1. I'm sorry, but I have to ask: Mike Glennon? Really? What's wrong with Pittsburgh's secondary?
It seemed to me the secondary was often lined up in positions that didn't really help them, considering the situation. Glennon completed barely 50 percent of his passes, so it wasn't like he tore them apart. The non-existent pass rush over the course of the game gave him plenty of time to make up for his mistakes. Ike Taylor may not be the best cornerback in the league, but he understands positioning and leverage, and that's really what the corners were missing against Tampa Bay.
Lots of things will need to change. It seems to me their defense gets kind of an opposite challenge in Jacksonville, a better, more efficient passer with worse weapons around him. Blake Bortles will complete many of the throws Glennon missed, but I'm not sure the receivers will be able to make plays count the way Tampa's can. Not that it matters, an accurate quarterback can make up for all kinds of offensive sins.
2. From what you've seen of Blake Bortles, what about him worries you for the Steelers defense? Mobility? Strong arm? Ability to distribute? What?
Just in the one game I've seen of him, it's his accuracy. He threw catchable passes. I believe, in this era of high-powered quarterbacks, it's as simple as giving your receivers (who are protected extensively both before and after the throw) a quality opportunity to catch the ball. Bortles was doing exactly that against the Chargers - and that's a tough defense. Arm strength is more of a nice-to-have as opposed to a need-to-have. Glennon showed some vicious arm strength in overthrowing his receivers Sunday. Bortles doesn't have that kind of arm strength. Joe Flacco does, and he threw catchable passes all game against Pittsburgh in Week 2, and led his team to a victory.
It's a completions league nowadays. Just throw on schedule and on target, and good things will eventually happen.
3. If you were Jacksonville, what area of the Steelers defense would you attack?
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It's a toss-up. The Steelers appear to be content in defending the deep part of the field even on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, so I want to challenge them in the 5-8 yard length on the sides and in the slot. I don't see them being aggressive enough in that area, and I see them letting dozens of catches go unchallenged. As a team, they have one interception, and that came on a deep pass in which Mike Evans pulled up lame a quarter of the way through his route. Cortez Allen was the only player there. They've dropped a few other picks this year, but top to bottom, they're just not competing for the ball. Stay on schedule on early downs, throw short passes in two seconds or less and attack them bit by bit. Don't worry about the deep pass, unless it's something you want to do early just to see how the secondary is running that day.
4. How do you shut down Le'Veon Bell?
One underreported aspect of the Steelers' loss on Sunday was how good of a job Tampa Bay did in containing him. Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are two of the best in the NFL at their respective positions, and you could see they were well-prepared in the shifty and elusive style of Bell. Going right at him is exactly what he wants you to do.
He's patient in his reactions, waiting for the defender to commit, and trusting his quickness to elude the tackle. He's done an excellent job with it, too. Defenses have to match his patience with patience of its own. You'll see a slow developing zone concept - almost like a draw - on handoffs. Defenses should approach that delay with their own level of patience, choosing not to shoot gaps trying to make a hit on him in the backfield.
Bell doesn't get many power runs (or hasn't, at least), and he gets the ball, holding for a split second, waiting for a seam to open up inside. Right guard David DeCastro has played very well this year, and many of his runs are starting in that A-gap. Bell shows a good level of explosion when he sees what he wants, but he's willing to wait for it. Most defenders aren't willing to counter Bell's patience with sound gap discipline, so they rush at him head-on. He makes them look bad.
When he's past the line, the key is remembering Bell is not making tacklers miss because of world-breaking speed, he's doing it because he's insanely quick and has the ability to contort himself through two or three moves all in a very short space. You'll see him cut to his right most often (something Tampa Bay saw, and largely eliminated), but he can twist and roll off of that, gaining extra space to either fall forward or to roll off a would-be tackle.
In space, it's all about bracketing him. Gotta get guys on either side of him. Tackling him 1-on-1 is very difficult. But above all else, Jacksonville has to take away his cut-back space. That diagonal gap to the right when a defender is approaching him head-on has been his main weapon. The Bucs approached him more at an angle and forced him to commit to running straight, and he didn't make nearly as many guys miss. He still had 100 yards from scrimmage, and I'm not sure Jacksonville will contain him to that degree, but they stopped him well enough in the second half to help stall out the Steelers offense - the same unit that but 226 yards and 17 points up in three possessions in the first half.
5. Will Sunday be Jacksonville's first win?
It's hard to say the Jaguars will win this game. Despite all calls to the contrary, I was one of the few who said last week the Bucs would be much more competitive than people think. The fact is, though, the season is still young and teams are still trying to get a feel for who they are and what they can do.
What we do know is there's a correlation between a three-week valley-peak-valley trend from the Thursday Night game. Green Bay gets whipped by Seattle in Week 1, then put up 31 points on a good Jets defense following the loss. Then they lose to Detroit in Week 3. Pittsburgh gets throttled by Baltimore on Thursday Night in Week 2, only to beat the tar out of Carolina in Week 3, followed by a let-down loss to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay gets beat in epic fashion by Atlanta, only to come out much more disciplined and focused in Week 3, and beat the Steelers. The Bucs take on New Orleans this week. Washington was crushed by the Giants last Thursday, and they'll have 11 days to prepare for Seattle. it'll be interesting to see if the trend holds out.
As it is, I don't think the Jaguars have enough on the offensive side of the ball to match the Steelers punch-for-punch, but if I'm Gus Bradley, I'm going to dare the Steelers to get in a shootout. They just flat out do not want to do that. I'm going to go after Ben Roethlisberger on every snap, I'm going to stack the middle of the field, and force Roethlisberger to take deeper drops to make longer throws down the side line. I'm not letting them complete passes inside the seams, and I'm choking their running game by putting linebackers in A and B gaps on every snap.
In doing that, I'm going to severely challenge the Steelers' edge blockers, because as a defense, Jacksonville cannot stop the Steelers offense, all things being equal. It needs to steal a few possessions and flip the field on special teams, like Tampa Bay did. I don't know if Jacksonville's defense can do that over four quarters, and while I think Bortles will play a quality, disciplined game, I do think he's going to run into the same kinds of problems rookie quarterbacks do with this defense. I'll take the Steelers 31-27.