Steelers Opponent Preview: The Jacksonville Jaguars
T he Jaguars are somewhat of a sensation this year, even with a 2-2 record. Nobody (except perhaps their fans) really gave them much of a chance. Don’t believe me? Well, in an informal survey of six early September sets of “power rankings,” the highest anyone thought Jacksonville would finish is No. 26. (One writer even pegged them at No. 30.) This, despite the fact that they have had top-of-the-draft picks for years now.
Yes, I know the Browns have too. But the Jaguars seem to be rather better run, and especially their defense is turning some heads this year. So let’s have a look at them.
As noted in yesterday’s post, the only team in the league with more sacks is—guess who?—Jacksonville. Which makes them No. 1 in the league. (That is 18 sacks in four games.)
They have drafted some excellent defensemen, and signed a few others, such as Calais Campbell. Clearly they get after the quarterback. Although they are giving up more points per game than the Steelers (an average of 18.5, which makes them tied for No. 6, with the Broncos) this isn’t a shabby number. They also have five interceptions (good for No. 5 in the league.)
The next question is, against whom have they amassed these stats? In Week 1 they beat Houston @ Houston, by 22 points. In Week 2 they lost to the Titans, by 21 points. In Week 3 they famously beat Baltimore, in London, by a whopping 37 points, and last week they lost to the Jets, @ Jets, by three points in overtime.
They are clearly a team designed to play with a lead. I suppose most teams play better, or more comfortably at least, with a lead. But let’s look at how the first four games played out.
At Houston Blake Bortles only had 21 passing attempts. (He completed 11 of them.) But the running game accumulated 155 yards on 39 attempts (although only one touchdown) so a lot of the heavy lifting was done for the passing game.
The defense, in the meantime, had, among other studly stuff, 15 quarterback hits. 15! And 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss and some fumble recoveries to go along with them. They must have been in the Houston backfield more than Houston was. Add on an interception and it is a miracle that Houston even got 7 points…
The following week they lost to the Titans. The defense only managed a single sack and a pick, while Bortles completed 20 of 34 pass attempts, lost a fumble, and threw one touchdown and two picks.
Then there was the Ravens game. It was a sack festival. Enough said.
And finally, their loss last week to the Jets in a nail-biter, as they kept trading scores. They still ran the ball a good bit—in fact they had a few more yards than they did at Houston—but the big difference was that Bortles threw the ball—a lot. He had 35 attempts, completed less than half of them, and threw a pick. The defense was still opportunistic, with five sacks, a pick, and a fumble recovery returned 81 yards by Myles Jack, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough.
Now for a few specifics:
According to Tunch Ilkin, while the Jaguars rely a lot on their running game (and you can see why,) they don’t run the outside zone which has given the Steelers defense such fits. So that’s good news.
Their defensive line is amazing. Fortunately their offensive line isn’t quite as impressive, and they may be particularly vulnerable at left tackle and right guard. Let’s hope so, anyhow.
Conversely, their defensive line is fantastic, and it looks like Marcus Gilbert will be out again. So I hope Chris Hubbard is eating his Wheaties, or whatever his version of the Breakfast of Champions may be.
So in looking at all of this, what can we infer?
A. Every team Jacksonville has played is 2-2. For what that’s worth.
B. Their only true home game was a loss. (They were the “home” team in London.)
C. They have won every other game. They lost last week. For what that’s worth. Nothing, I hope.
D. The Jacksonville defense is going to be disruptive and annoying. Keep them busy.
E. If you can return the favor and get to Blake Bortles, he will throw a pick. Or two. (In 50 NFL games in which he has played, [not necessarily started,] he has 52 picks.) According to Tunch, he also has a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. Hopefully T.J. will get a few…
F. Shut down their offense early or it may be a long day.
For Pittsburgh, Marcus Gilbert is, as of Thursday night, the only player who didn’t fully participate in practice.
Two players did not practice on Thursday—WR Marqise Lee and LB Lerentee McCray.
Six players were limited: WR Jaelen Strong, CB Jalen Ramsey, S Jarrod Wilson, G A.J. Cann, C Brandon Linder (this was due to illness, so is probably moot) and DT Malik Jackson.
Linder and Cann are starting offensive linemen. Lee is a starting WR. McCray appears to be a depth player, as does Wilson. But Ramsey is excellent and it would be huge if he were out. (He has an “ankle.” Whatever that means.) Malik Jackson would also be huge (he has a “groin.”)
So hang onto your hats, and go, Steelers!