We caught up with Ryan Day of Big Cat Country, SBN's Jacksonville Jaguars site, to learn a little bit about the Jaguars heading into Pittsburgh's Week 5 game against them. He explains why we should ignore the Jaguars' 130 rushing yards against and why Jerome Bettis makes him angry.
As an NDSU alumnus with past experience with Jags head coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich, I look at 38 points a game allowed and my stomach hurts. Is that a mirage, something that will be worked out over the course of the year (or next year) or is whatever Bradley's trying to bring there just not working?
I think Gus Bradley really has a specific defense and specific schemes he wants to run that, quite frankly, he doesn't have the quality of personnel to pull off right now. Safety was an important position in Seattle when Bradley was the defensive coordinator, and he wants it to be an important position here in Jacksonville. But our stable of safeties has been shuffled due to both injury and poor play, with starters such as Chris Prosinski and Winston Guy getting cut. Not backups. Starters. I think Bradley will bring in better players during the offseason, but right now we're stuck with who we have. Help is not on the way.
As far the guys who will stay, I have a lot of hope for the future. Johnathan Cyprien has the highest ceiling of anyone on the defense, but he's still learning. It's the beginning of his second season. I had higher expectations with the way he closed out the season last year, but he's still growing into his position. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz has caught a lot of flack, but he hasn't been as poor as people make him out to be. He hasn't been a top-tier cornerback by any means, but he hasn't been bad.
The defensive line is where I'm most excited. With the exception of Red Bryant, the young guys are carrying this line. Players like Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller are performing really, really well. Speaking of young guys, I'd love to see them give defensive end Ryan Davis more reps. He was a guy who flashed at the end of last season and into this preseason, but the coaching staff hasn't put him on the field that much. I hope that changes.
How's Ziggy Hood doing? Ex-Steeler, rare first round pick who leaves without an extension of his rookie deal, has he been worth his contract so far?
No. Hood was signed on a four-year contract with $5.5 million in guarantees, so I expected him to do more than take one-third of the defensive snaps, but that's about all he's in the game for through the first four weeks. He's been good enough in those snaps, but I'd like to see him on the field more.
Did I expect him to be an every-down lineman? No. But I expected him to be a little more than a stop-gap player, which is what he appears to be through the first four weeks of the season.
However, with all that said, I'm fine with the gamble. We went after Hood because we wanted to take a chance on what we thought a guy could do rather than paying him for what he did do. When you roll the dice like that, you're bound to find some guys that just don't pan out and you have to use them as transitional players for a year or two.
Jacksonville, as a franchise, has recently fallen on hard times. A decade or two ago, the rivalry in the AFC Central was Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville. When I think of those games, I think of Fred Taylor and Tony Boselli. Which Steelers players from those classic games do you remember and "hate" the most?
Jerome Bettis. I was always incredulous as to how a guy that big could gash us for big yards consistently. His goal line touchdowns were so deflating because you just knew he was going to get it... and he did it by just hitting you in the mouth. It's not like you could even say, "Well, they schemed that pretty well." It was, "That guy is stronger than our guy."
I remember 1999 being the year where we shut him down in both matchups and I took that as a measure of how good we were that year. Every other year, he'd always have some big performance with 90+ yards and a touchdown or two.
Any chance Justin Blackmon ever comes back? Is there anything fans closer to the team know about his situation that perhaps the larger public doesn't? I was a big fan of his leading into the draft that year, and he seems like such a good kid. He made some mistakes, sure, but I'm not sure anyone expected what's happened with him over the last two years.
Who is Justin Blackmon?
If you were running the Steelers and a rule was passed down that you must either run or pass the ball on offense 66 percent of the time, which would it be against Jacksonville, and why?
I'd pass 66% of the time and I wouldn't even need a rule.
Cornerback Dwayne Gratz is injured due to a concussion he suffered against the San Diego Chargers and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is, well, bad in pass coverage. That leaves Alan Ball, Will Blackmon, and Demetrius McCray at cornerback, and while none of them have been bad, you can complete passes against them... especially if you have speed at the receiving position, which the Steelers have.
Our linebackers are athletic, but young. Telvin Smith and Geno Hayes flash greatness, but I think a veteran tight end like Heath Miller will be able to make plays on Sunday.
And even with all that said, our defensive line has done better than you might think. They've stopped the run better than they've stopped the pass, and I suspect they'll do the same this week against Le'Veon Bell. I love what Tampa Bay did to shut Bell down last week, and I think the Jaguars can do the same thing.
The only chance the Jaguars have is to create pressure at the line and force Ben Roethlisberger into making bad decisions downfield. If we can do that, and if Blake Bortles can complete passes on third downs, I think we'll win this shootout. I have the Jaguars winning 30-24.