If you watched the Jacksonville Jaguars trounce the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 5 of the regular season, you might have concluded they’re one of the NFL’s elite teams. But if you watched them play during the past three weeks against San Francisco, Tennessee and Buffalo, you’d seriously question how the Jaguars ever managed to clinch a playoff berth.
Reality is a brutal and humbling thing. While it might fly in the face of every overheated bid to cast Sunday’s matchup as a monumental clash of pro football titans, the simple truth is that, despite their doubtless strengths, the Jacksonville Jaguars are not yet a complete football team. In a must-win game versus the Buffalo Bills played last weekend in the mild climate of northern Florida, the Jags were able to muster only a puny 10 points in 60 minutes of football. In fact, only the Bills’ utter ineptitude on offense saved the Jaguars from an embarrassing one-and-done scenario.
As for the Steelers, they’ve still got the same old monkey on their backs—the one that almost invariably prevents them from dominating opponents, regardless of their significant advantages in sheer talent. As they showed last October, the Jaguars might be well-equipped to pounce on a team like the Steelers, particularly when the Black-and-gold aren’t playing their best football. But in a do-or-die playoff game at frozen Heinz Field in mid-January—and with Pittsburgh’s home crowd boisterously cheering them on—these cats don’t pounce so well.
All of which brings us to the Three Keys to Victory—this time complete with a fearless forecast:
Key No. 1: Stop the Jaguars’ running game and force Bortles to throw the ball.
In the past two weeks, Tennessee and Buffalo were very successful in hampering Jacksonville’s offense by limiting Leonard Fournette to 69 and 57 yards respectively. Because Blake Bortles has done nothing yet in his NFL career to suggest otherwise, the Steelers ought to be able to count on their secondary to bottle up Jacksonville’s mediocre passing attack, while focusing on making Sunday a long, cold day for Fournette and the Jags’ receivers. In essence, these cats are toothless without their running game.
Key No. 2: Defensively, create turnovers.
In the last meeting of these two teams, it was the Steelers who self-destructed when they still had a chance to win the game. This time around, the Steelers need to be the team that wins the turnover battle.
Key No. 3: Be patient on offense.
Everyone knows that the Steelers’ offense typically tends to lose patience when a game doesn’t unfold as planned. In some cases, this might take the form of shifting abruptly away from the ground game simply because it’s not working early on. In other cases, Ben Roethlisberger has tried to force the ball downfield, thereby playing directly into the strength of a team like Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ defense isn’t impenetrable by any means. But when you try to implement a Bruce Arians “bombs-away” offense against a team like Jacksonville, you’re just asking for trouble. The offensive game plan, therefore, must be a diverse package designed to exploit weaknesses in the Jags’ defense. And given the expected weather conditions on Sunday, long-range passing isn’t likely to be particularly effective.
The Steelers grind out a decisive win in the bitter cold of January and send the Jaguars packing for the season, winning by the score of 24-10.