From a depth chart viewpoint, the Pittsburgh Steelers are generally the same team now that they were in Week 5. A better team and unfortunately, without Ryan Shazier, but offensively, all the key guys are still available. The biggest difference? Getting back Marcus Gilbert, who missed the first matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Returning from his four game suspension in Week 16, Mike Tomlin praised Gilbert for quickly getting back up to speed and looking like the Pro Bowl caliber player fans are used to watching.
“He’s done an awesome job of getting back up to speed,” Tomlin said. “Marcus missed a lot of time this year for a variety of reasons. We’re comfortable with Hub and the work he provided us. So I’m not looking for any significant differences in how the game may unfold because of that availability. But I am obviously glad to have Marcus back and glad his play is trending in the right direction.”
Gilbert missed the first matchup with a hamstring injury. The Steelers run game struggled that day, Le’Veon Bell averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, along with an offense that sputtered and couldn’t finish a drive.
Hubbard has been excellent all season and as valuable a piece as anyone to that offensive line simply for the versatility and trust there is in being able to play him up and down the line. But there’s still no question Gilbert is the better player of the two. Even though he was limited to just seven starts, Gilbert allowed only half-a-sack, according to our breakdowns, and when healthy, looked as good as ever.
That’ll come in handy against a dangerous Jacksonville pass rush. The Jags, who finished with 55 sacks, second in the regular season behind only the Steelers, do a great job of getting home with their front four. Tomlin spoke to that, too.
“They do a great job with their edge people. 91 and 56. Flopping them. Both tackles and so forth have to be prepared to block those guys. They do a great job with their front, their rush lanes, their rush lane integrity. The way they squeeze and constrict the pocket, it’s awesome.”
That’s led by 31 year old Calais Campbell, who put up a monster 14.5 sacks this season. With unique size at 6’8, it’s important to have a bigger, longer tackle like Gilbert match up against him than someone like Hubbard. But their pass rush comes from a variety of places; like the Steelers, they have four players with at least six sacks.
All four of those guys are part of the Jaguars’ defensive line and the next highest sack total is linebacker Myles Jack with two. That tells you where their pass rush stems from. Not a ton of blitzing. Just rush four, drop seven, and still get pressure while providing sticky, man-to-man defense. Winning Sunday starts with containing that pass rush, meaning Gilbert’s “awesome job” has to continue.