Pittsburgh Steelers vs Jacksonville Jaguars :The Jacksonville Jaguars return home for the first time in almost a month to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at TIAA Bank Field at 1:00pm EST. With the game being flexed from its original Sunday Night Football prime time slot, anyone not going to the game will have Romo and Nantz on the CBS call.
The Steelers are red hot coming into Duval County on a five game win streak, most recently dismantling a very good Carolina Panthers team on Thursday Night Football in Pittsburgh. This means that Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff had two extra days to help prepare for this game against their kryptonite Jaguars while Doug Marrone and his crew were supposedly cramming for the Colts on Friday and Saturday. Last year, the Jaguars defense forced a handful of Big Ben turnovers in the regular season and then the Steelers got caught looking ahead to the Patriots in the playoffs. Notice all has been quiet from Pittsburgh on the bulletin board material front this week…
Defensively, the Steelers have mixed it up as the season has gone on, and the moves seem to have paid dividends. T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have flip-flopped sides and Watt now rushes from the left outside linebacker spot and Dupree from the right in their 3-4 defense, combining for 12.5 sacks on the season. The Steelers have also moved second year player Sean Davis to the strong safety position vacated by the infamous Mike Mitchell and they’ve gone with a rotation of rookie first round pick Terrell Edmunds and veteran Morgan Burnett at the free safety spot.
The Steelers also benched former first round pick Artie Burns at right cornerback and replaced him Coty Sensabaugh, and the pass defense has improved since making the move and (former Jaguar) Mike Hilton continues to be one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL. Inside linebacker and team leader Vince Williams is having a good season, but the spot next to him currently played by Jon Bostic is in need of a desperate upgrade in the offseason. The Steelers are vulnerable in their secondary and the Jaguars should try to run right at Bostic when rushing the football on Sunday.
Check out Ryan O’Bleness’ cross-over piece with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain for more information about the opponent.
Of course, the major storyline for the Steelers all season has been the status of Le’Veon Bell, who finally did not report to the Steelers before the deadline and will not be eligible to play for the remainder of the 2018 season. For Bell’s teammates, this seems to be some necessary closure as they can now focus on the players they have as they look to make a playoff run.
For the Jaguars, the major storyline has been the five game losing streak and what they need to do to get out of their funk. Defensively, they had more busted coverages than a high school team and Jalen Ramsey today refuted the allegations that he was playing his own rogue coverages despite Doug Marrone publicly blaming him for a couple of the busts earlier this week. If the communication issues in the secondary don’t improve this week with A.J. Bouye (hopefully) back in the line up, expect Todd Wash’s seat to get awfully toasty. Whether Wash is making the wrong calls, the players are unprepared or miscommunicating before the snap, or players are just straight up disrespecting him and doing whatever they want, it’s all a bad look for him.
Offensively, Nathaniel Hackett’s play calling has been much more balanced since Leonard Fournette’s return to the line up, and that has elevated the production of the passing game. Despite eclipsing 100 scrimmage yards and finding the end zone twice, Fournette looked hesitant and, quite frankly, pretty slow running the football for a miserable 2.2 yards per carry. Fournette registered the fastest timed speed in the NFL last year against the Steelers — can he do it again on Sunday and prove to everyone that his first game back was a byproduct of rust? I sure hope so.
Ngakoue has not had the sacks and fumbles that we are accustomed to seeing, but did you know that the Jaguars actually lead the league in pressures? Ngakoue has a lot to do with that, and it feels like he’s just getting there a half second too late. Life doesn’t get much easier for Yannick this week against Alejandro Villanueva, who is having a terrific season for the Steelers as a pass blocker. As big as Roethlisberger is, I’m not anticipating Ngakoue to show up on the sack sheet (Ben has only been sacked 12 times this year), but his pressure will hopefully affect Ben and cause some rushed throws into double coverage or maybe even one of those world-famous strip fumbles.
The Steelers know that Ben traditionally struggles with the Jaguars defense, so expect a heavy does of James Conner this week. The Jaguars linebackers have played poorly over the past few games with Myles losing track of his run fits and Telvin getting beat in coverage, so this could be a good day to start Conner if you have him in fantasy.
Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V. Copy, paste. If the Jaguars can get an early lead and maintain possession by running the football and keep the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands, they have a chance. If the Steelers get off to an early lead and force Blake Bortles to start throwing it all over the yard, forget it. Considering how the Jaguars defense played last week against a Colts team with limited threats at wide receiver, why should anyone be confident that they will be able to blanket the Steelers’ weapons? The problem with how this team is constructed (run the ball, play defense, kill clock) in the modern passing area of football is that the margin for error is so small.