JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser preps for the week ahead with five quick questions for Steelers-Jaguars at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
1.Can the pass defense improve?It takes a lot to knock rookie quarterback Blake Bortles off the top of any Jaguars list these days. But the pass defense has become an overriding issue. The Jaguars are ranked last in the NFL in passing yards allowed, with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throwing for 377 yards and touchdown passes of 43, 47 and 24 yards against them this past Sunday. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked extensively Monday about the cornerbacks needing to challenge routes. Look for that to be a major topic this week.
2.Can Bortles make the team better enough?Bortles has shown every sign of being very good. He also showed signs last week of making a lot of areas around him better, particularly the offensive line. At the same time, he also showed some inexperience and made some expected rookie mistakes. Can his presence and continuing development make other areas of the team better enough for the Jaguars to be competitive? Other than pass defense, that's the top short-term question around this team.
3.Can the Jaguars' pass rush affect Roethlisberger?The Jaguars' run defense was solid last week. That will be tested against the Steelers and the AFC's leading rusher, Le'Veon Bell. As important will be pass rush. The Jaguars have been effective rushing the passer, as evidenced by 12 sacks in four games. But sacking Roethlisberger is difficult because even when you get to him he can use his size and strength to extend plays. If he extends too many, already dangerous Antonio Brown becomes that much more worrisome for a struggling secondary.
4.Will the Jaguars have enough weapons?As impressive as Bortles was in his starting debut, he wasn't helped by the absence of rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee and veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis. The loss in the second half of wide receiver Cecil Shorts III hurt, too. Shorts likely will be out Sunday, Lewis definitely is out and Lee is uncertain. That could mean rookie wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson and veteran tight end Clay Harbor being the primary receiving weapons. The return of second-year receiver Ace Sanders from suspension could help Sunday, but in his second start, Bortles may be doing more with somewhat less.
5.Gerhart or Robinson or both?This is a situation that continues to develop. Toby Gerhart remains the Jaguars' starting running back, and he has been slightly more effective in recent games than he was early. Denard Robinson has shared carries with Gerhart the last two weeks and has shown significant improvement, appearing to be close to breaking a long run several times over the last two weeks. Bradley said early this week the team will continue to play both Gerhart and Robinson, with Robinson earning more carries. But this area will remain a focus.