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.

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