Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Sunday, January 14th , 1:05 PM EST.
The last time these two teams faced each other, Jacksonville did something no other team has been able to do this season; they made Pittsburgh look bad. Really, really bad.
Need a refresher? The Jags won 30-9, holding Pittsburgh without a touchdown and managing five interceptions. Antonio Brown had a big day with one-hundred- fifty-seven yards, but couldn’t get into the end zone. It was not a bright spot for the Steelers season. Rumors swirled immediately that Big Ben was done for, having considered retirement in the offseason. The Steelers have turned it around since then, morphing into one of the AFC’s top teams on both sides of the ball. Here’s what’s interesting. The Jaguars did something else defensively in that game that they don’t usually do. They completely bottled up LeVeon Bell, holding him to forty- seven yards on fifteen carries. The Jaguars are frequently susceptible to the league’s best rushers. Truthfully, it’s the most obvious way to beat them. So what did the Jaguars do that kept the Steelers on their heels?
The Steelers just made a really poor decision. They abandoned the run, trying to win the game by passing alone. Want the numbers? 57-20. That’s the ratio of pass plays to run plays. Bear in mind that Pittsburgh scored first, and went into halftime trailing only 7-6. There was no reason to go pass happy against the best passing defense in the league when you have LeVeon Bell. None, whatsoever. In the games before and after the Jacksonville matchup, Bell carried the ball more than twice as many times and for well over one hundred yards each time.
I mention all of this for three reasons.
1) Abandoning the run in that game was a flat-out coaching mistake by Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley. If they do it again, someone should lose their job.
2) LeVeon Bell started squawking today about his contract situation, which tells me his head is not in the right place. They need to nip that in the bud, and quickly.
3) The Steelers are generally good at correcting their mistakes, so they’ll likely handle both.
I fully expect to see LeVeon Bell razor-focused on Sunday afternoon, and I expect to see them pound the ball down Jacksonville’s throats all day long. It might not be the aerial excitement you normally expect from Pittsburgh, but it’s the best way for the Steelers to move on to the AFC Championship.
Image source: twitter.com/Jaguars
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.