Steelers have tough matchup in quest to put nail in Jaguars' coffin
The Pittsburgh Steelers only lost four times last season. The Jacksonville Jaguars handed them two of those losses, including a 45-42 loss in an AFC divisional round playoff game at Heinz Field.
Now it's the Steelers that can deliver a death blow to the Jaguars' season when they meet on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. The Steelers (6-2-1) and the Jaguars (3-6) are two teams going in opposite directions. The Steelers have won five consecutive games while the Jaguars have lost five in a row.
Two wins on the Steelers' home turf last season should give the Jaguars confidence that they can play with the AFC North division leaders. But it's also likely that the Steelers will be coming to town with revenge on their mind. Losing twice to a team on their home field in the same year has only happened twice in Steelers history and Jacksonville can claim both feats (2007, 2018).
Several Jaguars players spoke on Wednesday how they felt that the Steelers would have the proverbial "chip-on-the-shoulder" mentality when they take the field at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
"Yeah I would imagine so," said middle linebacker Myles Jack. "I'm sure a lot of teams are kind of having that 'get-back party' against us. But yeah, I definitely think they would want to kind of avenge what happened last year because we jumped on them last year.
"I won't say guys are playing harder (against us), it's just a little more want-to, but we'll have that same intensity. And even though our record doesn't show it, it's going to be two talented teams going at each other. Guys are going to step up. There's going to be superstars on the field so it's going to be a high-caliber game. I feel we can get a win, I feel that every time I suit up and go out there. This will be a great week for us to get a win and get the ball rolling for the remainder of the season."
The Steelers know better than anyone how difficult of a matchup the Jaguars can be.
"They're a much better football team than their record," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I think it's because they have a bull's-eye on their chest now. You are going to get teams' best and I think they got their division's best playing so far. I am not looking at their record because you can't. If you do, you are going to get fooled."
The Steelers are coming off their most impressive performance of the season, a 52-21 dismantling of the Carolina Panthers. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are coming off a 29-26 loss in Indianapolis. During their five-game losing streak, the Jaguars are averaging just 14.4 points per game while giving up 28.6 per game.
Still, the Jaguars are No. 2 overall in total defense and No. 1 against the pass. The Steelers know this will be a tough game. Not only do the Jaguars match up well against the Steelers, but their season is on the line. If the Jaguars don't win Sunday, they're going to have a hard time making it back to the playoffs.
"They are arguably still the very best defense in football," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "They do not give up big plays. We're playing well offensively when we are getting big plays. They specialize in minimizing big plays. Hunting big plays versus these guys, you do so at a risk because their rush is so formidable. As you hunt big plays, these guys impact the game in a negative way in terms of sacks, fumbles, and so forth."
The Steelers know this from experience. The Jaguars had a strip-sack and a fumble return for a touchdown in the playoff game in January and the rush hurried Roethlisberger into six interceptions in those two meetings last season, including five in a regular-season game at Heinz Field.
"From front to back, they're really good, really fast," Roethlisberger said. "With a lot of teams, we say it starts up front with their pass rush. This group has an unbelievable pass rush with their front four. Their linebackers are some of the fastest you'll ever play against. Their secondary is as good a secondary you will play. This will definitely be the biggest challenge for us."
Jacksonville's best defensive player is cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who intercepted Roethlisberger last season during the regular-season game at Heinz Field.
"You treat him with respect," Roethlisberger said. "He has all the tools. He's a guy you have to understand where he is and who he's covering. You just have to be smart. I'll never fear anyone. But you respect it for sure."
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell knows the Jaguars are in a must-win situation. Only four teams in the modern Super Bowl era have started a season with a 3-6 record and managed to make the playoffs that season. The 1996 Jaguars are one of the four. That season, the team's second year as an NFL franchise, they won six of their final seven games to not only make the playoffs, but advance all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to New England.
"Our margin for error is zero," Campbell said. "Our backs are against the wall but we have the ability to do something special. We have to bury the past and just look forward. With our team, our coaches and the way we prepare, I don't see why we can't make it happen. Put the past behind us and take it one day at a time, we can make it happen."
Updated November 14, 2018