We are somehow 11 weeks into the NFL regular season already, and what was supposed to be a prime time matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars has been flexed into a 1 p.m. start due to Jacksonville’s struggles (weak).
No matter what time kickoff is, the Jaguars have a tough task against a hot Steelers team that has won five games in a row. To help us prepare for this weekend’s game, I spoke to Jeff Hartman, managing editor of Behind the Steel Curtain — SB Nation’s superb Pittsburgh Steelers website.
1. The Steelers got off to a slow start at 1-2-1, but have since turned things around with five straight wins. How has Pittsburgh been able to go on this run? What changed for the team?
Jeff: The biggest change for this team can be broken down both offensively and defensively. Offensively, the team started to commit themselves to running the football. When doing this they have been able to provide a balance which didn’t exist during the 1-2-1 start to the season. Defensively, they have stopped the big plays from happening, and have really been better at tackling. All of that combined, and increased health of the team, has equated in five wins in a row.
2. Last season, the Jaguars defeated the Steelers twice, and were underdogs in both contests. This season, Jacksonville appears to be a sinking ship, but I am not sure records matter in this series. What do you think the Jags did so well against the Steelers last season, and what does Pittsburgh need to do better to avoid the same outcome?
Jeff: Jacksonville ran the football down the Steelers’ throats on both occasions. They were able to produce time-consuming drives, keeping the high-powered offense on the sideline. In the playoff loss, the Steelers’ defense couldn’t get off the field because of this, and although the offense put up over 40, it wasn’t enough. The other consistent trend in last season’s games were the turnovers. Pittsburgh coughed the ball up, while the Jaguars didn’t. The Steelers will have to play clean football, and stop the run, if they expect to win in Week 11...even with the Jags current losing streak.
3. You are probably sick of this question, but how has the Le’Veon Bell (Go Green!) saga affected the team? Do you expect Bell to sit out the remainder of the season? With the emergence of James Conner, do you believe that the organization (and the fanbase) is ready to move on from Bell? (editor’s note: the question was asked and answered prior to Le’Veon Bell’s decision to not report to the team)
Jeff: When this article runs, I expect Bell to have decided to pass up the $14.5 million dollars and decide to take the rest of the season off (editor’s note: nailed it). In the early portions of this season, it certainly impacted how the Steelers handled their offense, but as James Conner has proven himself more than capable, if not better, in every aspect of the RB position, the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Short answer...the Steelers’ offense is firing on all cylinders without Bell.
4. Pittsburgh seems to be playing complete football right now, ranking No. 4 in total offense and No. 8 in total defense, with a very good run defense. What is the key to containing Pittsburgh’s offense, and what can Jacksonville’s often-struggling offense do to move the ball against a stout defense?
Jeff: Stopping the Steelers’ offense will come down to the Jaguars’ offense. The teams who have had success slowing down Ben Roethlisberger and company have been the teams who have come out and gotten a quick lead. When faced with a big deficit (talking double-digits) the Steelers have shown they often want to get pass-happy. This is when Roethlisberger can make mistakes (see Week 5 of last season). But if the Steelers can get a lead, or keep it close, with the run and pass still available, it will be tough for any defense in the NFL to shut them out.
5. How has the emergence of Juju Smith-Schuster allowed the passing game to open up for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown (Fire up, Chips!) and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense?
Jeff: Teams can’t sell out to just stop Antonio Brown anymore. That may sound simple, but the fact is JuJu Smith-Schuster is a production machine. Unlike Martavis Bryant, Smith-Schuster isn’t just a decoy. He isn’t just a deep threat. He can do it all. YAC, great hands, above average route running and a willingness to do the dirty work (going across the middle and blocking) to help the team succeed. When Smith-Schuster gets going, so does the Steelers’ offense.
Bonus: Score prediction?
This game won’t be a blowout, and I could see the Steelers having to come from behind. However, this is a revenge game for Pittsburgh. Don’t think they forgot about those two games last year, and nothing would please them more than sending the Jaguars to a 3-7 start to the season...
I like the Steelers...
Steelers - 31
Jaguars - 20
Thank you to Jeff for providing thorough insights and analysis into the matchup and the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers. You can find him on Twitter, and you can also follow Behind The Steel Curtain to keep up with news and notes from the opponent.