JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser offers 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
1.Challenge the routes.We heard it enough all week that it has to be No. 1, right? Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley first mentioned the issue publicly last week – that it's not enough for the Jaguars' cornerbacks to prevent big plays, they have to challenge the ball. It took on a more urgent tone in the wake of Philip Rivers' three long touchdowns against the Jaguars in San Diego last week. Big Ben's coming to town with Antonio Brown Sunday. It's still kinda urgent.
2.Let Bortles loose.Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles is making NFL Start No. 2.He didn't throw downfield much in the second half of his starting debut. There were reasons for that, including perhaps not wanting to expose him too often to a really good pass rush. However it happens, Bortles needs to throw downfield. This shouldn't be an issue. His eyes go there naturally.
3.Protect Bortles.The Jaguars did a good job here last week. The pass protection has improved in recent weeks. Part of it is Bortles' pocket presence. OK, a lot of it is his pocket presence. But the offensive line has played better, too. On Sunday, it will mean dealing with Steelers coordinator Dick Lebeau's complex blitz schemes. Whatever it means, protect Bortles.
4.Stop the run.That's always key, and historically it's particularly key against the Steelers. They're running effectively in Pittsburgh again this season, with La'Veon Bell leading the AFC in rushing. The Jaguars' run defense was effective against a struggling San Diego running game last week; this week, it has to be better against a team that has been doing it well.
5.Get Big Ben down.It's not enough to get to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; you have to get him tackled. That's still true in his 11th NFL season. Whatever ails the Steelers this season it hasn't ailed Roethlisberger. He's playing at a high level, and when you get your hands on him, you must get him down and keep him from extending plays.
6.Step up, rookies.This has been and will continue to be a theme for the Jaguars, particularly on offense. There will be times when wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, Bortles and offensive linemen Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko are all on the field at the same time. Actually, they will be on the field at the same time a lot of the time. That's an unreal number of rookies, but this is their time.
7.Withstand the surge.The Steelers' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week came in stunning, end-of-game fashion and has spurred criticism from fans and observers. A second loss to a previously winless team will make things tougher for Pittsburgh. So, the Steelers will be motivated. They will have an early fire. That's OK. Withstand it.
8.Force three turnovers.That's a tall order, particularly for a team that hasn't forced one since Week 1 at Philadelphia. But filling a tall order is needed right now. The Jaguars need a break. They need something positive. They need to believe. They need momentum. Nothing provides momentum more than turnovers, particularly early.
9.Break a long run.Denard Robinson has been close. So-o-o-o-close He is running better than last season. He is showing better field vision. His numbers aren't much different than starter Toby Gerhart, but Robinson's not going to be about consistent numbers right now. He's about the possibility, and when he touches the ball the last few games there seems the possibility of something big and long. Make that a reality. Break a run.
10.Keep it close.That's the first step, because the Jaguars have lost all four games thus far by double digits. Too often the game has slid away in first half. Last week, it slid away in the third quarter. Change that. Keep it close early, then come out of halftime and maintain momentum. Play the whole game as you do the first half. Get into the fourth quarter with a chance and feel the momentum change.