Looking ahead to the Steelers upcoming rematch against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I'm getting the feeling of déjà vu. I've seen this all before... I'm reminded of the Week 6 encounter in which a team put up 30 points on Pittsburgh's defense with a young running back gashing them for over 200 yards; including a long touchdown at the end of the game.
I don't have my facts mixed up: when I mention Week 6, I am not talking about the 2017 season. I'm going back to 2016 when early in the season the Steelers lost a disappointing game to another Florida team which would rise to playoff contender: the Miami Dolphins.
Like the Jaguars, the Dolphins beat the Steelers during the regular season. Miami did it scoring 30 points in a 30-15 win, where Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger had a miserable game. Pittsburgh's usually prolific passer had a performance to forget, throwing two interceptions and finishing the day with a 57.1 passer rating.
The Steelers defense also had a day they wouldn't want to remember, giving up 204 rushing yards to unknown running back Jay Ajayi, who would break free with a minute remaining in the game for a 62-yard touchdown, his second of the day. The parallels are eerily similar to the Jacksonville Jaguars victory over the Steelers in Week 5 of the current season. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette capped a 181-yard rushing day with a 90-yard touchdown run, his second score of the day, with two minutes left in the game.
Ben Roethlisberger also threw interceptions, five of them to be exact, and was sacked the same amount of times (twice) against the Jaguars as he was a year earlier against the Dolphins. Big Ben finished with a 37.8 passer rating in the Steelers 30-9 loss to Jacksonville. And just like last year, the Steelers have an opportunity to avenge their earlier loss in a postseason rematch.
A lot of folks are giving the Jaguars a chance in this game, and rightfully so: they have a strong defense, and they won their division.
Yet, last year's Dolphins have a lot of striking similarities to the Jaguars. Miami was forced to trot a weak quarterback, Matt Moore, out in the playoffs. A lot of people felt the Steelers could have difficulty containing Jay Ajayi too. And then there's was Le'Veon Bell being held to only 53 yards rushing in the Week 6 game.
All of that was put to rest in the rematch, as the Steelers smashed the Dolphins in front of a frozen crowd at Heinz Field. The game was second coldest one ever recorded at the stadium, with this weekend's winter storm threatening to hone in on history. But frigid temps aside, it's the Jaguars who can't expect Roethlisberger to throw five interceptions again or Bell to be held to only 47 yards (his third-lowest of the season, behind the Cleveland opener and the Titans blowout wins).
Last year's Wild Card game was the first time all three Killer B's, Ben, Brown, and Bell, were on the field for a postseason game together. With Brown sidelined several weeks due to an injury, he now returns at full strength alongside his companions who have rested for three weeks as well.
What the Jaguars need to most be concerned about is not being blown out like the Dolphins were. That time, it was the Steelers who put up 30 points, scoring 14 of them within the first nine minutes of the game. Roethlisberger still threw two picks, but he also threw two strikes to Brown for touchdowns. Antonio ended his day with 5 catches for 124 yards, while Le'Veon Bell set a (then) franchise playoff mark with 167 yards rushing. Bell would also run for two touchdowns in that game.
Could Jacksonville suffer the same fate as the other Florida team did last January?
A healthy core group of Steelers may not bode well for the Jags, no matter how strong their defense is. They'll have to rely on their own weak quarterback, Blake Bortles, and hope that Fournette doesn't repeat Ajayi's playoff mark of 33 rushing yards...
Needless to say, if you believe in déjà vu, you should consider the two seasons, and not the two Jaguars games, as the parallels you want to compare.