The Pittsburgh Steelers have typically struggled with the Jacksonville Jaguars since the old AFC Central days. Seemingly, the Jags have had Pittsburgh’s number at home as of late. The Steelers need to treat each week as a playoff game in the tight AFC North if they want to play in January. Beating the Jaguars would be a huge confidence booster for the young team as many consider Jacksonville a notch below the elite, but in the mix for a playoff run.
Here are three Steelers’ keys to a victory over the Jaguars in Week 8.
Key #1 – Bring the heat; rush the passer!
If there is a weakness on this Jacksonville team, protecting the quarterback is definitely one of them. Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence has been sacked 16 times in seven games so far this season. There are cracks in the Jags protection schemes and the Steelers are one of, if not the best at pressuring the quarterback.
The only issue with this philosophy is Jaguars coaches know Pittsburgh and what they bring to the table. If you haven’t heard, T.J. Watt is a household name. Pittsburgh is probably going to see a similar game plan that they have seen going back to the game versus the Houston Texans.
Houston and C.J. Stroud moved the pocket and schemed quick, timing based patterns in an attempt to slow down the rush. It worked and the Steelers were embarrassed on the road. With the offense not being able to do anything, this put the defense on the field for much too long and with hole’s already found, it wore down and simply could not stop Houston to the tune of 30 points.
Similar in build to both the Texans and the Rams with borderline elite quarterback play, Pittsburgh’s duo of Alex Highsmith and Watt need to be very efficient in their rushes getting their hands up as high as possible in passing lanes as Lawrence’s size alone gives him a slight advantage against defenses.
If the Pittsburgh rush can get into the backfield, it will be a long afternoon for the Jaguars offensively.
Key #2 – Don’t let up offensively
In last week’s win versus the LA Rams, Pittsburgh looked atrocious offensively for the first 3 quarters amassing barely over 100 yards.
Then lightning struck.
The Steelers offense couldn’t be stopped in the fourth quarter, moving down the field at will, scoring two touchdowns and controlling the clock while doing so eventually kneeling on the ball for the win. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. What is exciting for the coaches and fans was the display of complementary football in the fourth quarter. If only for that quarter, the team came together as a team. Both units responded to the others success and came away with the victory.
Now, don’t let up.
Pittsburgh has struggled to push the ball downfield for a few seasons, but with the return of WR Dionte Johnson last week it eventually opened up George Pickens, who had a career game. Johnson had a good day as well coming off his injury, putting up 79 yards on five catches in his return from injured reserve. Pittsburgh needs to continue to build upon what transpired throughout last weeks game.
Coaches, fans, and players all realize this team is no where near its ceiling. Every now and again, however, it all comes together. The running lane is there, the wide receivers find that soft spot in the zone, or the defense comes up with a game changing play. All the pieces are in place for this team to play what looks to be a very physical and efficient brand of football. Now it’s up to the team to move forward building off of last weeks late game success.
Key #3 – Cover the flats
Jaguars RB Travis Etienne is emerging as one of the most well rounded backs in the league. Blessed with elusiveness and power, he will help the Jags keep the chains moving in the run game as to which Pittsburgh continues to struggle to stop the run effectively. That being said, look for Pittsburgh to continually work on shoring up the run defense.
The problem then becomes, what did those adjustments open up else where and leaving Etienne to his own devices in the flats can mean a very long day for Pittsburgh. Both Etienne as well as TE Evan Engram are the outlets Trevor Lawrence looks to when the coverage down field is up to standard. The problem with Etienne is giving him an open field to work with. He is one of the more elusive skill position players in the league and is only getting better week over week. Pittsburgh needs to slow down the chunk plays gained against them each week so far this season.
Pittsburgh has made a living on creating splash plays — plays that change momentum as well as the games outcome. This is great complementary football, but turnovers are a funny thing. The Steelers have been very fortunate in the turnover department, holding onto the ball as well as getting it back the past couple seasons.
But in a moments notice, the turnovers can disappear, thus meaning the defense needs to play defense from down to down, limiting yards. Not allowing the team to move the ball at will hoping (and receiving) a gift whether forced or not. Expect to see a ton of Cover 2 from the defense.