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What to Expect in Week 8: Jaguars vs. Steelers, Team Experts Share Quick Thoughts

Quick Thoughts (Pregame)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Kainani Stevens offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday in a 2023 Week 8 game …

John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…

  1. Good traits outweigh the concerns. The Jaguars enter Sunday leading the AFC South by a game and a half – and while that's perhaps tenuous considering the second-place Houston Texans beat the Jaguars in Week 3, the Jaguars still very much control their postseason fate. What's curious is the worry/angst many Jaguars fans seem to be experiencing, with concern expressed over quarterback Trevor Lawrence's statistics, the so-called "lack of pass rush" and the so-called "inability to protect leads." The reality is Lawrence is making big plays at big times, the Jaguars are in the top five in the NFL in quarterback pressures/knockdowns and they haven't trailed in the second half during their current four-game winning streak. This is the NFL. No team is flawless. Teams don't win back-to-back-to-back-to-back games by 20 points each. The Jaguars just finished a stretch in which they beat a division leader (Atlanta), a defending division champion (Buffalo) and two more teams (Indianapolis and New Orleans) that would be above .500 if not for losses to the Jaguars. This team knows how to win games late. It can beat good teams. Those are traits you seek when determining if a team can win a division – and more.
  2. Tough out. The Steelers this season haven't been dominant, but forget what they're not. What they are is a dangerous team that enters Sunday a game out of first place in a tough AFC North because it plays well when it matters, particularly in the second half. The Steelers have some similar traits to the Jaguars in the sense that they make big plays to win at crucial times. For the Jaguars in recent weeks, that has meant plays that have allowed them to hold leads built with strong early surges. For the Steelers in recent weeks, that has meant rallying to beat a very strong Baltimore Ravens team and most recently – this past Sunday – the Los Angeles Rams. If the Jaguars follow their recent pattern of getting an early lead and trying to maintain it, it could be one of their tougher tests of the season. The Steelers are a tough team to put away – especially in Pittsburgh.

Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …

  1. These aren't the Steelers you've come to know. Pittsburgh long has been a run-the-ball-and-stop-the-run team no matter the quarterback or head coach. It has been part of their DNA since Chuck Noll arrived on the scene as head coach 54 years ago and it has continued through the head coaching eras of Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are only running for 80 yards per game this season. They have run for 55 yards or fewer as often as they've run for 100 yards or more: twice each. The Steelers' once-powerful defense is allowing nearly 143 yards per game rushing and has held only the Raiders to fewer than 125 yards rushing. It's thrown off their mojo. Despite a 4-2 record, these Steelers just don't play like you expect the Steelers to play.
  2. The Jaguars do run the ball and stop the run. The Jaguars aren't a powerful running team like they have been in the past, but you sense they could be if that's how Head Coach Doug Pederson wanted to play. They're averaging 113 yards per game rushing, which is good and would seem so much better if they could convert more third-and-short situations. Meanwhile, the defense is stopping the run as well as any Jaguars defense ever. They're powerful up front in clogging the lanes, and the linebackers and safeties are flowing to the gaps to shut down the run. That's forcing more pass attempts: 55 each by the Colts and Saints the last two weeks. That's creating takeaway opportunities that have them at the top of the league in that category.

Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...

  1. One and the same? The Jaguars have struggled to find their identity this season and the same could be said for the Steelers. Both teams are led by young quarterbacks, and both feel as though they haven't yet reached their potential on offense. Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has faced similar scrutiny to Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor. Defense has been the strength in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville this season and both are among the NFL's best at forcing turnovers. The difference Sunday may come down to the Jaguars' momentum as they roll into Pittsburgh seeking a fifth consecutive victory.
  2. Wrecking Ball. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin this week voiced high praise for the Jaguars' defense, particularly outside linebackers Josh Allen and Travon Walker. Tomlin described Walker as a "wrecking ball" and went on to say that Walker's contributions on defense go far beyond sack numbers. Walker has 2.5 sacks so far in 2023, while his counterpart Josh Allen has seven sacks. Tomlin noted that Walker's ability to "wreak havoc" disrupts an offense in numerous ways and allows for his teammates to have success.

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