I'm already sick of reading it as soon as it were official: the Steelers have to worry about the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Er, "Sacksonville" as their own self-given nickname insinuates that the Jaguars have a heck of a defense. And they do. In fact, they came in second only to the Steelers in sacks this season, with 55 (to Pittsburgh's 56).
However, after a lackluster 10-3 Wild Card victory over the Buffalo Bills, should the Steelers be deeply concerned with their upcoming opponent?
We all know the story: Week 5 was Ben Roethlisberger's worst game ever. Like, literally, his entire career.
The Steelers were chugging along with a rusty run game and out of sync wide receivers, holding a 9-7 third-quarter lead, until Big Ben threw back-to-back pick sixes en route to a bad 30-9 loss. The game was so bad for Roethlisberger that he quipped in postgame interviews that maybe "he doesn't have it anymore".
Fast forward to a 10-1 finish since that game and Ben has never looked better. He's completed 65.57% of his passes, thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns in that span with only 7 interceptions (and that's only in ten games, mind you, since Landry Jones played in Week 17).
Ben's only been sacked 12 times and ran up a 102.7 QB rating in those ten games as well.
So should the Steelers be worried about the Jaguars?
Or should the Jaguars be worried about the Steelers?
I think it's more of the latter. First off, the Jaguars must travel and play at Heinz Field. No easy task and we're well aware that's where the game was played in Week 5 but under different circumstances. As the Steelers started getting their offense moving they were one controversial call away from winning every game since the Jaguars loss.
In that time, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster have become viable offensive threats and Le'Veon Bell is once again back to All-Pro form. Bryant only caught 15 passes for 204 yards and one TD in those first five games. Smith-Schuster had a dozen grabs for 160 yards and two scores, and Bell was averaging 3.64 yards per carry.
Bell has improved that total to 920 yards since and has added another 511 yards receiving, while Bryant has added 35 catches for 399 yards and we all are aware that JuJu ascended the ranks to have a fine rookie season with 46 receptions for 757 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The offensive output since stalling in Week 3 to the Bears and Week 5 to the Jaguars is what should be the tipping point. But say the Steelers offensive line suddenly forgets how to block for Big Ben and their offense can't generate points: it will then come down to Jacksonville's offense versus the Steelers defense.
Even without Ryan Shazier, a vital component for the Steelers defense, I'm willing to bank on their side of the ball being much stronger than that of the Jaguars.
Simply put, the Steelers defense held Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles to 8/14 passing with a pick, good for a 48.2 quarterback rating.
Roethlisberger's worst stat line ever, in this game, came in with a 37.8 QB rating.
That's how bad Bortles is and he hasn't gotten better over time like the Steelers have. Many felt Bortles, who was initially compared with Roethlisberger coming out of college, had righted the ship. He has several 100+ QB rating games up until Weeks 16 and 17, both Jaguars losses. Against the 49ers, Bortles had a 75.6 rating after attempting 50 passes. In their other loss to the Titans, Bortles had a 33.7 rating following 34 attempts.
To limit their liability, Jacksonville attempted to run more often in this weekend's Wild Card game. Bortles actually ran for more yards (88) than he passed (87) in that game. He was a miserable 52.17% passing on 23 attempts, a 75.8 rating salvaged by the game's only touchdown.
The Jaguars bell-cow, RB Leonard Fournette, was held to only 57 yards on the ground.
Against the Buffalo Bills.
That gives me quite a bit of faith that the Steelers should not only replicate the Bills' success on defense but supersede it playing in front of a home crowd.
But it still sits in the back of your mind that the Jaguars came into Heinz Field once before and left victorious. Therefore, I don't believe the Steelers will overlook the Jaguars by any means: but they are still a team to worry about overall.
That could also be bad news for the Jags...