JACKSONVILLE – Another week, another difficult task.
That's the nature of the NFL, particularly for a rookie quarterback – and that is Jake Luton's story in a big way this week as the Jaguars rookie prepares for his third NFL start.
A week after facing blustery conditions and complex defensive scheme in Green Bay, Luton on Sunday will face perhaps the toughest task any NFL quarterback can face in the NFL this season: The Pittsburgh Steelers – a pressuring, turnover-forcing defense that may be the NFL's best.
"It's a great challenge; I think every week is," Luton said as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Steelers (9-0) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
"Every week's a great opportunity and this one's no different. It's a really good football team coming in here. We have the opportunity as a team to go out there and win a ballgame. It's a great opportunity and we're all going to work real hard this week and get ready for it."
The Steelers not only rank sixth in the NFL in yards allowed and third in points per game (19.0) defensively, they feature one of the NFL's best pass-rushing combinations in linebacker T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Tackle Cameron Heyward is one of the NFL's best at his position, and the secondary features Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Hayden and All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks with 36.
Not coincidentally, they also lead the NFL with 17 takeaways.
"We're going to have to step up," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "We're going to have to raise our game to a level that we haven't seen yet. The opportunity is there for us. We're playing an elite team. They're physical. They can run. They pursue to the football.
"But most of all, they're really sound in what they do. They protect the edges very well with their outside linebackers. Their inside linebackers can run. Their defensive linemen are big and strong. There really aren't a lot of weaknesses there. They're sound. They're strong. They're tough. And they run to the ball."
Said Luton, "You have to stick to your game. You can't get too caught up trying to get the ball out too quick or forcing things or pressing. You have to stick to the game plan. Sacks happen. Tackles happen. All those things happen. That's football. It's all about playing the next play and sticking to the game plan."
Gruden, asked Wednesday if Luton a sixth was ready for the challenge, replied, "You've got to be."
"He started off his career against Houston – a rival of this franchise – then he had to go up to Green Bay and faced [future Hall-of-Fame quarterback] Aaron Rodgers in horrible, windy conditions for a quarterback," Gruden said before adding with a laugh: "Now, he just has to face the 9-0 Steelers.
"It will be a great challenge for him, but I know he's going to be ready to go. I think it's very important for our entire offense to really understand this challenge and really raise their game up hopefully to a level we haven't seen yet."
Luton, a reserve during the first games of the season, took his first NFL in-game snaps of any kind in a 27-25 loss to the Houston Texans 10 days ago. He has completed 44 of 73 passes for 437 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, including 169 yards and a touchdown with an interception in blustery conditions at Green Bay last week.
Luton on Wednesday said he "definitely" feels more prepared to face a defense on the level of Pittsburgh's with two games of experience than he would have earlier this month.
"I feel more and more confident every day that I get to go out to practice and every game I get to step on the field on Sunday," Luton said. "This week will be no different – continue to build confidence and put good stuff on tape and try to put my team in position to go win."
Luton on the Steelers' organization: "Growing up, I always kind of viewed them as kind of the blue-collar, hard-working physical team and I think that kind of still stands. That's what they stand for. It's a great organization that I think everybody has a lot of respect for."