JACKSONVILLE – Each Saturday during the 2017 season, eight Jaguars experts – Rick Ballou, Tony Boselli, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton and J.P. Shadrick – will break down the following day's Jaguars matchup.
Up this week:
The Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Rick Ballou, Jaguars Sideline Reporter
The Jaguars will win if: They stop the run. The belief after the Antonio Brown sideline meltdown has to be that the Steelers wide receiver will have a huge day. The bigger problem is stopping the run. Jacksonville allowed 256 yards rushing last week in a loss to the Jets. The Jaguars must do a much better job on first down; you can't allow the Steelers to face second and third and short.
The Steelers will win if: They take away the Jaguars' passing offense. The Steelers are only second to Jacksonville in passing defense. They will challenge Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles to beat them with his weapons, which includes wide receiver Marqise Lee – who has bruised ribs. The idea will be to take an early lead, force Bortles to pass and create some turnovers.
As Ballou sees it:Steelers, 21-13. This is the hardest game on the schedule for Jacksonville and is a third game away from EverBank Field. The Jaguars will play hard but come up empty in Pittsburgh.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
The Jaguars will win if:They cover like they have been and if they run running back Leonard Fournette. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tends to hold the ball, to pump fake, to give his receivers an extra second to get open. With the way to Jags cover and rush the passer, that could play into Jacksonville's hands. I expect a number of sacks. And Fournette is Jacksonville's best offensive player; he needs touches.
The Steelers will win if:They stuff the run on first down and force Bortles into second- and third-and long. And if running back Le'Veon Bell is able to get to the second level often; he is a very patient runner.
As Frangie sees it:This is a better matchup for Jacksonville than you think. The Steelers are favored and will be tough to beat at home – they are one of the league's better teams – but the Jaguars match up way better than they would with teams such as New England or Green Bay. It should come down to the fourth quarter.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
The Jaguars will win if:If they can find consistent production from their passing game. Bortles needs to replicate the type of performance he had against the Ravens. The Steelers' defense is the Jaguars' toughest test to date.
The Steelers will win if:Le'Veon Bell controls the tempo of the game. He is a significant step above what the Jaguars' defense saw last week against the Jets. If the Jaguars' defense wants to truly be among the best, you stifle players such as Bell and Brown.
As Lageman sees it: This is a difficult matchup for the Jaguars. The Steelers have balance on offense and a top defense. If the Jaguars are to prevail they must force Roethlisberger into some bad throws and find some big plays on special teams.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
The Jaguars will win if:They can outrun Pittsburgh and force a mistake or two from Big Ben. The Jags are going on the road and will need to start fast. The fun matchup is Pittsburgh's passing game against the Jaguars' passing defense. The unknown is if the Jaguars can stop the run. For the Jaguars, Bortles must settle back down; the best way to do that is a steady dose of running backs Fournette and Chris Ivory. In the Steelers' lone loss, they allowed Chicago more than 200 yards rushing.
The Steelers will win if:They get out in front of the Jaguars early. The Jaguars are not a come-from-behind team despite nearly pulling a rally last week in New York. The formula remains simple for the Jags: play from ahead, run the ball and allow this passing defense to pin its ears back while the other team tries to catch up. If Pittsburgh plays from out front, the Steelers might win big.
As Martineau sees it: This is the most difficult game of the season for the Jaguars because of the talent of Pittsburgh – and because of where the game falls in the schedule. I would not be surprised to see a lethargic Jags team after playing in London, then New York and now Pittsburgh in consecutive weeks. I know the game is more than that, but three straight games away from EverBank Field should not be overlooked on Sunday.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
The Jaguars will win if:They get an early turnover and get a lead. The Jaguars have been very good this season when they have controlled the game early. That has allowed their speedy, aggressive defense to swarm and make big plays. With the offense struggling, the Jaguars likely will need a big play from the defense early to make this formula work.
The Steelers will win if:The Jaguars can't stop Bell. The Jaguars' defensive linemen got out of their gaps a few times last week against the Jets; those mistakes led to 177 yards rushing on three plays and two momentum-changing touchdowns in what became a disappointing loss. Bell is one of the NFL's best at finding gaps in undisciplined defenses. The Jaguars must be sound all day Sunday.
As Oehser sees it: This is a tough get for the Jaguars. The Steelers are always tough at Heinz Field and they turned in their best game of the season in a victory at Baltimore this past Sunday. The Jaguars need to force an experienced Steelers offense into mistakes and the Jaguars' struggling offense probably needs to negotiate at least two long touchdown drives to win this one. Both will be tough tasks.
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
The Jaguars will win if:They start winning on third down. So far this season they've converted just 16 of 52 third down chances which puts them 29th of 32 NFL teams. They have 14 three-and-outs on 51 drives, so they're just as likely to go nowhere as they are to move the chains and go somewhere. That's a troubling statistical line that must get corrected. If Bortles and the offense can't hold the ball for any length of time, the defense will get worn out by the Steelers and Bell, which we lessens their chances of winning. Win on third down.
The Steelers will win if:They can rattle Bortles. The Jaguars are 2-0 this season when Bortles has no interceptions or fumbles; they are 0-2 when he has even one turnover. Pittsburgh has four interceptions and has forced 10 fumbles, recovering three. You don't need me to say anything more about this one, but I will: You can't give the ball to Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown time and again and expect the defense to hold them off.
As Sexton sees it: I have no idea what is likely to happen on Sunday. I thought Bortles played well in London and followed it up with a good week of practice before New York. I am pretty confident the Jaguars will be better against the run this week and I am reasonably confident the defense can play well against Roethlisberger and his crew. But I don't know and I don't know anyone who can truthfully tell you they know what Bortles is going to do at Heinz Field. That's not a formula for success on the road against one of the AFC's best teams.
J.P. Shadrick, jaguars.com reporter/editor
The Jaguars will win if:They can slow down Bell. This should be obvious since the Jags gave up some home-run plays in the running game last week in New York. Bell is patient and will let things develop in front of him. Be disciplined – or he will take it to the house.
The Steelers will win if:They force the game into the hands of Bortles with the Jaguars trailing. New opponent, same story… the Jags need to run the football, control the tempo and keep the Steelers' offense on the sideline. The Steelers rank second in the league against the pass and have the second-most sacks in the league. Even though the Jags' offensive line has been good in pass protection so far, there's no need to test the Steelers defense at their strength if you can avoid it.
As Shadrick sees it: This is easily the toughest matchup the Jaguars have seen this season. Pittsburgh is historically a tough place to play, but this Jaguars team has a little more swagger than in years past. Go set a tone early like always, and see if you can get the Steelers in an unfamiliar position and steal a tough AFC road win.