The matchup in which everyone is watching for on Sunday will be the Jacksonville Jaguars defense taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. It is the best defense in the league against an offense that is the best in name value. When it is has been put together it has been great, but that has not happened consistently this season.
Divisional Round Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars defense at Pittsburgh Steelers offense
At the beginning of the season, it was Le’Veon Bell struggling. Ben Roethlisberger struggled to throw deep early in the season. Then came the Martavis Bryant issues. From there, Antonio Brown gets injured. All of that is happening while Vance McDonald and Marcus Gilbert are shuffling in and out of the lineup with their issues.
However, as wild as it sounds, all things should be a go for Sunday. Bell is on the best stretch of his career. Getting back McDonald and Gilbert creates a huge impact in the running game, both in the idea of schematic and depth purposes. Brown looks to be completely healthy with his calf issue, and Ben Roethlisberger is playing his best football. JuJu Smith-Schuster is integrated into the offense and it firing at all cylinders. It would be tough to name a better offense on paper.
The Jaguars go down the list of names on their defense, though. If the Jaguars are going to win, they are going to need to win up front. Malik Jackson and Marcel Dareus may not get the work done on the inside against Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Ramon Foster. They are both great names and have improved the run defense over the season, but beating the Jaguars in the interior is still the first place to start. However, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler beat Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert in Week Five. They have gone on to be a problem against every tandem they have faced.
Villanueva struggled early in the year but got a lot better as it went on. Gilbert is back from injury and suspension, and that should be much needed time off to get back to his once-elite form. If the Steelers can at least survive this matchup, the should be fine.
In the middle Telvin Smith and Myles Jack win with closing speed, range, and instincts. However, they can get caught out of place by a veteran such as Ben Roethlisberger. The team is going to have to rely on Paul Posluszny to stay in the game and stuff the run, but he is injured and appears to be far from 100% if he plays. The Steelers should utilize Roosevelt Nix, Jesse James, McDonald, and Chris Hubbard as an extra tight end a lot in this game. It will protect them on the edges, and force their middle linebackers to make plays in the box.
In the secondary, if Antonio Brown is healthy, no one is going to shut him down. He went off against the Jaguars in Week Five, and it does not factor in the lack of Smith-Schuster and McDonald. Martavis Bryant has also stepped up in the past few weeks and appears to be an added threat.
The team shifted safeties to Antonio Brown last time and he still won. If they do in this game, Roethlisberger might have even easier passes to others.
At the end of the day, the Jaguars defense is stellar but young and inexperienced. If the Steelers can stick to their game plan and attack the interior and hold off on the edges, they should be able to run successfully, control the clock and win the football game.