The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we talk about how Le’Veon Bell has dominated the news wire so much, combined with the extended break since the Week-10 game vs. the Panthers, and it may come as a shock to some how the Steelers will actually play a game on Sunday.
Not just any game, but a big revenge game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars in Duval County, FL. Thankfully, Mike Tomlin prepped the fan base with plenty of news and notes surrounding the upcoming matchup. We will focus on those.
Let’s get to the news:
Tim Benz: Can the Steelers finally exploit Jacksonville’s offensive line?
By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Heading into the Steelers’ playoff game against Jacksonville last season, Pittsburgh fans and media — and even some in the locker room — seemed to have a pretty clear-cut opinion of the Jaguars.
After seeing the 30-9 beatdown administered by the Jags during the regular season at Heinz Field, most folks around these parts seemed to think:
• The Jags defense is frightening.
• Leonard Fournette is a beast.
• Quarterback Blake Bortles can be had.
• The offensive line is pretty good. But not great.
Those predictions resulted in a mixed bag of accuracy during the rematch.
The Jaguars defense allowed 42 points and 545 yards. Yet it also created two turnovers resulting in touchdowns. Bortles wasn’t dynamic, but he was efficient, going 18-for-24 with no interceptions and a touchdown. And Fournette followed a 181-yard performance in the regular-season matchup with another 108 yards and three touchdowns.
But how about that Jags offensive line? It was a constant. For a unit with only moderate acclaim, the blockers looked like the 1995 Cowboys.
Between games, Steelers defenders mostly brushed off Fournette’s success , chalking up the Game 1 yardage to one 90-yard gallop in garbage time.
“If you watch the film, guys weren’t really getting blocked off the ball,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said before the January rematch. “It’s just holes. Gaps. They exploited our gaps really well.”
Also that week, defensive end Cameron Heyward claimed “it was just three or four plays” that hurt his team in the first game against Jacksonville.
In the playoff game, it was more like 40 plays as the Jaguars offense continually controlled the line of scrimmage and opened creases for Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and even a scrambling Bortles.
“We were able to get a hat on a hat,” Jacksonville offensive lineman A.J. Cann said after the win. “We stayed on our blocks. The running backs found holes and got positive yards.”
Throughout the two games, the Jaguars offensive line paved the way for 395 yards rushing and allowed just two sacks.
However, that unit hasn’t been the same this year.
Tim Benz: Steelers’ 2nd-half schedule suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting
By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Part of the reason I was so concerned about the Steelers’ rotten 1-2-1 start is that the second half of the schedule looked so daunting.
Assuming the Steelers were going to be a 10- or 11-win team — as many in Pittsburgh and Las Vegas predicted — I was of the belief that they would need to be excellent early in the season to bolster themselves against what appeared to be a brutal second-half slate.
They always beat the Browns. That didn’t happen. They tied.
They’ve been great against the Chiefs in recent years, especially at home. Well, that blew up. And they lost the home half of the annual Ravens rivalry, too.
Having just one win through four weeks appeared to be a kiss of death given what remained on the schedule.
When the season began, I drew an imaginary line after the seventh game. That was at home against the Browns. I thought the Steelers had to be a five- or six-win team at that point to secure 10 or 11 wins and a likely playoff spot.
Asking for much better than 5-4 over the final nine seemed unlikely. After all, the Steelers were slated to:
• Play New England. How does that usually go?
• Have two road divisional games in Baltimore and Cincinnati.
• Go to Jacksonville after the Jaguars beat them twice in Pittsburgh last year.
• Visit Oakland and Denver. Even though those teams are as bad as we expected, the Steelers are as atrocious in those two cities as they are in Jacksonville. The club is a combined 15-29-1 on the road against those three franchises.
• Play Carolina on a short week after the Ravens. Visit New Orleans. And host the tricky Chargers.
Well, they took care of the Ravens and Panthers in short order. So that was a good start.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have lost five in a row. The Bengals have lost three of four and just fired their defensive coordinator after allowing an average of 529 yards during that stretch.
And, perhaps, the Broncos and Raiders are so bad in 2018 that not even the Steelers’ historical ineptitude in those two places — and their propensity to get upset by lesser competition — will get in the way of victory.
Mike Hilton putting best foot forward with Steelers
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Mike Hilton is so ensconced as the nickel cornerback in the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary that it’s sometimes easy to forget his humble NFL beginnings.
It was just two years ago Hilton — cut by two teams the previous summer — thought his future might involve selling football cleats rather than wearing them.
In the fall 2016, with the holidays approaching, Hilton was out of work and running thin on patience when he applied for a sales position at Foot Locker in Atlanta.
“I was in the process of trying to find a real job, 9 to 5,” Hilton said. “I was looking for something to pass the time and keep some money in my pocket. That’s when I got lucky and got the call.”
The call came courtesy of the Steelers, who had an opening on the practice squad. Hilton put his retail career on hold and never had a chance to pull on the footwear company’s signature referee jersey.
Not that he’s complaining.
Hilton, 24, has found a home with the Steelers and is proving this season his upstart rookie year in 2017 was no fluke.
Through the Steelers’ 6-2-1 start, Hilton is tied for eighth on the team with 27 tackles. He has three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, six passes defensed and one interception. And the 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback’s accomplishments have come with a distinct size disadvantage and while playing just 60 percent of the defensive snaps.
Hilton made two of the biggest defensive plays last Sunday in the Steelers’ 23-16 win at Baltimore. Despite giving up seven inches in height, he tipped away a pass in the end zone intended for tight end Mark Andrews. On another series inside the Steelers 5, Hilton tripped up Lamar Jackson for a 1-yard loss. The Ravens settled for field goals on each drive – and that eight-point swing was the difference in the outcome.
“I didn’t realize how valuable he is to this team and all of the things he does for us on defense, not only in terms of his play but his leadership abilities,” said defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, in his first year with the Steelers. “Mike is a tremendous competitor.”
Undrafted after a four-year career at Mississippi, Hilton was cut in the 2016 training camp by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The New England Patriots signed him to the practice squad only to cut him a week later.
Hilton was living in Atlanta, near his childhood home in Sandy Creek, Ga., and working out that fall while waiting for the phone to ring. He submitted his application to Foot Locker and set up his interview.
“I was deep in the process,” he said.
Hilton was summoned to Denver for a workout that didn’t result in a contract with the Broncos. But the Steelers had a vacancy. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers had been promoted to the active roster, and there was a spot available on the practice squad.
A few days after arriving in Pittsburgh, Hilton got a phone call from Foot Locker.
“I said I had a better opportunity come up, and I had to decline it,” Hilton said.