Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin takes zero comfort in the fact that offensive line of the Jacksonville Jaguars is currently dealing with injuries that will result in at least one of their starters missing Sunday’s game between the two teams.
On Tuesday, after Tomlin was first reminded about how well the Jaguars offensive line did last season at controlling the line of scrimmage in the two meetings between the two teams, he was then asked to comment on their injured unit ahead of Sunday’s meeting.
“I think they had some injuries along the front also last year,” Tomlin said. “I think the center’s that scheduled to start against us started against us last year. So, you know, I don’t know how significant that is.”
That center that will start Sunday for the Jaguars against the Steelers is Tyler Shatley thanks to starter Brandon Linder now out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury he suffered during Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. Shatley started in place of an injured Linder last season in the Jaguars Week 5 game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh and he was perhaps Jacksonville’s best offensive linemen in that contest.
Also playing well last season for the Jaguars in their two wins over the Steelers was running back Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars 2017 first-round draft pick out of LSU rushed for 290 yards and 5 touchdowns on 53 total carries against the Steelers in the two games he played against them last season. Tomlin easy recalled those two performances of his on Tuesday.
“I think that Fournette is a significant element of it,” Tomlin said of the success the Jaguars had last season at the line of scrimmage. “When you start talking about a top five draft talent that has the play and demeanor and the run demeanor that he has, that’s significant.”
So far this season Fournette hasn’t played very much as a hamstring injury has limited him to seeing action in just three games. He made his return to the field against the Colts this past Sunday and rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 24 total carries with a long run of 11 yards. In total, he’s carried the football just 44 times for 124 yards and a touchdown this season in addition to catching 9 passes for another 75 yards and a touchdown.
“Leonard Fournette has missed a significant amount of time and I think when you lose your featured runner, particularly one of his caliber, it affects you and it affects you in negative ways,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I think that that’s been one of the ways that they’ve been affected by it. Obviously, they’ve got Fournette back now, they got him back last week. You felt his contributions in that area in terms of their ability to take care of the ball. Up until the last drive, I thought they did a much better job of securing the ball.
“He is central to that because of the way that he plays, his style of play, the way that he’s capable of wearing a defense down over the course of the game and controlling the pace and making sure that they’re in manageable third downs, which is what he does.”