Pittsburgh Welcomes A Rematch With The Jaguars In The AFC Divisional Round – Five Story Lines To Watch
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost three games this season on their way to a 13-3 record. Two of those losses were onepossession games. The other, a 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in week five.
Jacksonville picked off Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times at Heinz Field in the early October matchup. Pittsburgh fell to a 3-2 record, receiver Antonio Brown was unhappy with his targets, and Roethlisberger famously said: “…maybe I don’t have it anymore.”
Since then, the Steelers have lost just one game, and all is right with Pittsburgh.
The Jaguars are looking forward to beating the Steelers again, advancing to the AFC Championship Game. Their 10-3 victory over Buffalo last week was Jacksonville’s first playoff win since 2007, when they beat the Steelers, at Heinz Field.
Which Bortles Will Show Up?
In weeks 13-15, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was the hottest signal caller in the NFL. Completing 71 percent of his passes for 903 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, an NFL-best 128.6 passer rating, and a 3-0 record.
Since then, Bortles is completing 55 percent of his passes for 204 yards per game, with three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Last week, Bortles was ineffective in throwing the ball, while rushing for more yards than he threw for.
In the week five matchup with the Steelers, Bortles wasn’t great either. Just 8-14 for 95 yards and an interception. The fourth-year quarterback has thrown under 100 yards twice this season, week five vs. Pittsburgh and last week vs. Buffalo.
Lesser quarterbacks have reached Super Bowls, but how long can Jacksonville sustain Bortles’ inconsistencies?
What Can Brown Do For You?
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football. The 5’10” 181 pound Central Michigan product is a headache for opposing defenses. Brown is the NFL’s only unanimous All-Pro after posting a league-high 1,533 yards in less than 14 full games.
Jacksonville has the best pass defense in the league; Brown torched the Jags for 157 yards on ten receptions.
But the dynamic receiver suffered a calf injury in a 24-27 loss to New England in week 15. He’s been inactive for the past three weeks but returned to practice this week.
Will Brown be at 100 percent after calf surgery? Can he be effective?
Will Jacksonville elect to play their preferred man coverage or resort to zone coverage? Can Jacksonville afford to drop a safety into the box to help stop running back Le’Veon Bell?
Brown’s health will dictate a lot in Sunday’s matchup.
Talented Running Back Matchup
Le’Veon Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He is the most complete back in the league when it comes to pass protection and catching passes out of the backfield.
However, Bell has had a bit of a down year, with his lowest yards per carry average since his rookie season. He did have a career-high 85 receptions, but for only 7.7 yards per catch vs. his usual 9.1 yards per catch.
Jags’ running back Leonard Fournette aspires to be one the top running backs in the NFL and is well on his way. But, he’s definitely hit the rookie wall entering his 23rd week as a pro, including the four preseason games.
Fournette has his best game as a pro in the week five matchup vs. the Steelers, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns, both career-highs.
It’ll be tough sledding early for both running backs, as teams will key on the dynamic playmakers. The team that does not abandon the run will have the best chance for a victory.
Which Team Will Play Mistake Free?
As inconsistent Bortles has been, sometimes flat-out bad; he’s done a better job at protecting the football this season. Hence, Jacksonville’s 9-0 record when Bortles doesn’t throw an interception.
On the other side, the Jags will try to force Roethlisberger into 50 plus pass attempts, like the week five matchup. But look for Pittsburgh to get Bell heavily involved.
Jacksonville is coming off the lowest-scoring AFC Wildcard game in the history of the NFL. Expect another low-scoring game Sunday as points will come at a premium, in a defensive showdown.
Whoever takes care of the ball will have the best chance to win, advancing to the AFC Championship Game.