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Divisional Round Preview: Jaguars vs Steelers

Written by Cody Manning

Previous Matchup: The Jaguars beat the Steelers 30–9 in Week 5 of this season; afterwards, Ben Roethlisberger sounded like he was ready for retirement. Big Ben finished the game with 312 yards, but he hurt his team by throwing five interceptions. While they did lose by 21, the Steelers found a way to hang over 300 passing yards on the Jaguars elite passing defense. Antonio Brown had himself a day with 10 receptions for 157 yards. Le’Veon Bell was held under 100 total yards which could also have contributed to their loss. On the other side of the ball, it came down to Pittsburgh struggling to contain Leonard Fournette, who had 181 yards and two touchdowns. Blake Bortles didn’t even crack 100 yards passing as he finished with zero touchdowns and one interception. Can Jacksonville repeat this performance one again in Pittsburgh? We will find out this Sunday afternoon.

Offense: We will be seeing two top ten offenses on the field in Pittsburgh this Sunday. The Steelers have the 3rd best offense in the league, averaging 377.9 YPG. They depend on getting all those yards through the air, where the Steelers averaged 273.8 YPG. Even though they have arguably the best running back in the NFL, they found themselves ranked 20th in the run, averaging 104.2 YPG. In their previous matchup, Le’Veon Bell only had 47 rushing yards. This is something that they will need to change this time around. Pittsburgh needs to find a way to wear down Jacksonville’s defense. If not, they can still depend on their trio of wide receivers to help open some lanes for Bell. If they depend on the passing game once again, then they will need Big Ben to take care of the ball and hope Antonio Brown is close to being 100% healthy.

Even though the Jaguars are a top ten offense, you wouldn’t have guessed it if you only watched them against the Bills last week. Jacksonville only managed to have 230 total yards, which is well short of their average of 365.9 YPG. The Steelers will come into the matchup with a similar game plan the Bills had: stop Fournette and let Bortles beat us. The Jags have the number one rush offense, averaging 141.4 YPG, and to no surprise, find themselves in the bottom half of the league in total passing yards, averaging 224.6 YPG. They need to come into the game knowing that Pittsburgh will be stacking the box against the run. If Bortles has more rushing yards than passing yards again, then they may be in store for a long afternoon this time around.

Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant are more than enough weapons for the Steelers to have an advantage in this one. Even though they will be facing an elite defense, Pittsburgh has enough weapons to take them head on. Big Ben just needs to not force any costly turnovers like he did in the last matchup. While Jacksonville has Fournette, I don’t think he will be enough to top all the Steelers’ skill position players.

Advantage: Steelers

Defense: We will be seeing some of the best defenses this Sunday as both teams find themselves ranked in the top ten in total yards allowed per game this season. Jacksonville boasts the 2nd best defense in the league, as teams only averaged 286.1 YPG. They have the number one pass defense, averaging 169.9 YPG. The Jaguars need to come in with the same mindset that they will force some turnovers from Roethlisberger, but also keep in mind that he dropped over 300 yards in the air the last time they played. Even with the 2nd best defense in the league they still have a weakness. They have a problem stopping the run, as the Jags found themselves in the bottom half of the NFL in this category.

Pittsburgh might not get recognition as a top defense this season like Jacksonville has, but they are ranked 5th in total defense, only giving up 306.9 YPG. The Steelers find themselves in the top ten against the pass and the run. They have the proper balance you would like from your defense as they showed they can contain an offense at both ends. It will be up to players like Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden to not let Blake Bortles beat them through the air, as I am sure they plan on stacking the box against Fournette.

Pittsburgh always manages to find a way to restack their defense, year after year. Even when you think they will fall off, they manage to work their way into a top ten defense. I picture that we will see a typical tough defense from the Steelers this Sunday. While I think they will perform at their best, I would rather have the young and talented defense from Duval County on my side.

Advantage: Jaguars

Special Teams: When it comes to special teams, I would think the teams are close to being even in this category. I would rather trust Chris Boswell kicking a field goal over Josh Lambo because of the difficult winds that Heinz Field can present to kickers. The Steelers also are a threat in the return game. While I don’t imagine seeing Antonio Brown returning punts, they do put JuJu Smith-Schuster back there and he proved he can take one to the house.

Advantage: Steelers

Coaching: Doug Marrone has done an amazing job in his first season as the Jaguars head coach. He led them to winning the AFC South and their first playoff win in over a decade. Fun fact: the last time Jacksonville won a playoff game, it was Mike Tomlin’s first playoff game as a head coach. Since then, Tomlin has gained tons of experience in the playoffs, including two Super Bowl appearances. Tomlin went on to win the Super Bowl the following year after losing to the Jaguars in the playoffs. With all that prior playoff experience, Tomlin has the edge in this one.

Advantage: Steelers

Prediction: Jacksonville proved that they can go into Pittsburgh and walk away with a win. The biggest challenge will be doing that again in the playoffs. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, and Calais Campbell will need to find ways to help force turnovers. I do see them forcing a turnover or two, but not the five like they did in the previous matchup. Blake Bortles’ deficiencies will finally catch up to the Jaguars in this one. I see the Steelers containing Fournette and forcing Bortles into turnovers. Unlike the Jaguars, the Steelers will find a way to capitalize from those turnovers and put points on the board.

Steelers win 17–9

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