Jags’ roll through Pittsburgh; Next Step Foxborough

-Zack Marseglia

The recipe for success in Jacksonville is simple; an aggressive defense and a pounding running game, and both were on full display. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette paved the way with 102 yards and 3 touchdowns, including 2 within the first 10 minutes of the game. Not to be outdone, the defense jumped on a sleepwalking Steelers offense and forced two turnovers en route to a 28-14 halftime lead. Possibly the most surprising performance of the day was the fact that Blake Bortles played like an average NFL quarterback. Coming off a game where he ran for more yards than he threw for, Bortles finished with 214 yards and no turnovers on the day. Even more impressive was Bortles efficiency on 3rd down. The Jags finished 8/14, and seemed to convert on every key third down in the game. Whenever Pittsburgh needed a stop, Bortles would scramble for a first, or find the open man and fire an accurate pass. Even more impressive was Bortles ability to work through his progressions in the pocket. Instead of forcing the ball downfield on a third and long late in the game, Bortles worked his way through his progressions, went to T.J. Yeldon for a checkdown, and Yeldon took it 30 more yards to set-up the game sealing field goal. The Steelers would not roll over that easily to a young team. Just as it felt the game was out of reach, Pittsburgh showed signs of life. On a 4th and 11 late in the first half, Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant over the safety to cut the lead to 28-14. On the afternoon, Pittsburgh went 0/2 on 4th and 1, and 2/2 with 2 touchdowns on 4th and long. Business was booming again for AB, who finished with 7 catches for 132 yards and 2 incredible touchdown catches. The offense was intricate and deliberate, and it had the best pass defense in the league scrambling to slow it down. The defense however, has been the Achilles heel of the Steelers, and today was no different. Whether or not Blake Bortles has become a capable starting quarterback is a different argument. But coming off a week where Bortles threw the ball for 87 yards and only managed 10 points against the Bills, the Steelers defense made Bortles look like an elite quarterback. The Steelers clawed back to within a touchdown three times during the game, but the defense could not force the Jags offense off the field.

Even though Big Ben threw for over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns, the Jags defense looked sharp. Two of those touchdowns could’ve gone either way, as A.J. Bouye was blanketing AB, but he was too busy to notice and was doing AB things. Beyond that, was the fact that Jacksonville only blitzed a handful of times. Sacksonville is able to consistently generate pressure rushing four, and drop seven back into coverage. And if the Jags want to upset New England next weekend, this same blueprint has to be executed to perfection, and Blake Bortles needs to play like a capable starting quarterback.