If there was one thing that Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin wanted to make clear about the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into Sunday’s game, it is that he is by no means taking the 3-6 defensive AFC South champions lightly. And not because they beat the Steelers twice in their own home a year ago, but because he respects what they do on film, and of what they are becoming as a team.
Tomlin was especially appreciative of the fact that they just got their stalwart running back on the field again in their last game. 2017 first-round pick Leonard Fournette, who scored five touchdowns against the Steelers on those two wins last year, has missed a large chunk of the season, but is ready to face the Steelers.
Tomlin attributed the Jaguars’ struggles this year to their poor turnover differential. While they haven’t been producing as many takeaways as last season, they have struggled in particular in protecting the ball offensively. But he believes that the return of Fournette allows them to get that under control.
“You felt his contributions in that area in terms of their ability to take care of the ball up until the last drive”, he said of Jacksonville’s last game, Fournette’s first back from injury.
“I thought they did a much better job at securing the ball. He is central to that because of the way that he plays, the style of play, the way that he is capable of weighing a defense down over the course of a game and controlling the pace and making sure they are in manageable third downs, which is what he does”.
He also sees the ripple effect of moving T.J. Yeldon back into a role that he is more suited to, which is with an emphasis on the passing game. The fourth-year back has career-highs in that department already with 42 receptions for 397 yards and four touchdowns. He has more receiving yards and scores than he does on the ground.
Fournette has only been on the field for three games so far this year. He has rushed for just 124 yards on 44 attempts, only 2.8 yards per carry, with one touchdown, which came on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. He only averaged 2.2 yards per carry in that game, albeit with a score, but he also caught five passes for 56 yards and another touchdown.
“They turned the ball over some, they got Fournette back, they turned it over less with him in there”, Tomlin summed it up. They do run the ball more often when he is in the game, and Fournette has been a reasonably sure-handed runner (two fumbles on 357 touches).
The main concern for the Jaguars is Blake Bortles, who has thrown eight interceptions and fumbled five times, losing three of them.