To get a better handle on the game from the other side of the fence, I reached out to Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country. I was able to ask him some questions about the upcoming game. Check out the Q&A session below, and be sure to check out Big Cat Country for the best news on this matchup, from the Jaguars’ perspective.
Blake Bortles has been a mess this season. What are the theories on his lack of consistency? After all, this team beat New England in Week 2.
You used the word “consistency,” and that is the exact issue that has plagued Bortles throughout his entire career. He can have a four-game stretch where he plays incredibly well, with accurate passes, good decision-making and limited turnovers, but then go on a two or three game stretch where he almost single-handily losses the game for the Jaguars because of things like bad reads, forced throws and/or far too many giveaways. And because of this, I don’t think fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars will ever be truly comfortable with him under center. It’s hard to say why he is this way, but at this point it is evident that he is who he is -- a subpar quarterback, who can occasionally light it up, but not often enough. Bortles has flawed mechanics, which have improved over the years, but still aren’t great. He has a tendency to make poor decisions. He won’t win in most situations where opposing defenses put the game on his shoulders. It’s really a combination of things. The Jaguars’ struggles shouldn’t be blamed completely on Blake -- the offensive line has been awful/injured, his receivers drop a ton of passes and the defense has had its struggles -- but he is the main culprit on most weeks (he certainly was not this past week in Indianapolis, though).
Leonard Fournette has finally returned to the lineup, but the Jaguars also lost their center Brandon Linder. Talk about how this impacts the Jaguars’ offense, and the depth situation filling in.
While it was nice to have Leonard Fournette back in the lineup on Sunday, -- he totaled 109 yards and two touchdowns through the air and on the ground -- the running game itself was still poor. The offensive line struggled to generate a push, and Fournette averaged just 2.2 yards per carry (53 yards on 24 attempts). Still, it was good to see Fournette healthy and getting so many touches without re-injuring his hamstring. At the very least, he made the Colts’ defense account for the run, and helped open up the passing game for Bortles, who had one of his best performances of the season. Fournette tore up the Steelers last year, so I am hopeful that another week healed from the lingering quad issue will allow for another strong performance, but Jacksonville’s running game woes have been far from solved. The Jaguars lack playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end position, so the running game has to get going if the team wants to have a shot at beating the extremely hot Steelers on Sunday, albeit with a depleted offensive line against a stout rush defense.
The Jaguars have been bitten hard by the injury bug in 2018, which is the complete opposite of the successful 2017 season. The Brandon Linder injury hurts. He is the No. 7 ranked center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and one of the few Jaguars playing with any kind of consistency along the offensive line. Tyler Shatley is a capable backup, but he’s not Brandon Linder. Left tackle Cam Robinson tore his ACL early in the season, and his backup Josh Wells also went to IR, so Jacksonville is already playing its third-and-fourth string tackles on Bortles’ blind side, and several of the other offensive linemen have been playing dinged up all year. It’s not a good situation.
How do the Jaguars view the Steelers, from a rivalry standpoint? The two teams have a pretty rich history, and the Jags have done damage in Pittsburgh throughout the years. The Steelers’ fan base has grown irritated of the boys from Duval, but what about the other way around?
Personally, I would argue that Pittsburgh is Jacksonville’s biggest non-divisional rival, and it’s hard to speak for the fan base as a whole, but I would think the majority agrees with me. Of course, there is a long history between the two franchises, as both competed in the AFC Central from Jacksonville’s first year of competition in 1995 through the 2001 season. I wouldn’t say the hatred from Jags fans is quite as strong as it is for a team like the Tennessee Titans, but it’s clear that there is disdain between the two franchises and fanbases. The Jags have been a constant thorn in the Steelers’ side, with an all-time record of 14-11, including 2-0 in the playoffs, so as you have pointed out, it’s not surprising that the Pittsburgh faithful isn’t too keen on the Jaguars. I am sure calling Pittsburgh “Duval North” didn’t exactly get many laughs from Steeler Nation, either.
The most surprising aspect of the Jaguars’ slow start has been the defense. What is going on which is causing this team to not be as dominant as everyone expected?
I wish I had a definitive answer to this question. The unit looked lost and had several communication errors, especially in the first half, this past week at Lucas Oil Stadium. The defense has struggled to create turnovers and get sacks, which it was known for in 2017. Additionally, blown assignments and a seemingly inability to play zone coverage concepts has allowed opposing offenses to shred the secondary from time to time. The odd thing, though, is that statistically speaking, the unit is still doing very well. Despite being carved up by Andrew luck, the Jags still rank No. 1 against the pass in the NFL, and No. 3 in the league in total defense. The unit has had its struggles stopping the run, too, though the last matchup against the Colts was opposite -- couldn’t stop the pass, but held Indy to just 81 rushing yards (and 53 of those came on one run). Part of that could be because A.J. Bouye was out for a second consecutive game with a calf injury. To me, though, the fact that the Jaguars are not getting to the quarterback in time (pressures have been there, but not sacks), and not generating giveaways is the biggest reason for the demise. I think head coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Todd Wash need to take a hard look at the scheme this week and make necessary adjustments because whatever they’re doing isn’t working.
How do you see this game shaking out, and what is your prediction?
I don’t think records matter in a game like this where there will be a lot of passion due to the rivalry, and perhaps anger at the fact that the game was flexed out of a prime time slot, so I expect a close, hard-fought game as it usually is between these two franchises. But at the end of the day, it would be irresponsible for me to pick the Jaguars given how both teams are playing. I expect it to be close entering the fourth quarter, with the Steelers getting a late touchdown in the final few minutes to seal it, as I’m sure the Jacksonville offense will turn the ball over on the ensuing potential game-tying drive. Plus, the Steelers are looking for revenge from last season.
Score prediction: Steelers, 28, Jaguars 20