The Jacksonville Jaguars hope to write another part of their season on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers at home.
The Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the football world last year when they went into Heinz Field and embarrassed the Pittsburgh Steelers with an utterly dominant week five victory, Doug Marrone had given the league a taste of what he wanted his brand of Jaguars’ football to be and looked to change the landscape at the very top of the AFC.
When the two then faced one another in the playoffs it was again Jacksonville who would go on from the Steel City to return to the conference championship for the first time in over a decade.
Given that the Jaguars had gotten the better of Tomlin’s team twice in the same season (first time a team has beaten the Steelers twice in Pittsburgh during the same season since the Jaguars did it in 2007) fans were confident about this weeks match-up all off-season and even heading into the second quarter of the season.
Life comes at you fast.
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Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers – a Tale of Two Seasons – Jacksonville is currently suffering through a five-game losing streak with things looking incredibly bleak for the reigning division champs.
Having started the season off so brightly, getting through the first four weeks with a 3-1 record and an emphatic win in the AFC Championship rematch, the Jaguars have plummeted to once again reside at the basement of the AFC South.
Looking at the despairing situation at TIAA Bank fans are desperate for answers as to why the team seems to have slumped back to form resembling of the Gus Bradley era. Something the coaches will need to figure out before Sunday if they want to stand any chance of getting a victory in a game between two teams who have created somewhat of a rivalry between themselves in the last year.
Setting the Tone – During their week five game last year, the Jaguars put on a clinic in what would become coined ‘Sacksonville’ football. Only throwing the ball fourteen times, they relied heavily on running the football and stellar defense to win them this football game.
Leonard Fournette had a total of 28 carries for over 180 yards and two touchdowns as Jacksonville would gain more than 160 yards of rushing than the Steelers could muster. But whilst the offense played well, nearly half of the Jaguars 30 points were scored on defense.
If getting 10 sacks in week one against the Texans wasn’t enough to grab the nation’s attention, picking off a future Canton candidate to the five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) should do it. It was a perfect game for Jaguars’ coach Doug Marrone, who watched his team suffocate Pittsburgh to less than 10 points for only the third time since the start of the 2014 season.
The win took the Jaguars’ confidence to the next level for the remainder of the season, a wave that the team was still riding when they came back to Heinz Field in the post-season.
Familiar Foe – In the divisional round of the playoffs, the Jaguars managed to become the first team to win two road games against Pittsburgh in the same season since 2007. Only this time it wasn’t the defense who won the game for Jacksonville (although Telvin Smith did have a touchdown), as Ben Roethlisberger responded from his five-interception game earlier in the year with five touchdowns and only one pick, putting up 42 points on the league’s best defense.
Instead, it was once again the running game that would give the Jaguars the edge over their opponent, with Fournette once again topping 100 yards and scoring multiple touchdowns as the Jaguars nearly doubled the rushing production of the Steelers.
With two impressive wins in 2017 Jacksonville fans had spent the majority of the off-season looking forward to this weekend’s match-up as an opportunity to assert some dominance over a new-found rival, whilst hoping to show the rest of the league that there is a new power amongst the elite of the AFC.
Early Signs – Things looked good for those fans at the beginning of the season with the Jaguars getting off to a hot start, in a statement win against New England during week two. Whilst Jacksonville began the season with a 3-1 record, their opponents this weekend didn’t enjoy anything like the same success.
An opening weekend tie with Cleveland and then suffering an offensive masterclass at the hands of Kansas City had left Pittsburgh with only one win in their first four games. At that point, it looked as though when the two teams would meet later in the year the Steelers would suffer much more of the same during their match in week eleven.
Turning Tides – Since week five, however, these two teams have been on trajectories which couldn’t be more opposite.
While the Jaguars have managed to lose five games in a row, the Steelers have reestablished themselves as one of the offensive powerhouses in football. With the best differentials in points, yardage, and sacks in their five-game unbeaten run.
Lost at Sea – The outcome of this game figures to revolve around match-ups more so than the two games last season, which doesn’t bode well for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s common knowledge at this point that Blake Bortles struggles when under pressure – he has been sacked three or more times in five of the Jaguars six losses this season, and the Steelers are currently tied for second in the league in sacks.
Averaging just under three and a half sacks a game. Not only is the Steelers’ defense improved on where they were last year, but a pass-rushning unity which was known as ‘Sackonville’ has seemingly disintegrated leaving Todd Wash’s defense only 27th in the league in sacks.
With Fournette playing such a huge part in both wins last year, it will be interesting to see how Nathaniel Hackett approaches this game as his feature back continues his return from a hamstring injury which has sidelined him for over half the season so far.
Facing the fourth ranked run defense in football the Jaguars can’t afford to rest all their hopes on the second year back having another productive game, but balance will be key as the offense needs to stay on the field for as long as possible to make sure their teammates on the other side of the ball don’t tire out by the end of the game.
The Steelers offense is a different beast to last year, with James Conner averaging just ten yards per game shy of the entire Jaguars’ offense. On pace, for over 1,300 rushing yards and more than fifteen touchdowns, Conner has seamlessly taken the role of Pittsburgh’s bell cow during 2018.
This game represents the last chance the Jaguars have to salvage their season (and for some coaches to try and save their jobs), but it looks all to likely that the Steelers will be able to take advantage of the very same formula Jacksonville was able to beat them with twice just a year ago.