Sunday’s Week 5 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field will feature two of the league’s top pass defenses so far this year playing against each other. While it will be interesting to see both defenses defend the oppositions’ passing attack this weekend, it will perhaps be more interesting to see how each of those defensive units play against the run.
By now, readers should already know about the Steelers rush defenses woes so far this season and particularly against outside zone plays. The Chicago Bears really exposed the Steelers defense with that play and especially in overtime.
The Jaguars running game so far this season has been fun to watch as it has included a lot of power running by rookie running back Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory. Those two backs, however, have only averaged a combined 3.63 yards per carry entering Week 4. It’s been kind of feast or famine with that duo as while the two have combined to have 12 carries that gained more than 10 yards so far this season, they have combined to have 16 runs for no gain or lost yardage as well.
Do the Jaguars run some outside zone? Sure they do, but with that said, it doesn’t look like they’ve run it a lot because of the style of running backs that they have. They’re more of a smash-mouth team and one that likes to use a fullback and multiple tight ends quite a bit.
In case you’re curious, the Steelers defense has already allowed 13 runs of more than 10 yards entering Week 5 and 5 of those went for more than 20 yards. One of those 13 runs was by an opposing quarterback with the other 12 being by opposing running backs. Of those 12 runs, 266 yards were gained and that’s 62.6% of all yards gained by running backs against the Steelers defense this season. The other 77 runs by opposing running backs gained an average of 2.07 yards. In short, the Steelers defense has been feast or famine when it comes to stopping the run through the first four games of the season.
So, what about the Jaguars run defense entering Week 5? Well, that unit hasn’t been great against the run entering Week 5. In fact, their yards per carry average allowed entering Week 5 is 5.71 and that’s the worst in the NFL right now. Is that a result of big plays or quarterback runs?
The Jaguars defense has already given up 12 running plays of more than 10 yards and 11 of them were by opposing running backs with 3 going for more than 20 yards. Those 11 running back plays gained 297 yards and that’s 50% of all yards gained by that position against the Jaguars defense this season. Back out those big plays and the Jaguars defense has allowed an average of 3.26 yards per carry to opposing running backs.
Yards per carry averages are fine, but what about the successful run rates by running backs allowed by both defenses? The Steelers defense has allowed a respectable 41.2% success rate to running backs in their first four games while Jaguars have allowed a not so respectable 46.2% success rate to the opposing running backs they’ve faced so far this season. That difference in percentages might not seem like a lot, but it really is.
So, what about the offensive rushing success rates of both team’s running backs? So far through four games, the Jaguars running backs have successful run rate of 42.6% while the Steelers running backs have a successful run rate of just 38.4%. The Steelers running game, however, did show a big improvement against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.
Based on the stats as well as the tape, the Steelers figure to have the slight edge when it comes to the running game matchup in Week 5. Jumping out to a decent lead in the first half of the game should really help matters as well and that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen Sunday at Heinz Field.