Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers improved to 3-1 with a monster win over the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. They will try to extend their division leading record to 4-1 when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team who is outperforming expectations thus far.
Jacksonville comes into Heinz field with a 2-2 mark and a quarterback in Blake Bortles who appears to be making some gradual strides. They have a young running back with Leonard Fournette and a couple of great rushing defensive ends as well.
The Steelers are certainly the favorite in this one but much like the Chicago Bears game, they can’t overlook their opponent.
Here are the keys to victory:
1. As I wrote earlier this week, the team must focus the offense around Le’Veon Bell. He doesn’t need to have 35 carries, but giving him 20-25 and another 5-7 catches would really help bring balance to the offense, much like in Baltimore, preventing Jacksonville from focusing strictly on Antonio Brown.
2. The offensive line must protect Ben Roethlisberger from defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. They have 9.5 sacks between them so far this year and are no joke. The offensive line must keep them away from Roethlisberger in order for the offense to remain successful.
3. The defense must be ready to stop Leonard Fournette. The rookie hasn’t broken out just yet but he’s due to do so and he more than has the talent. The front seven must be ready to stuff him at the line, forcing Blake Bortles into having to make the big plays. If the game is in Bortles hands, the Steelers should be in great shape.
4. The team must not allow Antonio Brown to be a distraction. It’s well documented about his outburst in Baltimore last week and how he was called out by Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin. The team claims to have moved on but if Brown doesn’t get his catches, will he flare up again? If so, what kind of a distraction will that become, if any?
Here are a few things to watch:
1. I think keeping an eye on James Conner may be a good idea. He had a nice 23 yard run against the Ravens this past week and I think he’s a great compliment to Bell. I expect him to be given a few more carries this week.
2. I am interested to see how Brown acts on the field this week as well as if Roethlisberger feels compelled to throw him the ball.
3. Keep an eye on Alejandro Villanueva this week as well. He was very aggressive last week, even throwing a head butt at one point. He’s got some sort of chip on his shoulder right now and he’s playing with it.
4. I love watching Stephon Tuitt play and he was a big factor in the defensive upgrade in Baltimore. When he’s out there, the defense is much better. I want to see how he impacts the Jags running attack.
This is a game the Steelers are favored in and should win. The Jags are improved but are not fantastic and even though the Steelers tend to play down to their competition in recent years, I expect them to win rather easily. The black and gold will come out on top in this one 27-13.
- Mike Pelaia