The Steelers have a huge opportunity in the next three weeks to put themselves in prime position for a playoff spot. Pittsburgh begins a three-game homestand this weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and we sat down with Gus Logue of Big Cat Country to get some insight on what the Steelers will be up against in Week 8.
1. The Jaguars defense is 7th in the NFL in EPA, vastly outplaying everyone’s expectations. What has caused the defense to play so well?
Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell deserves a lot of credit. That side of the ball didn’t see much change during the offseason, so the thought was Jacksonville would rely on development from young players like Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd. But we’ve seen just about every Jaguars defender improve since last season.
The communication and cohesiveness the “J-Villians” show on a weekly basis are marks of great coaching. Increased scheme familiarity has helped mightily — as have takeaways (the Jaguars lead the league with 16).
2. It seems that Calvin Ridley has had an up-and-down first half of the year. Is that something the Jaguars should be concerned about?
I don’t think so. Ridley’s production has been underwhelming but isn’t anything to panic about. Doug Pederson spoke this week about how opposing defenses rotate coverages his way, which opens up more space for other Jaguars.
Sure, it’d be nice to see some elite-level performances out of Ridley like we’ve seen from Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, and A.J. Brown for their new-ish teams. But it seems like the Jaguars are content with Ridley’s services so far. I’d give him and Trevor Lawrence a few more weeks to build chemistry before reassessing the panic meter.
3. Travis Etienne is making a case for himself as one of the best backs in football. What have you seen change in him from 2022 to 2023?
The biggest change might just be health. Etienne had a nice sophomore season in 2022 albeit he was coming off a Lisfranc injury that caused him to miss all of 2021. The ACC’s all-time leading rusher is less efficient this season than last, but now, Etienne is leading the league in rush attempts and low-key putting the offense on his back.
Etienne has improved his pad level at the mesh point and is getting better in the passing game. But more than anything else, he’s just a freak of an athlete, even by NFL standards. His rare contact balance and angle-erasing speed is a highly entertaining combo to watch each Sunday.
4. We’re seeing a more outspoken Trevor Lawrence this season. How do fans feel about that?
They love it. Jaguars fans have always loved and wanted more of Lawrence’s swagger, but he’s been calm and poised since day one.
The way he’s been tweeting and talking this week, though, 300 passing yards on Sunday should be the bar.
5. DraftKings lists Jacksonville as 2.5 point favorites. The Jaguars are the best team in the NFL at covering the spread with a 5-2 record against the number. Do you see them continuing that trend?
I do. Jacksonville is on a four-game win streak that might not be stopping soon; the Jaguars know they haven’t played their best game yet, and several players (Tyson Campbell, DaVon Hamilton, Zay Jones, Walker Little) eventually returning from injuries will help.
There is a chance T.J. Watt takes this game over, but that’s the only way I see the Jags leaving Pittsburgh without a win.