As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, a playoff breakdown of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Jaguars’ Run Game
The offense relies on their run game. and that means relying on Leonard Fournette, the talented rookie who has seemed to find the rookie wall. For the year, he’s averaging 3.9 YPC with backup Chris Ivory even lower at 3.4. They have gotten some big runs of the run game though. 49 of them of 10+, above average, and 14 of them 20+, which tied for the 6th most in the NFL.
The assumed starting offensive line. Robinson-Omameh-Linder-Cann-Parnell
Not the biggest name value on this team but they’re a physical bunch, especially Robinson and Linder. Probably their two best guys, too.
What I like and respect about their run game is its variety. You’re not going to see the same run scheme over and over. Not much outside zone but pretty much everything else. They can do the same stuff out of one-back and two-back with fullback Tommy Bohanon #40). Inside zone, power, toss, man/duo blocking, they do it all.
Here’s a power run with the backside RG pulling and the fullback leading through.
They like to tag some of that stuff with a jet sweep to either influence the linebackers or act as an arc block. They get their receivers involved in the run game, whether that’s using them as the split zone, kick out defender, or on end arounds. Marqise Lee had a five yard carry in the Wild Card.
Some other stats. Here’s a fun one for you. Guess which team scores more points per game, Jacksonville or Pittsburgh? It’s Jacksonville, who finished 5th with 26 points per game (yes their defense helped but still). They’re an efficient team across the board. +10 turnover ratio, and a great red zone offense, despite their struggles overall. For the season, they finished second with a 64.7% TD conversion and are even better on the road, scoring 68% of the time.
Jaguars’ Passing Game
Yeah, yeah, Blake Bortles isn’t very good. We get it. But Keith Butler shouldn’t just pack it in and we’re not going to either. Still gotta stop them. Bortles generally hasn’t been as bad as he was in Wild Card weekend.
For the year, Bortles has completed just over 60% of his passes, thrown 21 TDs to 13 INTs, and 7.1 YPA. He’s thrown only two picks in the last four games, both of those coming in the same game. He, like the rest of the offense, has shown efficiency.
Efficiency doesn’t translate into big plays. Below average in passes over 20 yards (22nd) and 40 yards (20th). But they do have a big playmaker – Keelan Cole, averaging nearly 18 yards a grab and finished the season on a serious high note. Dede Westbrook wasn’t there for the first Steelers/Jags game and while he’s averaging 12.6 YPC but six of his 27 receptions have gone for at least 20 yards.
Lee is one of their go-to guys. Especially on third down, he leads the team with 22 catches. 18 of them have gone for a first down. Interestingly enough, T.J. Yeldon is second with 16 grabs.
In the red zone, Lee is still one of the top guys and Allen Hurns leads the group with six of them. The red zone is where Bortles looks for his tight ends. Marcedes Lewis has four scores and James O’Shaughnessy has three of them.
One of the biggest inefficiencies they do have on offense is on third down. They’re 20th in the NFL, which frankly, isn’t all surprising.
Conceptually, they’re going to run most of their passes out of a 3×1 formation. They also prefer bunch sets for spacing concepts and getting their guys free releases. Two of their favorite concepts are sail and smash. In smash, it’s a hi-lo concept with a short curl route and a deep corner route.
Sail is a three man triangle read with a vertical route, a corner route, and a flat route. Try to overload zone coverage or out-leverage man.
In 3×1 with the backside, X receiver in a nasty (reduced) split, watch for him to run a shallow cross and the #3 receiver run a deeper over route to the other side. Two examples I posted the other day.
Jaguars pass game has some definite tendencies to it. Most passes are out of 3×1. 2nd and long, with X in nasty split, expect him to run shallow cross w/ #3 bending on deeper over. Two examples. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/s8fkPnUDw5
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 10, 2018
In 2×2, you’ll get some mesh concepts, the tight end setting the pick for the receiver to run under.
Bortles doesn’t take many shots but if the backside X receiver is isolated in press man, he’s not afraid to cut it loose. And they’re a good playaction team, looking to hit over routes and 15-20 yard digs after getting the linebackers sucked up.
Not an abundance of talent but when they win, it’s with good scheme. I like OC Nathaniel Hackett’s playcalling.
Josh’s Individual Report
Well, it’s time for another crack at the Jacksonville Jaguars for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.
The last time these two teams met, the Jaguars dropped 27 points off of turnovers on the Steelers in a 30-9 win, capped off by a 90-yard sprint to the end zone by rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
In that game, Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles completed just 8 passes as the Jaguars rode the coattails of their otherworldly defense to the win. A lot has changed since that Week 5 matchup, highlighted by the Jaguars’ offense – namely Bortles – taking a massive step backwards, while on the other side Ben Roethlisberger heated up and is playing some of the best football of his career.
Chances are very good that Roethlisberger doesn’t throw 5 interceptions on Sunday, likely leading to a much different result for the Black and Gold.
It all starts with stopping the run, which the Buffalo Bills did a great job of last Sunday in the Wild Card matchup with the Jaguars, holding Jaguars running backs to just 62 rushing yards on 23 carries (2.69 yards per carry).
However, the Bills failed to contain Bortles in the pocket, allowing the beleaguered quarterback to rush for 88 yards on 10 carries, extending drives for the Jaguars when they needed it the most.
