A lot of reasons can be applied to why the Pittsburgh Steelers ended up getting embarrassed by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the postseason last year, but in my opinion the single biggest reason was due to the front seven’s utter inability to get any kind of penetration or push against Jacksonville’s front line.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, I think it’s pretty safe to say that that won’t be as big of an issue this time around, for reasons on both sides of the line. For one thing, the Steelers lead the league in sacks and have been among the best in generating pressure on a play to play basis. And the Jaguars’ offensive line is not what it was a year ago.
The latter may be an even bigger story than the former. To begin with, the offensive line that started the Jaguars’ last game has two different components from the one that started in the postseason a year ago. And the one that will start against the Steelers will have three different components.
That is because center Brandon Linder, arguably their best offensive lineman, suffered a season-ending injury against the Indianapolis Colts, and he was replaced by Tyler Shatley a fifth-year backup who has started eight games in his career.
Cam Robinson, a 2017 second-round pick who became an immediate starter for the team last year, suffered a torn ACL back in Week Two and has since, most recently, been replaced by Josh Walker, who has started the past four games. The fourth-year journeyman never started a game before that.
Former left guard Patrick Omameh, who started 13 games last year, was signed by the New York Giants in the offseason, though he was recently cut. This was admittedly the one position that they upgraded, signing Pro Bowler Andrew Norwell, though his run blocking has been insufficient this year.
The right side of the offensive line of A.J. Cann and Jeremy Parnell at guard and tackle, respectively, do remain intact from last season, but they were already the weaker links to the group and are not playing any better in 2018 than they did in 2017.
Perhaps we will find out how much the team’s offensive struggles have been about the absence of Leonard Fournette, who only recently returned from injury and will see action against the Steelers. Fournette had two good games in Pittsburgh last season.
What the Jaguars really exploited in the postseason was the play-action pass, something that Blake Bortles isn’t doing very much this year. He doesn’t have any touchdowns off of play action either versus one interception and is actually averaging slightly fewer yards per attempt with a quarterback rating of 75.5
As if the 3-6 record didn’t make it obvious enough, this isn’t the Jacksonville Jaguars team that embarrassed the Steelers twice last year, and that is especially the case for their group in the trenches, which leads me to believe that this game should go much differently.