The Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers will face each other in Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season in Pittsburgh this Sunday. There are talks to flex this game to Sunday Night Football. Many fans expected these teams to do well this season, but I don’t think fans expected it to be a matchup of a 5-2 Jaguars team and a 4-2 Steelers team.
While the Steelers are loaded with talent across the board and always play a specific kind of football under coach Mike Tomlin, I think there are two players on the Steelers that need to be focused on if the Jaguars are going to win this game, one on offense and one on defense. George Pickens on offense and T.J. Watt on defense.
Let’s start with George Pickens, because offense is more fun anyway. Pickens is quietly having a very productive season as a wide receiver with 27 catches for 500 yards and 2 touchdowns, doing this all with no drops. Pickens was a very talented wide receiver coming out of college; his athleticism and physicality have transferred over to the professional level very well. Despite all his physical talent, the off-the-field issues that got him in trouble in college have definitely carried over to the NFL.
The Jaguars will have to control their emotions on the field, as they should let the touchdowns talk and not their mouths. This will be a very physical game because that is just how Pittsburgh likes to play football. If Jacksonville is able to control their emotions, the penalties will stack up quickly against the Steelers, which will be a big advantage for the Jaguars.
Despite the penalties that Pickens has drawn, his outstanding athleticism and play-making ability usually make up for that. With back-to-back 100+ yard games, Pickens has been an offensive weapon for the Steelers and could be a big problem for the Jaguars this Sunday. The specific play that jumps out to me is his ability to catch the back shoulder throws. Picken’s athleticism is all over Twitter and TikTok with amazing clips.
And because of his ability to catch any ball thrown his way, the back shoulder throws have been almost unstoppable in Pittsburgh’s offense. In fact, Pickett says he will always throw him the back shoulder if he gets Pickens one-on-one.
Another week, another Kenny Pickett to George Pickens back shoulder.— Rob G (@NFL_Rob) October 24, 2023
If teams single Pickens up, it’s a given he’s getting targeted, with the leverage determining the ball Pickett throws. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/HMInlfW2Kt
You can see Pickett seeing Pickens one-on-one on the outside from the start of the play, and the entire Steelers offense knew that he was going to throw the back shoulder fade. Even though the corner is pressing as he should, he tries to mirror the wide receiver just a little too much, and since the quarterback and wide receiver are so in sync, the play is next to impossible to defend if thrown correctly.
Watching the last seven games the Jaguars have played, I found multiple examples of the back-shoulder fade called against this team, and as you will see in the two clips, I found the Jaguars, like most defenses, have a very hard time defending it. Over the course of the 2023 season, opposing teams are 4 for 5 with 58 yards and 3 touchdowns throwing the back shoulder fade against the Jaguars. In this clip, you can see the Falcons run it to perfection, even with a below-average quarterback in Desmond Ridder.
Another back shoulder against this Jaguars defense pic.twitter.com/tNm3PfxNv1— Jefferson Gibson (@rumandcokejefe) October 26, 2023
You can see in this clip that while the Falcons don’t get the one-on-one matchup immediately, the bunch formation and the Jaguars running man create the one-on-one matchup that the back shoulder fade is so effective against. This is just one of the three touchdowns scored against the Jaguars on this next-to-impossible play.
A good example of the Jaguars defending against the back shoulder pass pic.twitter.com/IRYeNyER9o— Jefferson Gibson (@rumandcokejefe) October 26, 2023
This clip is a great example of how to defend this play. While the Jaguars still appear to be in man, the coroner makes a wonderful play and uses his physical toughness to cause the incompletion. As long as the refs don’t call this a penalty, Jaguars faithful should hope the corners can effectively defend this cheat code of a pass.
If the Jaguars want to win this game, shutting down Pickens will be a must. In games where he is held to under 40 yards, the Steelers are 0-2 this season and their offense has yet to score more than 7 points.
While offense is flashy and everything, defense has been the calling card of this Steelers team for essentially their entire franchise. The Steelers have had some amazing defensive players throughout their history, but T.J. Watt might be one of the best defensive Steelers of all time.
Last year, the Steelers were 8-2 when Watt played and 1-6 when he was sidelined. Watt is the definition of a game wrecker. With 8 sacks and 1 interception on the season, he can create real problems for the offense and destroy drives with one play. Jaguars fans had enough long Sundays dealing with his brother on the Texans; now the younger brother is going to try to wreak havoc on this young, blooming offense.
With the Jaguars having a shaky offensive line, it will be necessary to game-plan around T.J. Watt, or this game will be over before it even starts. Pederson has faced the Steelers once in the regular season while coaching for the Eagles in 2020. T.J. Watt had a good game with 3 hits on the quarterback, 1 sack, and 3 tackles for loss. While Watt played well, the Eagles still scored 29 points, which was their highest point total of the entire season.
TJ Watt with 4 1/2 sacks over the last 2+ games— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 11, 2020
Toughest challenge for Eagles today?
While this is, at its core, a coverage sack, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. T.J. Watt does not give up on the play, as Carson Wentz cannot find someone downfield and gets taken down by Watt. While I think Trevor Lawrence is much smarter and more athletic than Carson Wentz as a quarterback, the tenacity and not giving up on this play is what makes Watt such a wrecking ball on that Steeler’s defense.
With Chiefs DT Chris Jones having success against the Jaguars and really stalling the offense, this Jaguars offense will have to focus on stopping the impact of T.J. Watt in order to win this game.
In conclusion, this Steelers team has been playing much better than most predicted. This is a tough, physical team. Coach Mike Tomlin is great at inspiring his players and game-planning to beat the opposing team with their sure physical toughness. If the Jaguars want to win this game and improve their record to 6-2, they will need to start by taking Pickens and Watt out of this game.