JACKSONVILLE – They're good. Really good.
But when Head Coach Doug Marrone looks at the Jaguars' opponent this week, something else stands out.
Yes, the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers are talented in many areas. Quarterback. Secondary. Linebacker. Wide receiver. Defensive line. But that's not the only reason they're the NFL's last unbeaten team through mid-November.
"Not only do they have really good players, the effort they're playing with is outstanding," Marrone said Wednesday as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Steelers (9-0) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
Marrone, speaking to the media on his weekly videoconference Wednesday, praised multiple areas about the Steelers. Among them:
Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback who Marrone said is playing at "a really high level right now." Roethlisberger this season has thrown for 22 touchdowns and 2,267 yards with four interceptions.
"He's having a great year," Marrone said.
Marrone also praised the Steelers' defensive front – a unit that includes linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward – calling it perhaps the best front seven the Jaguars have played this season and the best Steelers front seven he can remember.
He said that makes Sunday's challenge particularly difficult.
"It's interesting," Marrone said. "Obviously, you'd like to be able to control the ball, keep it away from their offense – which obviously a high-scoring offense. But how do you do that? Running the ball against this front seven … they're good at both levels, all around."
The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks (36) and turnovers forced (17).
"If you get yourself into a game where you get behind, then they're going to eat you up," Marrone said. "You're talking about guys who can rush the passer both inside and outside, guys who have been hitting quarterbacks, sacking quarterbacks … all that stuff. It can get ugly fast."
Marrone said that will make it critical for the Jaguars to start well, stay in good down-and-distance situations and not let the Steelers get a lead early.
Rookie quarterback Jake Luton will start a third consecutive game for the Jaguars. The sixth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft from Oregon State has completed 44 of 73 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in losses to the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers the past two weeks.
"You have to find a way to be able to control the tempo of the game offensively where you're picking up first downs and keeping things manageable and keeping things 50-50 run or pass in terms of what you're going to do," Marrone said. "There's no doubt – and it has been shown for these past nine games they have played – it's a big advantage for them.
"When you play teams like this that are playing extremely well and have excellent talent, you can get yourself out of whack quick. You just have to stick with the plan and be able to execute."
The Jaguars historically have played the Steelers well, with the all-time regular-season series tied 12-12. They beat the Steelers at Pittsburgh in the regular season and postseason in 2007 and again in 2017, with the latter season being Marrone's first season as head coach.
"It's hard for me to go look at the past and all that – different teams, different coaches and all the different dynamics," Marrone said. "In the past we've matched up pretty good. This is pretty the largest difference in the matchup going against them and I'm only speaking of the teams I've been a part of here going against them. It's always tough.
"Hopefully, that plays into it. There's no one that wishes that more. But they'll come down and be ready to go. They've got a lot at stake. They're 9-0. They watched us play last week (in a narrow loss to NFC North-leading Green Bay). They'll be ready to go. You're not going to catch them or anything like that.
"it's been fortunate that the games have been tight, but we've got a lot of challenges in all three phases that we play."