Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 6, 2017 at 9:43 PM
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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-2) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-1)

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Heinz Field. TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon.

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Series tied, 11-11. The Steelers have won the past three meetings and six of the 10 games in Pittsburgh, but the Jaguars have won three in a row at Heinz Field, including the only playoff game between the two teams. The Jaguars beat the Steelers 31-29 in a 2008 AFC wild-card game in Mike Tomlin's second season as coach.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jaguars will need to have their best effort of the year on the ground in order to beat the Steelers. Pittsburgh has played well in stopping opposing pass attacks (second-best mark in the league), an area where the Jaguars have struggled.

The Steelers have had a tougher time defending the run, allowing 113 yards a game, better than only nine other teams. Jacksonville has rushed for more than 150 yards in three of four games and its 148.8 yards per game are second-best in the league. This could be a game where Leonard Fournette gets 30-35 touches, possibly as many as 30 runs and half a dozen short throws out of the backfield. The Jaguars will throw just enough passes to keep the Steelers from loading the box with eight defenders.

The easiest way to beat the Jaguars is by forcing quarterback Blake Bortles to beat you. Bortles has thrown three interceptions in the first four games, with all three coming in their two losses. He has posted a quarterback rating above 87 once this season and has not thrown for more than 250 yards yet. But that means the Steelers have to stop Fournette.

When the Steelers have the ball, they'll want to feed Le'Veon Bell, who is coming off his best game of the season. Bell accounted for 186 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers' win in Baltimore. The Jaguars struggle to defend the run, which should open the door for the Steelers to follow a similar plan at Heinz Field.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Jaguars CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Boone. Brown already has a pair of double-digit reception games that produced triple-digit yards. But he also has five- and four-catch games, the latter coming Sunday and leading to Brown's rant during and after the game about the lack of passes in his direction. That might continue this week when either Ramsey or Buoye is glued to him. Both cornerbacks have played at a high level thus far, combining for three interceptions in the first four games. If Ramsey and/or Buoye do an effective job in shutting down Brown, it could lead to more frustration and more of a running attack by the Steelers.

--RB Leonard Fournette vs. Steelers LBs Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams. Fournette has lived up to his preseason hype and has easily been Jacksonville's most effective offensive weapon, whether it's running the ball or taking short passes and turning them into big gains. He did suffer a slight ankle injury last week, and that could hamper how much he's used against the Steelers. Shazier and Williams play the two inside linebacker spots. Shazier has been the standout, leading the team with 37 tackles, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. He's quick enough to avoid blockers to make tackles and will likely key on Fournette much of the game. Fournette will need to have a big game in order for the Jaguars to win.

FRIDAY INJURY REPORT

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

--Out: LB Lerentee McCray (knee)

--Questionable: WR Marqise Lee (ribs), C Brandon Linder (illness), WR Jaelen Strong (hamstring), S Jarrod Wilson (shoulder)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

--Doubtful: T Marcus Gilbert (hamstring)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jaguars DE Dante Fowler. Fowler has started only one of his 19 NFL games after missing his rookie season in 2015 with a torn ACL. While Fowler isn't considered a starter, he continues to get as much time as starter Yannick Ngakoue. Fowler made two plays in New York last Sunday that could have reversed the outcome. On one, Fowler ran down Jets RB Bilal Powell from behind and prevented him from gaining a first down late in the game. Earlier, Fowler was credited with his third sack this season when he knocked the ball free from Jets QB Josh McCown. The Jaguars didn't recover the fumble deep in Jets territory. Fowler continues to get better each outing but still has occasional lapses where he plays out of control. When he is disciplined and does his job, he brings intensity to create havoc in opposing backfields.

FAST FACTS: Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has thrown five TD passes and just one pick in the past two games. He is tied for third in the AFC with seven TD passes. ... WR Allen Hurns leads the Jaguars with 16 catches and 186 yards. ... The Jaguars lead the NFL with 18 sacks. DE Calais Campbell is tied for second in the NFL with 5.5 sacks. He also is the only NFL player with at least five sacks in each of past nine seasons. ... Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has eight TD passes and one interception in the past four meetings. In his past six home games, he has 1,899 passing yards (316.5 per game), 19 TDs and three INTs (a 121.1 rating). ... Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown ranks second in the NFL with 30 catches and 388 yards. In his past 12 home games, he has 110 catches (9.2 per game) for 1,383 yards (115.3 per game) and 12 TDs. Since entering the league in 2010, he leads the NFL with 662 catches and 8,765 yards.

PREDICTION: The Steelers figure to get a lead and force Bortles to try to catch up, which is when Pittsburgh will put it away.

OUR PICK: Steelers, 27-17.

--Chris Cluff

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