Jaguars fans wake up this Monday feeling like a million bucks - largely thanks to a franchise record five interceptions and a 181 yard, two touchdown performance from Leonard Fournette.
The talk heading into the Jaguars week five matchup with the Steelers was not so positive. The Jaguars, despite being tied for first place in their division, had many question marks. Could a defense allowing over 150 yards on the ground per game slow down the best running back in football Le'Veon Bell? Which Blake Bortles would show up in Pittsburgh?
Those questions were answered. Blake Bortles wasn't asked to do much of anything, especially in the second half. But Bortles didn't make any bone head decisions and was mostly accurate on the day. He only threw the ball 14 times, and had only one bad miss - Marqise Lee was streaking down the sideline for a would be TD that would have put the Jaguars up 14-3, but Bortles sailed the ball over Lee's outstretched arms. Is this the "Good Blake Bortles"? The answer is unclear, but he certainly didn't cost the team in this one. Really, the coaching staff didn't allow Bortles to cost them the game - they did so by pounding the rock time and time again to the tune of 231 yards. People will surely poke fun at Bortles lack of attempts and his missed would be TD to Lee, but Bortles got the job done on Sunday and did what was asked of him. Bortles lone turnover came on a pass where linebacker Ryan Shazier ripped a sure catch from the hands of James O'Shaunnessy. Will the Jaguars be able to win like that every week? No, but they went into a hostile environment and got the job done.
Getting to the defensive side of the ball, the Jaguars were coming off of a performance in which they allowed a Matt Forte-less Jets offense run all over them for 250 plus yards. Would they be able to slow down Le'Veon Bell? The start to the game was ominous - Bell was picking up big chunks of yards and getting first downs for the Steelers. They drove the ball down into scoring position on their first drive, but the defense put the clamps on, as they did several times yesterday, once the Steelers entered the red zone. After the first drive the defense did an exemplary job slowing down Bell and held him to just 47 rushing yards in the game. So, does the Jaguars run defense have potential? Without question, but they were greatly helped by the fact that the Steelers got down early in the second half and were forced to start airing it out.
That's when the magic happened. The Jaguars defense picked off Ben Roethlisberger an astounding five times in this one. Tashaun Gipson, after recording just one interception in all of 2016, was able to get his hands on two interceptions. Barry Church, the Jaguars 2017 free agent acquisition, intercepted another pass and took it to the house. Telvin Smith got his second interception of 2017 and, of course, took it to the house. The interception party was started by Jalen Ramsey who stole a Ben Roethlisberger pass early on in the redzone. Five interceptions isn't something that's going to happen every week, but it sure was impressive to see. And while the Jaguars won't be able to get five turnovers and two touchdowns out of their defense every single week, there's no doubt that this defense will create turnovers and wreak havoc on a week to week basis.
The Jaguars were greatly slowed in the sack department this game, but they still got to Roethlisberger twice. Calais Campbell and Abry Jones combined for one sack and Dante Fowler got the other. Fowler now has 4 sacks in five games, which matches his total from last season. Calais Campbell now has 6 on the season and is on pace to shatter the Jaguars franchise record for sacks in a season.
And now to get to the star of the show - Leonard Fournette. Fournette put up by far his best performance in the NFL to this point. He racked up 181 yards rushing and scored two highlight reel touchdowns. The first came early in the game as he dove over the top of the pile on a goal line play reminiscent of the great Walter Payton (if you don't get the reference just Google Walter Payton leaping TD). The second came in the game's closing moments as he took a run to the house from the Jaguars own 10 yard line. His 90 yard run was the longest in the NFL over the past four years, and showed why he was an elite talent in this year's NFL Draft. His power, vision and agility are all fantastic traits, but what separated him from other impressive backs was his true breakaway speed. Once Leonard Fournette gets behind the defense there's no catching him. He recorded the fastest speed (22.05 MPH) of any ball carrier in the NFL this year and was the first to break 22 miles per hour on a play this season. He now has 6 total TDs in five games and is on pace to rush for 1,491 yards in 2017.
This was a statement victory for the Jaguars. They went into Pittsburgh and handed one of the early season Super Bowl favorites an embarrassing loss. They outphysicaled the Steelers and outplayed them in every way on Sunday. Savor the victory, Duval. But know this team still has areas to improve and they are set to host one of the best young team's in football next week - The "Greatest Show on Surf" comes to town in week six as the Jaguars take on the Rams, who also sit at 3-2 after five weeks of play.
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