In 2017 Steelers defenders played the part of Leonard Fournette's whipping boy in the two meetings between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. Fournette, then a rookie, rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in his first matchup with the Steelers at Heinz Field. The Jaguars triumphantly won that game 30-9. The second time the Jags and Steelers faced off, in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, Fournette exploded for three rushing touchdowns and 119 total yards, helping the Jaguars to earn another victory over their old AFC Central rivals.
Now, as the Jaguars attempt to end a five game skid, Leonard Fournette will have the opportunity to once more torment the Steelers. This begs the question: Can Leonard Fournette dominate the Steelers again?
The Jaguars second year running back made his return from a lingering hamstring injury against the Colts last week. The Jaguars lost the game, but the brunt of the blame for the loss falls on the defense after allowing 29 first half points. Fournette didn't quite look his usual self. He was a bit hesitant and lacked vision. There were certainly some yards left on the field by the Jaguars bruising RB. But his impact on the Jaguars offense was undeniable. For the first time in over a month the Jaguars offense was functional on a drive-to-drive basis AND operated a balanced attack. In Fournette's absence the team got away from running the ball with any consistency. But with LF27 back on the field the offense found balance and was able to put up 26 points. He rushed for two TDs and eclipsed 100 total yards on the day.
While Fournette was far from his optimal self last Sunday, he'll have a chance this week, against the Steelers, to remind the rest of the league just how good he is.
The Steelers run defense has been strong in 2018. They've surrendered just 4.1 yards per carry on the season and just over 90 yards per game on the ground. However, their best run defender, interior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, is unlikely to suit up in Jacksonville thanks to an elbow injury. Pittsburgh's highest paid defensive player hasn't practiced since he exited the Steelers soul crushing victory over the Panthers in week 10.
The Steelers aren't keen on having to face the Jaguars without him.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler wishes the Jaguars would do the Steelers a solid and wait to play them until Tuitt returns.
“Hey let’s wait a second, we are going to wait for Stephon (Tuitt) to get healed before we play you guys”. He continued, “But it doesn’t happen like that. I wish it was but it doesn’t, so we’ve got to go out there and play.”
Facing the Jaguars, who scored 75 points in two contests against the Steelers in 2017, with out their best run defender does not sound like a recipe for success for the black and yellow.
Even with Mike Mitchell no longer playing safety for these Steelers, there's no love lost between these two sides. But Fournette will need to regain his vision and decisiveness if he hopes to have another big day against the Steelers in week 11.
The ingredients are all there for a big time performance from Leonard Fournette in this one. I can't wait to watch.
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