety of exotic blitzes when facing rookie quarterbacks, and Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said he figures LeBeau could do the same with Bortles making his second career start.
The Steelers have seven sacks this season; the Jaguars have allowed 20, including 10 against Washington in Week 2. “We have to prepare for both (blitz and coverage).” Fisch said Wednesday. “(Chargers defensive coordinator) John Pagano certainly blitzed us and put us in some tough spots at times – and then other times, played coverage. … We’re probably going to get a mixture, I assume, and we’ll have to be prepared for both.” Bortles said of the Steelers’ veteran defense, “They’re an aggressive defense that goes after it and attacks the ball. We’re going to have to be sharp and exact with what we do.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF THIRD DOWN
Third downs remain a priority. First, no way does Fisch think the Jaguars often match the 64 percent success rate on third down achieved against San Diego. “Sixty-three percent is an awfully high number,” he said. But Fisch is pleased with progress made in that area and wants it to continue.
The Jaguars, after converting six of 32 third downs in the first two and a half games, have converted 12 of 19 since Bortles entered the lineup. “The biggest things about third downs last week were that we had five third-and-ones,” Fisch said. “We converted four of those third-and-ones. That alone was huge for us. That means we were efficient on first and second downs.” Bortles agreed, saying, “I think that conversion rate was good and that’s something that we need to continue to work on and improve.”
GETTING BIG BEN DOWN IS HUGE
The Steelers are 2-2, but whatever struggles they have had aren’t because of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 11-year veteran through four games has a 99.4 passer rating, and he threw for three touchdowns in an upset loss to Tampa Bay last week. The Steelers’ running game is complementing Roethlisberger well, and wide receiver Antonio Brown has developed into one of the NFL’s most-dangerous receivers.
But Roethlisberger’s ability to extend plays and pass downfield after doing so remains the defining characteristic of the Steelers’ offense. “He’s always looking downfield,” Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller, who played Roethlisberger and the Steelers as a member of the Buccaneers in 2010, said.
Players have made clear while preparing for Pittsburgh they believe a defense that ranks 32nd in scoring, passing yards and total yards isn’t far from being competitive. Cornerback Alan Ball, asked if the defense could be fixed, smiled and said he didn’t believe it was broken.
And although defensive tackle Roy Miller said the game-changing plays must stop, there were some positives such as a strong run defense in a loss to San Diego Sunday. Head Coach Gus Bradley said he liked that the line was getting pressure, and once again said the front, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien have played well. “Now it’s just challenging everybody to pick it up even more,” Bradley said. “We showed signs of it. We can stop the run, we’ve addressed that and we’ve shown flashes in games where we’ve done that.
Now it’s just the consistency.”
BEING BETTER UP FRONT
The Jaguars’ offensive line has been an area of focus early in the season, but Fisch said the group has taken strides in recent weeks. Bradley said this week that the left side of guard Zane Beadles and tackle Luke Joeckel improved against San Diego, and asked specifically about Beadles Wednesday, Fisch said, “He played better.” After allowing 10 sacks against Washington in Week 2, the line has improved in pass protection while benefitting from Bortles’ pocket presence. Fisch also said the group has improved its run-blocking, and said the team’s 85 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against San Diego was better than the statistics indicated.
The Jaguars faced five third-and-one situations and two fourth-and-one situations with three more plays inside the Chargers’ five-yard line. “You’re not going to get as many yards when you have ten short-yardage plays,” Fisch said.