Final analysis: Eight experts on Jaguars-Steelers
Eight Jaguars experts break down Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff between the Jaguars and Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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, in an AFC Divisional Playoff.
Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter
The Jaguars will win if:They can run the ball. They've struggled lately, but if they can come close to the 231 yards they rushed for against Pittsburgh in October, the Jaguars will win.
The Steelers will win if:They don't turn the ball over. The five interceptions the Jaguars forced in October are impossible to ignore. If the Steelers clean this up, they win at home.
As Ballou sees it:Steelers, 20-17. Playoff experience and the cold weather are the difference in an incredibly close game.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
The Jaguars will win if: They pass early. I seem to write that every week, but there will be no running lanes – there haven't been for a while – if the Jags don't pass the Steelers out of the eight-man box. Also, the Jags must survive the first quarter or so and keep it close. The Steelers, their fans, etc., will get tighter the longer the game stays close. They remember the last time. Make it a close game.
The Steelers will win if:They stuff the run and make the Jags pass on the Steelers' terms. Also, the Steelers need some quick-hitting plays. Big Ben likes to hold the ball; the Jags will make him pay for that. Pittsburgh has to establish running back Le'Veon Bell early in the game.
As Frangie sees it:This one won't be easy, but the October meeting was proof the Jags can win this one. Jacksonville must stay close early. Don't let the Steelers pull ahead and get that crowd involved. Get it to a fourth-quarter game. If less than a score is separating the teams in the final 10 minutes the Jags will win. Jacksonville is more likely to win a close one Sunday than Pittsburgh.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
The Jaguars will win if:They start out fast and aggressive on offense and score early. The approach they took against Baltimore and at Indianapolis comes to mind. You don't have to score the same amount of points overall but this Jaguars team just seems to play at a different level offensively and defensively when it has an early lead.
The Steelers will win if: Bell and the Steelers' offensive line control the tempo on the ground. Bell is a great back; if he is moving the chains and giving Big Ben consistent third-and-manageable situations it will keep a great Jaguars defense off balance. Play action would also be more successful for Roethlisberger and slow the Jags' pass rush, which in the last meeting helped create those 5 interceptions.
As Lageman sees it:The Jaguars will shock the Steelers early with points and the Steelers will be struggling to find a rhythm after a couple of weeks' layoff. A great Jaguars defense will keep them from gaining any footing. Bortles will have a day that looks more like his early December games than his last few and will lead this team to victory and an AFC title game.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
The Jaguars will win if:They don't turn over the football, but find a way to toe the line of aggressive and reckless. The Jags can't play as conservatively as they did against Buffalo. It was a move that worked last week, but they must take chances in the passing game against Pittsburgh to open up the running game for running back Leonard Fournette.
The Steelers will win if: They are not overlooking the Jaguars in anticipation of a rematch with the New England Patriots, and if they get Bell the football more than they did in the previous meeting. The Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have to swallow some pride and resort to the run instead of viewing this as a Big Ben revenge game after October's five-interception performance.
As Martineau sees it:I think this will be very difficult for the Jaguars. The Steelers have so much firepower on offense, and don't forget that this is a defense that had more sacks than the Jaguars. The Jags' offense has not been clicking in recent weeks, and its inability to run is a problem. Bigger than all of that: the Steelers know how to win in January, an intangible that is hard to measure but is usually very valuable. I think this comes down to a late field goal for a Steelers victory. Let's hope I'm wrong.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
The Jaguars will win if:They get 10 points off turnovers and hold the Steelers to field goals in the red zone. The thought here is the Steelers will be hot early; they will have had two weeks to prepare, so they'll be rested and ready. If the Jaguars can keep them out of the end zone early and turn takeaways into points later, they will win this.
The Steelers will win if:They protect the ball and make get some combination of five sacks/turnovers. The Steelers will probably move the ball; their talent dictates that. If they don't give the ball away, and if they harass the Jaguars' offense into a sloppy game, they'll win.
As Oehser sees it:This is a tough task for the Jaguars for several reasons, the site of the game and the expected frigid weather chief among them. The guess here is the Steelers can function better in the conditions and will win a close game because of that. But if the Jaguars can win the turnover battle and get ahead early, then they have a real chance.
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
The Jaguars will win if: They can create turnovers. It's a simple formula and one that worked in October. Take possessions away from Roethlisberger and the dynamic duo of Bell and wide receiver Brown, who combined for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, while handing the ball to Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and an offense that has struggled the last few weeks to generate anything close to consistency. The extra possession will be critical.
The Steelers will win if:They can run. Despite Bell being the NFL's best overall back, the Steelers only averaged 104 yards rushing per game. If the Jaguars can keep Bell from busting loose, they'll force the hand of Roethlisberger. We know how that turned out in October and how it worked for a number of top quarterbacks this season. The Steelers must run to win.
As Sexton sees it:This a matchup the Jaguars can work with. Roethlisberger won't leave the pocket as often as Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota and Tyrod Taylor have against the Jaguars the last few weeks. Their mobility created problems and sustained drives. This is about stuffing the run and forcing Roethlisberger to play to the strength of the defense. Of course, passing plays to the strength of the future Hall of Fame quarterback also, but that's what makes this such an appealing match-up. I know everyone is going to point to the offense this week, and for good reason. I'm putting it back on the defense, which won it in Pittsburgh in October.
J.P. Shadrick, jaguars.com reporter/editor
The Jaguars will win if:They protect the football, sustain some long drives on offense, steal a couple of big plays and score points at the end of drives. This does not feel like a game in which the Jaguars can get away with leaving scoring opportunities out there. Yes, the defense is playing well, and yes, the Jags shut down Big Ben in October. This is January. Just score and score often.
The Steelers will win if: They hand the ball to Bell more than 15 times. That's how many touches he had on the ground in Week 5 against the Jags, which doesn't seem like enough for one of the NFL's best backs. There are fantastic playmakers outside for the Steelers who will get looks from Roethlisberger, but the Jaguars' secondary is playing at a really high level. Big Ben says he wants some more of the Jags, but their offensive plan should be realistic.
As Shadrick sees it:This all depends on the Jaguars' offense. They did enough last week at key times to beat the Bills, but as they say back home, "this ain't Buffalo." Even with the Jags' defense in Roethlisberger's head all season, the defense will likely not pitch a shutout in Pittsburgh in January. If they do – if the Jaguars even hold the Steelers to single-digit points – that would be one of the all-time great defensive performances in league playoff history. If they get it into the fourth quarter, then the Jags will have a puncher's chance to play for the AFC Championship next week.