Steelers’ Explosive Passing Game Will Test Jaguars’ Vaunted Secondary

By just about any statistic that you would care to come up with, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with the best pass defense in the NFL during the 2017 regular season. Their 169.9 passing yards allowed per game? The best in the league. Their six yards per pass attempt allowed? The best in the league. Their 68.5 quarterback rating? The best in the league. Their touchdown-to-interception ratio? The best in the league.

So then you might be surprised to learn that their defense was actually one of the most highly-exploited when it comes to allowing big plays. Their 40 plays of 20 yards or more allowed through the air was one of the best in the league. But they let a large percentage of those explosive plays get by them.

Over the course of the season, the Jaguars allowed 12 passing plays of 40 yards or more. Only five teams—and yes, that does include the Pittsburgh Steelers, by one—allowed more passing plays that went for at least that distance.

From a play-to-play basis, it is true that passing teams may not be able to find a great deal of success. But there is the opportunity to hit the occasional long ball. And it just so happens that the Steelers have been the best team in the league when it comes to netting those 40-plus-yard passing plays.

Pittsburgh recorded 16 passes that gained 40 or more yards during the course of the regular season, which was tied for the most in the NFL with the Detroit Lions it will surely not surprise you who the primary protagonists have been in that regard for the team.

Antonio Brown finished tied for second in the league with seven receptions that gained 40 yards or more, behind only Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs, and if I am not mistaken, he was actually tied for the lead entering the game in which he was injured.

But the Steelers’ rookie, JuJu Smith-Schuster, was right behind. He caught six passes during the season that gained at least 40 yards, and only three players in the league—Hill, Brown, and Brandin Cooks—had more during the year.

For somebody who had a low speed grade in Madden entering the league through the draft—pardon me if my nomenclature is off here, I haven’t played football games in years—the fact that he would be among the league leaders in such explosive passing plays has surely taken many off-guard, but the results are there.

We might as well point out that Brown also led the league in explosive plays, all told, with 27, and the closest to him was DeAndre Hopkins with 24. Smith-Schuster tied for 24th in the league with 12 explosive plays, and he did it on fewer receptions than the vast majority of those ahead of him on the list.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • CP72

    Ramsey and Bouye are great players. I think they’re the best tandem in the league. They very well could clamp down the Steelers receivers. Doing that still doesn’t stop this Steelers offense however.

    I think you’ll see a lot of Bell, McDonald, and James in this game. Ben will work the 5-7 yard passes and get the ball out quickly. He became more willing to throw these little check downs in the 2nd half of the season and this offense really started humming.

  • Sam Clonch

    I believe that the very first play of the week 5 game was a bomb to MB that they JUST missed on. MB had a step. Can’t remember if it was a touch long, or he missed the catch, but it was there for sure.

    How about Foster getting picked up for pot? Lot of people wanted him over TJ, especially after the injury to 50! But his combine sample was just because he drank a lot of water, lol!

  • Get_at_Me

    Man, i hope the Steelers demoralize the Jags tomorrow. Get up on them early. Get after Bortles (hopefully get 5 INTs lol) and send a message that the Jags had a good run in the regular season, but theyre not ready to run with the big dogs in the playoffs.

  • GravityWon

    The running game will be important in opening up the pass game. Got to hit those DBs and force them to make some tackles.

  • FATCAT716

    I thought it was a deep catch by AB but maybe mistaken

  • Chris

    People forget how bad big Ben was over the first 5 games. It wasn’t just the Jacksonville game. If any has his PFF splits I’m assuming his worst 4 or 5 performances we’re in the first half of the season. Totally different QB entering Sunday.

  • Sam Clonch

    I think I’m mistaken. I remember MB just missing a TD on the first play of a L, but it looks like that was the Chicago game.

  • FATCAT716

    Right I remember that

  • Matthew Marczi

    Pretty much right. Four of his first five games are his four lowest-graded games, and the other one (Vikings game) is close.