The Jaguars head north to take on former division rival the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers enter the contest 3-1 after wins over Cleveland, Minnesota, and Baltimore. Their lone loss came to Chicago in week three. At this point it doesn't look like the Steelers have a quality win on their resume, but that doesn't change the fact that they will deploy some of the best offensive weapons in all of football or the fact that their defense is playing at and extremely high level. In order for the Jaguars to achieve victory they’ll need to do many things well.
Here’s three keys for the Jaguars this week.
1. Good Blake Bortles needs to show up. In the Jaguars two wins in 2017 Blake Bortles has played competent, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions. In their two losses he’s been a bit of a train wreck, throwing just two touchdown passes to three interceptions and completing under 50% of his passes. The Jaguars don’t need Bortles to be a world beater to win, they just need him to be average - hit receivers when they’re open and don’t do anything too risky. Will he be able to do that against a Steelers team that has 15 sacks and is allowing less than 160 yards a game through the air? Sounds like a tough task, but one factor that could play to the Jaguars advantage is the fact that the Steelers haven't played against a good team yet. The Browns, despite improvements, are still the Browns. The Vikings were without their starting QB. The Bears are one of the worst teams in football, yet were able to beat the Steelers. As for the Ravens, Jaguars fans might be familiar with the 44-7 whipping the Jaguars handed them in London. So, is this Steelers defense for real? Or are they a product of a weak schedule? I tend to believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Bortles has got to show up this week in order for the Jaguars to stay in this game.
2. The run defense needs to find it’s way. The Jaguars have the worst run defense in football through a quarter of the season. They’re giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground and are coming off one of the more embarrassing efforts in team history — they allowed the Jets to rush for over 250 yards while averaging 8 yards per carry. The Steelers have, without question, one of the best running backs in football. Le’Veon Bell didn't really hit his stride until last week against the Ravens when he rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, but if Le’Veon Bell is back to being the Bell we all know and love (or hate) then the Jaguars run defense simply must be better. Gap integrity, proper form, and want to will be key for the Jaguars entire defense. The biggest problem for the Jaguars hasn’t been giving up little chunks of five yards here or 10 yards there; no their problem has been giving up the huge run. If they can eliminate runs of 40 yards or more then their run defense will look and be greatly improved. Will they do it this weekend in Pittsburgh? If the Jags hope to win, they’ll need to.
3. They need to let Leonard Fournette find rhythm. Fournette has been getting plenty of touches through four weeks of the season - he’s on pace for over 370 on the year - but the Jaguars coaching staff needs to figure out a better way to help him establish rhythm. He’s been pretty much splitting time with Chris Ivory so far this year, something the best running backs in football don’t do. Le’Veon Bell was on the field for over 90% over Pittsburgh’s offensive plays last week. Sure, you don’t want to wear down Fournette, but that doesn't mean he can’t get more snaps. When he’s in the game the defense has to be aware of his presence, which allows other players to exploit matchups. Fournette also needs to be used more on third and short. He’s a load to bring down and certainly gives the Jaguars a better chance at gaining first down yardage when given the ball. If the Jaguars are dead set on not overusing Fournette then perhaps they could take him out for a series or two instead of swapping him and Ivory out seemingly every other play. It doesn't allow either runner to find rhythm and greatly handicaps an already incompetent offense.
If the Jaguars can do these three things, then you’ll likely see them add another one to win column, if they can’t then things could get ugly. What do you think the biggest key is for the Jaguars in this one? Let us know in the comments below.
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