JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars' 16-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2022 Preseason Week 2 game at TIAA Bank Field Saturday…
1. Key stays strong. If there has been a consistent strength for the Jaguars this preseason, it has been the defensive front seven. Among the area's consistent strengths: Defensive lineman Arden Key, who on Saturday made the Jaguars' first key play of the game with a drive-ending sack on Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Key, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Las Vegas Raiders in March, broke through quickly on 3rd-and-11 from the Steelers 40 with a strong inside move for an eight-yard loss. The play capped a strong series for the defense and kept Pittsburgh scoreless through two drives. The Jaguars' first-team defense at that point had held opponents scoreless on five consecutive possessions, a streak it ran to seven before allowing a touchdown on the Steelers' final first-half possession. It was Key's third sack of the preseason after he had two sacks in the Hall of Fame Game against the Raiders.
2. Scramble drill. The Jaguars took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter with a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso. A key play on that 37-yard drive: A 12-yard scramble by quarterback Trevor Lawrence on 3rd-and-8 from the 50. Lawrence made multiple nice completions earlier in the quarter, including a 13-yarder to wide receiver Christian Kirk on the opening possession and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. on the second. But Lawrence also missed Kirk on 3rd-and-6 from the Steelers 34 – a completable pass that would have given the Jaguars a first down near the Steelers 20 – and the Jaguars had to settle for Santoso's 53-yard field goal. Lawrence said he had a couple of throws to Kirk he would "like to have back." Added Lawrence, "You've seen our ability to drive the ball, time of possession, keeping drives going, has been great. That's something that's going to really help us throughout the season. But in order to win these games, you have to score more points. I think I left a few plays out there."
3. The Jaguars' third drive. We'll cheat on this "key play" in the interest of discussing multiple plays on one of the Jaguars' more impressive drives of the preseason – one that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Santoso for a 6-0 Jaguars lead with 6:06 remaining in the half. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. turned in an impressive 10-yard run on 2nd-and-10 early in the drive before Lawrence appeared to gain confidence with a beautiful 14-yard pass on 2nd-and-7 from the Jaguars 26 to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. just over the arms of a defender. Lawrence followed that with a 10-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr. and a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Zay Jones for a first down at the Steelers 35. Lawrence then converted 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers 34 with a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Christian Kirk, finishing five of seven for 61 yards on the drive. The Jaguars' offense had 177 yards on its first four drives, using 41 total plays. "We had three 10-plus-play drives; I don't know if that's exact, but we had some long drives," Lawrence said. "Whatever we run, we just have to execute. You saw it tonight at times and other times we didn't."
4. Sa-a-a-a-a-a-fety! The Jaguars' defense was strong much of the first half before allowing a too-easy touchdown on the final drive before halftime. They regained form in the second half, with many of the starters playing on a strong drive to start the third quarter before the second unit gave the Jaguars the lead on a strong play by veteran defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot. With the Steelers facing 2nd-and-9 from their 3, Smoot got a strong rush up the middle and forced Steelers reserve quarterback Mason Rudolph into intentional grounding. Because Rudolph threw from the end zone, the penalty resulted in a safety and an 8-7 Jaguars lead with 9:15 remaining in the third quarter. "We have really talented pass rushers," Smoot said. "We're working at it every day. We're not perfect yet, but seeing what we can do now in preseason? I can't wait to see [what the pass rush can do in the regular season]."
5. Scramble drill, redux – and another big play for Smoot. The Jaguars narrowly missed their first victory of the preseason Saturday when Santoso's 57-yard field goal missed right on the game's final play. But a spirited third quarter and early fourth quarter put the Jaguars in position, with the key play of the stretch a four-yard scramble for a touchdown by reserve quarterback C.J. Beathard. Smoot set up the drive by forcing a fumble by wide receiver Gunner Olszewski that defensive lineman Adam Gotsis recovered at the Steelers 48. Beathard moved the Jaguars to the 30 with an 18-yard pass to tight end Dan Arnold, then capped the drive with a scramble for a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 4.