Jaguars face the Steelers: Three questions to answer about Sunday’s game
By David Levin
The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field in a rematch of the AFC Divisional playoff game from last season.
Quarterback Blake Bortles believes there is still hope for the Jaguars and a chance to reach the postseason. If the fifth-year starter and his teammates are going to defy the odds and prove everyone wrong about how the season is over, then there is no margin for error.
The Jaguar must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and hope other teams fall out of contention. Also, the 53-players must correct the mistakes that have plagued them the past five losses.
"“You have to get one [win]. You have to get one to get rolling. We continue to let opportunities pass us by and eventually we’re going to have to change that and win a football game,” Bortles said on Wednesday when he met with the media. “That’s the only way to get hot and get a win streak going; you have to start with one. No better week to start than this week.”"
In comes Pittsburgh, one of the better teams in the AFC seeking revenge for two losses last season. The Steelers have had their own issues this season, but that has nothing to do with how the team has played football.
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"“It’s a team we saw twice last year. Obviously once in the playoffs and both times at their place, and we were able to come out of there with a win,” added Bortles. “It’s a team we’re familiar with a bit as far as personnel and things they do. I think it’s an opportunity – it’s a perfect game for us to get fired up.”"
The Jaguars return home after what seems like an eternity away from TIAA Bank Field. With what hopes to be a raucous crowd on hand, will the losing streak end and a new path begin? Here are three questions this team must answer on Sunday.
Can the pass rush get to Pittsburgh? – Ben Roethlisberger is no statue, but he is not as mobile as he once was. The Jaguars terrorized him in the 30-9 loss during the regular season in 2017. Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and questioned whether he still wanted to play football.
Will Jacksonville finally find its pass rush this weekend?
“That is the one thing we’re trying to emphasize,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday via Jaguars.com. “We were talking about it, trying to create that pressure.”
Jacksonville has been mortal in getting the opposing signal caller this season. They are ranked 27th in the league in sacks with 19 after finishing second overall in 2017. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue were shut down last week against Indianapolis. The team is also trying to cover the loss of Dante Fowler who was traded to Los Angeles during the bye week.
The Jaguars must force Roethlisberger out of the pocket and into throwing interceptions.
Will Leonard Fournette find more footing? – In his first game back from a hamstring injury, Leonard Fournette had 109 yards of total offense and two touchdowns. I would call that a solid showing, but there is more this team needs from its bell cow.
Fournette must hit the hole with more authority. He must run downhill with ferocity. And yes, when given the chance, he must score at the goal line. The Jaguars used a steady diet of their running game to beat the Steelers in both the regular and postseason.
I think the Jaguars continue to find their running game once again, using Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon to mix things up to help set up the pass. This means the offensive line must do a better job of opening holes for big gains. Jacksonville averaged just 2.7 yards a carry last week against the Colts.
Tyler Shatley replaces Brandon Linder at center. Ereck Flowers should see more time at left tackle. If the running game gets going, the Jaguars can control the clock.
Can Blake Bortles continue to play turnover-free football? – It’s a HUGE question that must be answered. Bortles played a good game on Sunday, throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns. The gameplan was simple – run the ball and throw when he had to.
Bortles played his best football of the season in the playoffs and said he looked forward to another battle against the Steelers.
"“To beat this team you have to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do and what we’re going to try to do on Sunday because you have to be effective .” he explained. “Like you said, it’s a physical game. Whoever wins that physical battle up front is probably going to come out the winner of this game.”"
Jacksonville’s wide receivers must continue to play mistake-free football as well if there is a chance to win at home this weekend.