The Pittsburgh Steelers have been making history week after week, and today’s game is no different. After establishing themselves as the first team in franchise history to win their first eight games, and then their first nine games, they are looking to make it 10 in a row to start the 2020 season.
And at least on paper, they would seem to have a layup on their plate today, facing the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, who are, for the third consecutive game, starting rookie quarterback Jake Luton, who is playing in place of the injured Gardner Minshew. Jacksonville has lost eight straight games since winning in the opener.
Defensively, there are two keys to this game, and both of them boil down to ‘smother the rookie’. Luton is the second-most important of the two. The other one is rookie undrafted free agent running back James Robinson, whom you’ve likely read about a couple of times on this site in the past couple of days.
Robinson established himself as the Jaguars’ lead runner at the start of the season. His 917 yards from scrimmage through nine games is the most by any undrafted player in NFL history. And they have been feeding him a steady diet in recent weeks with Luton under center.
In other words, the first key to this game is simply, stop the run, specifically Robinson, who has 70 carries over the course of the past three games for 327 yards. He has also shown some ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
With Tyson Alualu back in action along the front line and Mike Hilton returning to his slot cornerback position, the Steelers are ready to put their run defense to the test after kind-of sort-of getting back on track last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
And then there’s the matter of simply keeping Luton contained. The rookie is capable of making a few throws, and maybe he will. The goal is just to keep those throws out of the end zone. And the plan has to be pressure, specifically smart pressure. Luton is terrible under pressure this season, with a quarterback rating of 0.8, but he is also capable of getting out of the pocket.
Offensively, there has been a lot of talk about getting the run game right. I don’t know whether we’ll see them commit to the ground game early, but the Jaguars are a pretty favorable matchup, and have allowed 72 first downs on the ground.
But Jacksonville also just put starting cornerback C.J. Henderson on the Reserve/Injured List, and you know they’re going to attack his replacement like they did with the Bengals last week. They will find their success through the air, without question.
The only real question is whether or not they can get off to a good start. They have started very slowly for several weeks now and have had to work their way back from a deficit at times. Last week ended in a blowout, but if they’re not careful, they could force themselves into a close one down in Jacksonville.