It’s playoff time. Feels good, man. Will feel much better with a victory in a short while. The Pittsburgh Steelers are for the first time since 2010 hosting a Divisional Round game, and are only making their third appearance in the round since that time as well, taking on the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
As has been mentioned ad nauseum by now, the Jaguars are the only team during the regular season that really took it to the Steelers, accounting for one of their three losses, and the only one by greater than a single possession. Jacksonville is already the only non-divisional opponent to defeat the Steelers twice at home in a season and is hoping to repeat that effort.
It goes without saying that the biggest story of the game will be surrounding Antonio Brown and whether or not he plays, finally returning from a calf injury that wiped out the final two and a half games of the regular season. He is officially listed as Questionable to play, but reportedly has looked pretty good in practice.
If he does play, which I would think at the moment is more likely than not, then the question becomes how he will perform, and he will not have an easy time of it against Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Brown got his numbers in the first game, to no avail, but trying it again at less than 100 percent does not bode well for a repeat performance.
And so what we want to watch for is how the Steelers’ other receivers perform. We’ve already talked about it, but Martavis Bryant and especially JuJu Smith-Schuster have elevated their play since the first meeting, and it’s reasonable to assume they can have a bigger impact.
My personal key to the game is the offensive line and their ability to keep Ben Roethlisberger protected in the pocket. He faced consistent pressure no more frequently than in the first Jaguars meeting, and that had a big impact on his ugly performance.
As I talked about yesterday, the long pass is going to be something that will have to be in play, because it’s quite difficult to beat the Jaguars any other way. While their pass defense ranks high in virtually every pass defense metric, they have been susceptible to giving up the big play, and the Steelers are one of the top big-play offenses.
Defensively, it comes down to controlled chaos. The front seven in particular will play a crucial role in keeping things between the tackles, and that applies to both Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette, as well as their other running backs.
That means Sean Spence and Vince Williams are going to be big. Having Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave getting banged up over the course of the week did not help very much, but they will have to make do with what personnel and health they have at their disposal.