The Steelers are 9-0 and heading to Jacksonville in a game that always seems to be painful one way or another for the Steelers. No matter how bad or good the Jaguars actually are, they play well against the Steelers. The good news is that Ben Roethlisberger happens to be 2-0 in his career when playing in Jacksonville. Still, what are the Steelers getting themselves into on Sunday?
After bringing on Jay Gruden, the Jaguars have inherited his West Coast centric scheme. The results thus far are anything but impressive. The Jaguars rank 26th in points per game and while they have some talent, the offense comes and goes with maddening inconsistency on a week-to-week basis. Even still, the Jaguars have efficient offensive performances this year. For certain, they can put drives together thanks to this simplified, basic system that Gruden runs.
Just as one would expect in a West Coast system, this system is all based on timing. Most of it is based on one quick reads to one side of the field. Whether that is something they see in the play or a route combination they are looking to exploit, Gruden is consistent in that fact. When defenses cover up a combination, the quarterback has to make something happen out of structure. For a modern twist, they have added this quick passing game off of RPOs, like this one here. The Jaguars like the cushion they see on the short side of the field, motion DJ Chark across the formation, and get a quick completion by taking advantage of that coverage.
While the Jaguars explicitly like to hit on mostly short, quick underneath passes like slants, quick outs, curls, and other timing-based routes, they have worked some play action bases that allow them to push the ball down the field at times. The wave that is sweeping the NFL right now are shot plays inspired by the Titans. This is a yankee concept, with an over route and a post route. The Steelers have had trouble defending this play specifically this year, and the Jaguars could pull this one out. Green Bay covers this well, but it is a better throw and catch by Jake Luton and Chark.
Everything they build off of is based through the rhythm of a tempo and running game. The RPOs and play action run through the running game. Gruden has somewhat of an old-minded style in this regard. The zone running scheme that they have employed for the most part this year has been key in the spurts of success that the Jaguars have flashed. Inside zone and outside zone are the primary runs and truly are the bread and butter of this offense.
The Jaguars take a lot of inspiration defensively from the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll. With a 4-3 scheme that employs a single-high look most of the time, the systems have their obvious parallels. They want to be aggressive on the outside, play man coverage, and give room for exotic and creative blitzes out of these looks. They require that box safety to be dynamic and condense a lot of roles in the defense. A lot of Cover 3 looks, including Cover 3 Robber are potent schemes they like to use on the back end. They try to force quarterbacks to defeat them outside of the numbers. That base 4-3 is usually an under front and they two-gap frequently up front, just like the Seahawks. The Jaguars are playing a system that is meant to sell out to stop the run and get upfield after the quarterback first and foremost.
Players to Watch
QB Jake Luton
The Jaguars will be without starting quarterback Gardner Minshew, who is dealing with a thumb injury. That means sixth-round rookie Jake Luton out of Oregon State will start. Luton’s got a nice arm and can make some impressive throws with some nice touch on his throws. Against Green Bay, he flashed some of that consistent accuracy. However, Luton’s mental process is still very much a work in progress. His post-snap process is faulty and he can fall victim to excessive blitzes and disguised coverages on the back end. The Steelers will need to get after Luton to capitalize on that flaw and force errant throws.
RB James Robinson
The star rookie running back in Jacksonville, James Robinson was an unknown name out of Illinois State who has done nothing but prove himself as a potent weapon for the Jaguars. Robinson is dense running back who shakes off tackles with ease, but he has more juice than his frame would indicate. All in all, he has good burst, surprising quickness, and solid long speed. Robinson can lower his shoulder and run tough to grind out the tough yards as well. Think of former Chargers and Falcons running back Michael Turner when thinking of comparison for Robinson. He has that same compact toughness and athletic combination.
DE Josh Allen
Allen revealed this week that he grew up a Steelers fan, but that is not the reason to watch him this weekend. He is one of the most promising young pass rushers in the game today. Allen’s impressive combination of explosiveness and flexibility makes him a tough rusher to handle even for savvy veterans like Alejandro Villanueva. He is the primary pass rusher that Jacksonville likes to free up when they try to get aggressive defensively.
Matchups to Watch
Steelers receivers vs Jaguars secondary
As an aside, the Jaguars secondary has shown some promise as of recent with the upstart play of new acquisition Sidney Jones, but this is a mismatch waiting to happen. Key rookie C.J. Henderson is out for this game and the Steelers can just flex their receiver talent over the 30th ranked pass defense in the NFL. Even with some talented linebackers like Myles Jack in coverage, it is hard to see the Jaguars matching the Steelers five receivers let alone Eric Ebron. As long as Ben Roethlisberger makes smart decisions and takes care of the football, the Steelers should have a lot of offensive success.
James Robinson vs Steelers Run Defense
The Steelers have to slow down James Robinson in this game. There is no doubt about it that the Jaguars will likely string together a few decent runs since Robinson has just been so absurdly consistent throughout the season, but they can not let him gash them all day or otherwise the Jaguars can hang around in this game despite the inherent advantages the Steelers have on the offensive side of the football.