It's not a magic trick. The Steelers almost always win games in which a rookie quarterback starts. For even as bitter as Steelers fans are right now about the team's 2-6 record in Weeks 1-4 the last two years, the fifth game of last year and this year are against rookies.
Last year, the Steelers crushed Jets then-rookie QB Geno Smith in a convincing 19-6 victory at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. On Sunday, the Steelers will again travel to take on a rookie quarterback, Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. The Steelers are sporting a much better defense than they did at this point a year ago, for what it's worth. Bortles also may be a bit further along in his development than Smith was - or is.
Still, Lawrence Timmons sees some rookie flaws in his suit of armor.
"Right now, it seems like he’s a half-play reader. He’s staring down his receivers," Timmons said, as quoted by Washington Observer-Reporter's Dale Lolley. "That’s going to be helpful for us."
What's most helpful against any quarterback, rookies in particular, is the absence of a running game. The Steelers took away Carolina's running game in a 37-19 win in Week 3, and Cam Newton, despite playing a quality game, could not get the offense moving in a one-dimensional fashion. Jacksonville is rushing for less than 70 yards per game, so one might infer the Steelers have a decent likelihood of success against such a dismal group.
Take the run away and the pass will eventually follow, as will takeaways, something the Steelers struggled with last year just like they have this season. While they've got three now compared to zero after four games last season, they're not making plays on the ball as frequently as they'll need to if they hope to compete at a higher level.
Bortles should give them opportunities to make plays on the ball. Along with watching his receivers, he doesn't make the best decisions on every throw. For all the accolades he's picked up, most of them deserved, he's thrown four interceptions in 61 pass attempts - the highest ratio in the league.
The key for the Steelers in this game is simply to choke out the Jaguars' running game, and attack their fairly limited receivers underneath. If they're playing an aggressive, competitive defense, the takeaways will come. But even if they don't get any (they had one against Carolina despite thoroughly dominating that team), they should be able to force punts and let their offense, which has a considerable advantage in this game, take over.
The two picks they got on Smith last season were a breath of fresh air and, even if that doesn't happen against Bortles and the Jaguars, the defense can take a big step forward to getting back on track.
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