JACKSONVILLE – In a weekly feature for the 2020 season, NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks breaks down the Jaguars' performance in a 27-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday:
Moral victories don't put "Ws" in the win column, but Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone and Co. should be commended for their ability to get a young, inexperienced team to play competitive football each week. The Jaguars play with great energy and effort in all three phases, and their collective hustle and grit enable them to keep games close into the fourth quarter. Against the Steelers, the Jaguars went toe to toe with the best team in the league and matched Pittsburgh's physicality. Although a series of turnovers and lost individual battles on the perimeter led to a lopsided score, the Jaguars should have walked off the field knowing that they're not as bad as their record indicates.
KEYS TO VICTORY
It is hard to win in this league with a negative turnover margin. It's really hard to win against elite teams with four giveaways and a minus-three in the takeaway battle. Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton wilted under the barrage of persistent pressure from the Steelers. The game appeared to be too fast for him at times and his questionable decisions resulted from the constant harassment in the pocket. From his errant throws tossed into traffic to the overthrown balls that landed in the hands of awaiting defenders, the rookie was frazzled by Steelers' organized chaos. Defensively, the Jaguars were overmatched by the speed and explosiveness of the Steelers' receivers. Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool breezed past Jaguars rookie cornerback Chris Claybrooks for a 31-yard score to seize the lead for the Steelers. Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson followed it up with 23-yard reception over Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon that placed the ball at the one-yard line to break the game open prior to halftime. Although the Jaguars kept fighting to the end, the explosive plays sealed the deal and enabled them to cruise to Victory No. 10.
The more the rookie plays, the more the Jaguars see why he was a late-round pick. Despite some impressive physical tools, Luton lacks the consistency (performance and judgment) to excel as a long-term starter. Sure, he is a rookie acclimating to the pro game, but the Steelers exposed his flaws as a processor with an aggressive game plan that featured an array of simulated pressures and five-man blitzes. The constant pressure from various pre-snap alignments disrupted Luton's rhythm and forced him into some poor decisions. The four-interception performance featured a couple of nice throws, but the inaccurate throws and critical mistakes showed the football world the NFL game might be too fast for him at this stage of his career.
UNDER THE RADAR
Rookie running back James Robinson quickly has emerged as the Jaguars' top offensive player despite entering the league as a UDFA (undrafted free agent). The Illinois State product topped the 1,000-yard mark in scrimmage yards with a strong performance against the Steeler: 94 scrimmage yards on 19 touches. From his hard-nosed running style to his soft hands as a receiver, Robinson plays like an RB1. The Jaguars have found an underrated playmaker around which to build at running back.
Coordinator Jay Gruden attempted to control the game with a possession-oriented approach, but his game-planning efforts were undermined by Luton's poor performance. The rookie simply couldn't handle the pressure from the Steelers and his four turnovers prevented the Jaguars from pulling off a potential upset. Although the offensive line and running game held up against the Steelers' ultra-aggressive defense, it simply wasn't enough to mask the flawed effort from their young, inexperienced quarterback.
Coordinator Todd Wash has his unit playing much better down the stretch. The Jaguars are playing with outstanding effort and energy. However, the execution is still a little off with young defenders losing their individual battles in key moments. In the secondary, in particular, the short-handed bunch didn't have enough speed, athleticism or skill to match the Steelers' firepower on the perimeter. As a result, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to produce enough big plays to put the game away by halftime. Wash should be encouraged by his unit's physicality and hustle, but the lack of talent and inconsistent execution from the defense continues to haunt the coordinator in key moments.