Back at it, breaking down what the Pittsburgh Steelers have to do to win (or lose) in their first playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. My always unreliable prediction at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
– They don’t blow any coverages. Saying this for roughly the 20 thousandth time. But it’s so critical and you guys know I’ve been skeptical at this secondary’s ability to play smart and clean for the entirety of a playoff run. Finding out that answer begins today. To win this game, I really think the Jags need some big plays offensively, more than what they did in the first matchup, because Ben Roethlisberger won’t hand them 14 points again.
Communicate well, pass things off, don’t get picked in man coverage. Blake Bortles can’t have anything easy. Make him work and you seriously increase your chances of winning.
– Establish an interior run game. I think it’s going to be hard running to the outside against these speedy linebackers and athletic defensive ends. Running inside won’t be as easy this time around after Jacksonville traded for NT Marcell Dareus and the run game has improved by about a yard per carry since then. But that’s the ticket to moving the ball on the ground. Interior guys gotta go to work.
– Zone coverage is effective. Man coverage is nice but I’m still worried about letting Bortles break the pocket and eyes being late to the ball. That happened last week against Buffalo. If you can play zone, you can do a better job of containing his legs and capitalize on the mistake balls he does throw. Still want good reroutes, still want to be able to carry #2 down the seam so Cover 3 doesn’t get exposed, but if zone can be effective, the Jaguars are going to really struggle.
The Steelers Lose If…
– Their run fits are bad. Been a “popcorn” issue throughout the year. Sean Davis is going to play a key role in not letting Leonard Fournette bust any big runs. But this is an 11 man job. Jaguars have the physicality up front to get a push at the first level and swallow up the linebackers. Fournette isn’t a particularly scary runner, worn down by the long season and several lower body injuries, but that doesn’t mean this run game is getting shut down.
– Jacksonville wins the field position battle. That’s how they’re going to keep this game competitive. A couple first downs can be nearly as good as a score. Pin the Steelers deep and hope their defense can force a three and out, giving Bortles and company a short field to work with.
For Pittsburgh, that means having their own success on a long field. Get the ball inside your ten? At least pick up a first down and if/when you punt, the Jags aren’t in a great spot.
– Todd Haley’s scheme doesn’t get guys open. No doubt the Steelers have a great supporting cast…you don’t need me to tell you that. But like I wrote yesterday, some spacing concepts/playaction are going to be the ticket to beat Jacksonville. If Haley runs straight verts, not much in the middle of the field, the offense is going to sputter. And I’ll be the first to say it.