It wasn’t long ago that the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Steelers so thoroughly, so convincingly, that Ben Roethlisberger outwardly questioned his own ability to be a professional quarterback.
In that game—a 30-9 road win that pushed Jacksonville to 3-2 and legitimized their claim as the league’s best defense—the Jaguars held Roethlisberger to 5.7 yards per attempt, amassed a countless number of quarterback pressures and, most notably, intercepted five of Roethlisberger’s passes, two of which they returned for touchdowns. Needless to say, it was among the worst outings of Roethlisberger’s career. So imagine how liberating it must be for Roethlisberger to get another crack at these same Jaguars again, this time in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs, no less!
“Anybody is gonna be a disciplined opponent, but I think just for me personally, I’d love to just prove that five interceptions wasn’t me in that game,” Roethlisberger told the 93.7 The Fan last week when pressed about which team he preferred to face in the playoffs.
He wants Jacksonville. Great! He should. Any self-respecting, professional athlete would probably feel likewise. But has he been paying attention to what the Jaguars have accomplished since Week 5? Seriously, pick out pretty much any reasonable measurement of pass-defense proficiency, and you’ll likely find Jacksonville at the top of the list: yards per game (169.9, which is a distant first place), yards per attempt, opponent completion percentage, opponent QB rating, first downs allowed, first down percentage, and defensive DVOA. Jacksonville’s secondary, of course, is anchored by All-Pro cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, the latter of whom is probably the best player in the league at his position and behind perhaps only Aaron Donald on the list of the NFL’s best defensive players.
Not surprisingly, both Bouye and Ramsey heard Roethlisberger’s message loud and clear.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Bouye said, speaking of Roethlisberger’s on-the-record preference for facing Jacksonville in the playoffs. “This is what he wanted, so this is what he is going to get.” Ramsey, whose discourse wasn’t quite as foreboding as Bouye’s, but more direct, said “I would want to play us again too if I were him,” and reminded Jacksonville listeners that he and his compatriots nearly coaxed Roethlisberger into retirement. (Relatedly, I love Jalen Ramsey).
Not that they expressly needed it—especially when insights like this exist—but Jacksonville and their world-beating, generationally-talented secondary now has some extra motivational bulletin board material in the form of Roethlisberger’s yeah, let’s try this again comments. Way to go, Ben.
This is all tongue-in-cheek, of course (er, not all of it, I suppose—the Jaguars’ secondary is a legitimately terrifying outfight and rightfully so, given their demonstrably elite performance thus far in 2017 and, for that matter, in 2018, including the most boring football game I’ve ever seen against Buffalo last week). However, there are caveats.
First, Jacksonville, much like Pittsburgh, has somewhat of a proclivity for allowing big plays, as exemplified in the 12 plays of 40 or more yards surrendered by the Jaguars this season. Since Week 5, Roethlisberger has averaged just a tick under 300 passing yards per game and has thrown 22 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Those are some MVP-type numbers if you extrapolate them to a 16-game schedule. In other words, it’s foolish to assume that the Ben fixing to tee off against Jacksonville this Sunday is the same one who threw five ugly interceptions against them a few months ago.