Along with loading the box to stop the run and force Bortles to beat them with his arm, the Steelers’ pass rushers have to make sure they contain Bortles in the pocket, forcing him to try and extend drives with his arm, which could lead to turnovers.
With Bortles struggling through the air last Sunday, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett busted out some read-option plays for Bortles and Fournette, allowing Bortles to get on the edge of the Bills’ defense for some big runs.
Hackett actually started to utilize the read-option much more than normal during the Week 16 game on the road against the San Francisco 49ers as Bortles struggled with ball placement and turnovers. Bortles isn’t though of as a dual-threat quarterback, but he has proven time and again he can make plays with his legs in tight spots, so the Steelers must maintain rush lane discipline and read their keys well against the run.
When throwing the ball, Bortles is largely a dumpster fire more often than not. Down the stretch of the regular season I watched him completely misfire on short crossing routes, struggle with communication with his receivers and skip seam shots 10 yards short of the nearest receiver. His mechanics are some of the worst in the NFL and his release is elongated, which has caused him problems with batted passes and fumbles in the pocket.
But make no mistake: he can hit some big throws off of play action, and really appeared comfortable against the Bills taking what the defense gave him on crossing routes, hitting guys like Dede Westbrook and Keelen Cole with passes in hopes of making things happen after the catch.
When the Jags are able to establish some semblance of the run game, they can base their entire passing attack off of play action, sucking the linebackers up, allowing tight end Marcedes Lewis to get open in the middle of the field for easy completions.
After the snap, watch both Buffalo linebackers crash towards the line in anticipation of a run play to Fournette. Once Bortles pulls it on the play-action fake, it’s an easy completion to the big, lumbering tight end in the middle of the field against safeties coming up to make the stop.
While the Jaguars are a ground-and-pound team, too often they line up in I-formation and let Fournette barrel into the line. Teams know this and sell out to stop it, banking on stopping Fournette for a shot gain while not fearing Bortles’ arm at all. What the Jags need to do is get creative with some run designs, which Hackett did a few times against Buffalo in the Wild Card game.
This is a well-executed toss crack by the Jags with a fake jet sweep worked in at the start of the play. As Westbrook runs in motion faking the jet sweep, it freezes Buffalo’s linebackers for a split second, allowing Bortles to pitch the ball to Fournette on the boundary.
As the pitch is made, Marquise Lee and Allen Hurns – lined up in the bunch formation with Westbrook pre-snap – are able to seal the edge as Hurns cracks down on the Bills’ defensive end while Lee waits for linebackers coming across the formation. As that happens, rookie left tackle Cam Robinson is able to pull in front of Fournette to take out the Bills’ cornerback, allowing Fournette to get into the secondary unimpeded.
If I’m a Jags fan, I want more runs like this, please.
Aside from Bortles and Fournette, I actually like Jacksonville’s weaponry even though most are “JAGs” (just a guy) right now. Westbrook was a guy I really liked coming out of Oklahoma last year, but they’ve basically turned him into a possession guy this year with Bortles’ inability to hit the deep shot consistently. Cole came out of nowhere and had a solid rookie season, while Hurns and Lee have battled injuries, yet are battle-tested and consistent threats.
Lewis is a good blocker and can stretch the field up the seam at times, but too often Hackett calls for silly tight end screens to him, which rarely work.
Behind Lewis, I was a big Ben Koyack guy coming out of Notre Dame, but he’s struggled to find his role even though they’ve utilized him mainly in the red zone. Keep an eye on him there. In the two games I’ve watched of Jacksonville for this article, they schemed up some interesting plays for him – one the touchdown against the Bills and then this one from Week 16 against the 49ers for a 2-point conversion.
Koyack motions back across the formation to set up left of Bortles and Fournette in shotgun. At the snap, Bortles rolls right looking at Fournette, who flares out of the backfield as a decoy, drawing a ton of attention from the 49ers. As this happens, the Jags block up the shovel pass to Koyack behind the play. Although Eric Reid reads it well for San Francisco, Koyack’s effort is tremendous here, resulting in a successful 2-point conversion.
All I’m saying is keep an eye on 83 in the red zone.
Up front, Jacksonville’s line is quietly solid, highlighted by Robinson, who had a terrific rookie year, and underrated center Brandon Linder.
This is how Jacksonville is expected to line up left to right on Sunday, barring injury in Friday’s practice: Robinson, Patrick Omameh, Linder, AJ Cann and Jeremy Parnell.
Again, it’s not an earth-shattering unit, but solid nonetheless, especially on the ground.
On special teams, Jacksonville had a solid year as Josh Lambo was terrific, missing just one field goal on the season, while punter Brad Nortman averaged 44.1 yards per punt on 87 tries, dropping 29 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Jacksonville was very successful at fake punts on the year with Corey Grant serving as the playmaker in those situations. The Jags will run them in any situation, whether they’re pinned deep in their own end, up by 30+ points or trailing big looking for a spark.
Second-year receiver Jaydon Mickens serves as the punt returner and has one touchdown to his name this season on punt returns, while Grant handles the duties as a kick returner, busting off a 68-yarder already on the season.
While these are the Jaguars in name only, this is a very tough team to handle. Honestly, if they had a quarterback not named Blake Bortles, this would be a game I’d probably not feel confident in for the Steelers.
Stop the run, contain Bortles in the pocket and force him to throw. Should the Steelers’ defense do that, it could be a big day at home for the Black and Gold.