Divisional Round Marquee Matchup: Steelers O-Line Versus Jaguars Defensive Line

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face off against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs. Several Steelers noted prior to Sunday that they would love a revenge matchup versus the Jags. They got it, but there are a number of areas where the Steelers need to improve this time around.

The clear improvement this time around must be the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw five interceptions in the October 8th game against the Jaguars. Don’t expect Roethlisberger to have a repeat performance of arguably the worst game of his career; he will play much better this Sunday.

One of the keys to a Steelers’ victory will be the offensive line. The Steelers have three Pro-Bowlers in left tackle Alejando Villanueva, guard David DeCastro, and center Maurkice Pouncey. The three have been exceptional all season long. Guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert haven’t been too shabby either.

The Jaguars, however, have just as much talent on their defensive line. Defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Malik Jackson combined for 22.5 sacks in the regular season and are headed to the Pro Bowl, too. Yannick Ngakoue also contributed with eight sacks.

This Jaguars team has specialized in creating pressure. Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor looked flustered many times on Sunday. Taylor is a mobile QB who was able to escape the pressure many times. Roethlisberger is unable to evade pressure like he used to and thus the Jags could wreak havoc in the Steelers backfield if the offensive line doesn’t perform. Although the Jaguars only had two sacks in the regular season matchup, Roethlisberger was hit seven times and constantly under pressure.

Campbell can line up anywhere on the defensive line and has great hands that allow him to create separation. Pouncey will have his hands full with Jackson who explodes off the snap and is extremely athletic for a defensive tackle. Ngakoue is extremely fast off the edge and will often line up on Villanueva’s side. The whole line will need to communicate, pick up blitzes, and protect Big Ben on passing plays.

Those three playmakers are just a fraction of what Jacksonville’s defense has. The three, however, provided over half of the Jaguars 55 sacks on the season. It will be crucial for the offensive line to buy Roethlisberger time in the rematch. The receivers will need the time to get open against the Jaguars’ secondary and Roethlisberger needs the time in order to prevent poor decisions.

The run defense for the Jaguars defense is their weak link. 116.3 rushing yards allowed per game was 21st in the NFL during the regular season. The Jags allowed over 100 yards on the ground in all six of their regular season losses. They were 3-6 in regular season games when they allowed over 100 total rushing yards. The Steelers had 70 total rushing yards in the teams’ meeting back in October (it must be noted that the Steelers didn’t have much of a chance due to Roethlisberger’s interceptions, but establishing a running attack is crucial).

The Steelers O-line has done a phenomenal job the last couple of years adjusting to the running style of running back Le’Veon Bell. However, Bell only had 15 carries in the week 5 matchup against the Jags. The recipe for success against this suffocating defense is successfully running the football. If the offensive line can open up holes for Bell early on, it will open up the play action and screen passes to the outside.

The Bills struggled on Sunday due to an experienced quarterback and lack of playmakers. With a healthy Antonio Brown and dynamic Bell, amongst others, Roethlisberger will have plenty of weapons. The offensive line will have their hands full as the Jaguars defense mixes up looks and possesses plenty of blitz packages.

The Steelers should be successful if the offensive line provides holes for Bell and gives Big Ben time to throw against a dominant Jaguars’ defense.

About the Author

Parker Abate
Pittsburgh Steelers’ football and writing are the two passions for Parker Abate. He may only be 21 years old, but his knowledge and experience regarding the two are advanced. He is currently studying to achieve a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications with a specialization in Sports Communication. He had written several pieces regrading Steelers football prior to joining Steelers Depot in December of 2017. Parker’s favorite Steeler (and athlete) of all time is Hines Ward. He bleeds black and gold and is also an avid follower of the Pirates and Penguins. Follow him on Twitter @parkerabate
  • Sam Clonch

    Ramon a LG.

  • Chris

    Big Al needs to earn his pay check in this one. He is the liability here. If Ben has time, it’s lights out!

  • Shane Mitchell

    Calais Campbell had the fastest average pressure times in the NFL, he had some QB pressures at 2 secs this season, he is a tough matchup for anyone.

  • Mark

    1st play – AB, Jesse, Vance, Nix, Bell. Run Bell either way off tackle and let’s set the tone for the day. By the 4th quarter, their dline will be unable to get pressure after being blown off the line continuously. Double Campbell, wherever he lines up and block everyone else singularly. Screen passes to unknown receivers using Bell, JuJu, and AB as decoys to one side of the field.

  • Mark

    Double him unless the blitz, watching tape, they only rush 4 and put 7 in coverage over 90% of the time

  • Charles Haines

    Still can’t believe Al was voted to pro bowl but when he struggles perhaps Jesse can help out on that side.

  • DAWAARE

    compare to other starting LT in the league, his contract is quite a bargain.

  • Steve

    If we are able to run the ball, it will open the passing game and as long as we minimize turnovers, Steelers will come away with a win.

  • Steve

    Pro Bowl is a popularity contest voted on by the people. Al got well know after the Steelers stayed under the stands and Villy saluted the flag. That got him well known and many votes went his way. Actually I thought Villy had a better year in 2016 than in 2017.

  • jsteeler72

    I believe Big Al led the Fan voting for the pro bowl at left tackle. If he did then that makes him an guaranteed Pro Bowler. No way he made it on his play. The regular season finale he got ate up by Cleveland.

  • Conserv_58

    This is where the game will be won or lost. I’ve already said that the outcome of this game comes down to which team wins the war of attrition in the trenches. I expect to see Haley give AV and Gilbert some help depending on how the jags offense lines up.

  • Mike Rowan

    He was positively terrible in key games at key moments and seemed to be clearly better in 2016 than 2017. This was the year I thought he was supposed to become legitimately dominant, but I didn’t see that happen. I’m sure the USAA commercials didn’t hurt him in the voting either. I still think he’s average to good with lots of upside, but I’m astonished at times, given his background, how undisciplined he seems to be. Maybe I’m mis-remembering, but didn’t he false start at least a few times at really critical moments this season? Early on, there was the illness to be fair. Losing 20 lbs is a big deal period; it’s especially huge for an NFL LT.