Divisional Round Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars offense at Pittsburgh Steelers defense

Dec 25, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) prior to the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
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The Jacksonville Jaguars will head to Heinz Field on Sunday to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time this season. For the first time, Blake Bortles completed just eight passes, but his team won by 21 points. Can this happen again?

In short? No. The Jaguars scored 30 points aided by 14 directly from the defense. Another came off of a turnover that set the Jaguars up inside midfield. Another was Leonard Fournette breaking a 90-yard run when the score was 23-9 and in garbage time. It is not like the moved the ball at will last game.

Divisional Round Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars offense at Pittsburgh Steelers defense

The offensive line of Jacksonville has been solid. However, the ups and downs of their quarterback and running back duo is what has stalled the ceiling of the team. We all know of Blake Bortles. His accuracy is inconsistent and even the easiest of passes become an issue.

Bortles beat the Buffalo Bills by rushing for 87 yards, a team high, including passing stats. It was an ugly game that he blew off due to the wind in Jacksonville. However, cold weather and wind are scheduled for Pittsburgh. It is tough to see Bortles having any confidence in this game.

On the other side, Leonard Fournette has been equally ineffective. He has been dealing with an ankle injury and has limped down the stretch. Over the second half of the season, Fournette has compiled 1.9, 3.9, 2.1, 2.9, 4.2, 2.7, 3.6, and 2.7 yards per carry this season. Against the Bills, the defense swarmed the line of scrimmage and put eight to ten players in the box. They were determined to stuff the handicapped rookie and were extremely effective in doing so.

The Steelers can do similar things. They should sell out on the run, but also containing Blake Bortles on the edges. If they can swarm the middle and contain anything from breaking outside, they should be fine.

For the Steelers, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave have missed time at practice. Those are two of the keys for swarming the middle, so their status and availability should be meaningful. Still, the team has done a great job of integrating Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton, who have both become impact rotation players on the defensive line. The depth and ability to rotate make it tough to believe the Jaguars can win on the edge.

This will be a big game for Sean Spence. He has three games at most to be the best Ryan Shazier replacement that he can be. L.J. Fort will help on passing downs, and the team will try to get into a sub package a lot. Stil, the Jaguars are a team that is going to want to run and stuff fullbacks and tight ends on the field. It means Spence will play a lot and will have big chances to get acclimated.
In the secondary, all eyes will be on Artie Burns. He suffered a knee injury in practice, and his game status is in question. He is not the strongest run defender and does get caught looking into the backfield, so this is not the best matchup for him. Even if missing him, it would be hard to imagine that Cam Sutton or Coty Sensabaugh could not hold in a similar fashion.

Overall, this should be a game where the Steelers defense can try things, find themselves and still keep themselves in the game. It will be on the offense to score just enough to put the defense in easy situations against predictable plays to win.

– Parker Hurley is Pittsburgh Steelers team manager of Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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