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With the stage set following an exciting week of wild card games, the Jacksonville Jaguars get ready to head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in a week five rematch. With the looming possibility of the Steelers offense losing key pieces such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to retirement and Le’Veon Bell to free agency, the Steelers will look to get a ring while they still have their stars. Meanwhile the Jaguars look to keep their season alive, following a defensive battle against the Buffalo Bills.
Keys To The Game
Last week, the Jaguars offense struggled, with quarterback Blake Bortles leading the team in passing (87 yards) and rushing (88 yards). The Steelers boast the fifth best passing defense and the 10th best rushing defense in the NFL. This makes Jacksonville’s hike more difficult. For Jacksonville to have success, they’ll have to find the chink in the Steelers’ armor with the run game. If they rely on Blake Bortles to throw the football, they are in trouble. Expect running back Leonard Fournette to get the football between 20 to 25 times. Their defense is what can win them this game. It is vital for the Jaguars to contain Bell, forcing Roethlisberger to pass. If successful, this could make for an interesting game.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are going to need to find a way to stop Fournette. If they can stop Fournette, Bortles may be the weakest part of this offense. Expect the linebackers to be involved early and often for the Steelers. Also expect the Steelers to keep pressure on Bortles. In the game against Buffalo, whenever there was a threat looming, he took off. While that can work against AFC east teams, the AFC north is notorious for stopping quarterbacks who try to run. Meanwhile, the Steelers will be facing the best pass defense in the NFL. Their best bet is keep the ball on the ground and let the rushing attack dictate the game. Jacksonville allowed the Bills to gain 130 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh will look to soften the defense with the run game to open up play action attempts downfield for Antonio Brown and company.
For Jacksonville, the X-factor will be cornerback A.J. Bouye. He was the one defensive back that didn’t get an interception off of Roethlisberger in the week five match up. That should provide an extra spark for him to make a play, especially given that he’ll be covering one of Pittsburgh’s bigger names, depending on the package. He was brought in during the offseason for these moments and has lived up to the hype, having tied for the third most interceptions in the league. If he can pick off “Big Ben,” then his best season will only be that much better.
On the other side of the coin, the Steelers X-factor will be linebacker Vince Williams. He’s the linebacker that often gets lost in shuffle, between Ryan Shazier (currently injured), Bud Dupree and the highly praised rookie T.J. Watt. Williams has the most sacks of all the linebackers, is third in tackles on the team, and has been a big part of why this team has had success against the run. He’ll be playing with second linebacker Tyler Matakevich, so it will be up to him to play the middle effectively like he has been recently. Should he stop the run effectively, that will cripple the Jacksonville offense, which could lend itself to more sacks for the Pittsburgh front seven.
Prediction: Fun fact, the Steelers have never lost a divisional round game at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh is a much different place come playoff time, and the Jaguars have never seen a crowd like the Steelers’ fans in January. Despite that, prepare for an unlikely upset sparked by Jacksonville’s defense. Jacksonville beats Pittsburgh, 24 – 21.