After a disappointing loss last week to then 0-3 Tampa Bay, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to get back on track when they travel to Jacksonville, Florida to face the 0-4 Jaguars.
Here's some of what we might expect this Sunday:
The Steelers are the 2nd-most penalized team in the NFL at this moment with 44 total flags against them. That figure could be worse, as Pittsburgh has also had 10 flags declined.
The trend has put Pittsburgh over half of the penalties they gained over an entire season last year. To help fix the issues, Mike Tomlin brought referees into this week's practice. Some of the correctable issues are discipline based, such as approaching officials, taunting and touchdown celebrations. The zebras will help the team with false starts, face masks, illegal hands to the face and illegal contact infractions.
No matter the outcome of inviting officials to practice, the Steelers need to clean up their act and quickly, as giving up 387 yards on penalties effectively ended in self-defeat last Sunday.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for one of his best seasons ever. Through the first quarter of the season, Big Ben has thrown for 1092 yards and 6 touchdowns with a 68.1% completion percentage.
Contributing to Ben's success is the play of WR Antonio Brown, who last week set an NFL record with 20 straight games with 5 or more receptions. Brown has caught 5 of Roethlisberger's 6 TD passes this year as well.
TE Heath Miller had a monster 10 catch game against Tampa, placing him second on the team with 21 receptions. WR Markus Wheaton has 19 grabs on the year playing opposite of Brown, tied for 3rd on the team with RB Le'Veon Bell.
Bell is currently 2nd in the NFL with 378 rushing yards. Pittsburgh currently ranks 5th in the league in team rushing and 8th in team passing.
The Steelers strong offense will face the worst defense in the NFL. The Jags currently give up the most total and passing yards, and surrender the most points among all 32 teams. The only stat which offers concern is Jacksonville's 2nd best 12 sacks on the season: Pittsburgh has allowed 11 sacks in the same span, with 5 yielded to Tampa last week.
The Steelers should receive some help in this department, as G Ramon Foster, who did not play last week, was a full participant during this week's practices and is expected to start Sunday.
A squad that is 15th in rushing yards, and 16th in passing yards allowed, has given up the 28th most points in the NFL. The Steelers will have to find a way to stop the bleeding, some of which is self-inflictied, due to the aforementioned penalties above. For a 2nd straight week the defense will make due without LB Jarvis Jones and CB Ike Taylor. There's speculation that LB Ryan Shazier will also sit again this Sunday.
DE Cam Heyward was the only Steeler to register a sack against Tampa, while CB Cortez Allen snagged an easy interception, a team first for 2014.
The Steelers should get a stronger performance against a team that gave up 3 sacks and 3 turnovers to San Diego last week, and has given up a league high 20 sacks this season.
Rookie QB Blake Bortles will get his 2nd career start this Sunday. Bortles went 29 of 37 for 253 yds and a touchdown last week. He has several weapons in the receiving unit, including injury-prone WR Cecil Shorts, who is off to a slow start in 2014, and a pair of rookies with the first name Allen: Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
TE Clay Harbor, filling in for the injured Marcedes Lewis, turned in a career day in his last game, catching a team high 8 balls for 69 yards.
Jacksonville will attempt to get their running game going with a combination of RB Toby Gerhart and "offensive weapon" Denard Robinson. Gerhart has had a poor start to his season, running for 114 yards on 44 attempts. Robinson, a former college QB converted to WR, has 17 combined rushing attempts in his last 2 games, but his 25 yards last week is his career high.
Bortles, who has drawn comparisons to a young Ben Roethlisberger, is capable of scrambling as well, with an 8 yard run as his longest last game.
Pittsburgh will need to avoid shoddy punting from Brad Wing, which allowed Tampa to start possessions with an advantageous starting field position.
Kicker Shaun Suisham also missed his first field goal of the season; his first miss dating back to October 27th of last year.
Though it seemed unlikely, the Steelers dropped a game to one of the worst teams in the NFL last weekend. As we had noted going into that particular game, the tale-of-the-tape was more about the Steelers beating themselves than Tampa Bay winning the game. An early turnover helped put the Steelers behind 10-0 early on, and a combination of penalties and lack of execution gave the Buccaneers a chance to the seize the moment, in which they did.
The difference coming into this week, however, is that Tampa Bay had 10 days to prepare to rectify a humiliating loss in their previous game. Tampa also recovered several players from injury and boasts a better defense on the field than what was shown on paper.
Jacksonville could be equally desperate. Given their 0-4 record, the Steelers must be prepared for anything from the opposition. The Jaguars could gather inspiration from their rookie QB Bortles, as Pittsburgh has made average QBs such as the Cleveland's Brian Hoyer and Tampa's backup Mike Glennon.
It's up to the team to play disciplined football, limit mistakes, and not make seemingly ordinary players, such as Toby Gerhart, look like potential superstars.