No matter what side of the line of scrimmage they were on, both the Jaguars and the Steelers were looking in the mirror. Sometimes the Jaguars were looking at a Steelers team they’d like to be like, and other times the Steelers were looking at a Jaguars team that was beating them at their own game.
When the Jaguars joined the NFL, then Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to the Steelers and said that’s whom we need to beat to be the best. They did just that in the AFC Central, winning division titles and going through Pittsburgh to do it.
So it was no surprise that both defenses got the job done in the first half.
Twice the Steelers moved the ball into the red zone and both times the Jaguars defense stiffened and held them to field goals. The offense took advantage of a great play by Jalen Ramsey who extended in front of the tight end for an interception. Using Leonard Fournette effectively inside the 15-yard line, the rookie scored for the fifth straight game to take a 7-3 lead.
As the second half unfolded, it was apparent the Steelers wanted to ran an up tempo offense and it was working. Bubble screens, quick slants and the occasional run had Pittsburgh knocking on the door in their opening drive but the Jaguars defense stiffened again and forced a FG, 9-7 Steelers.
Speed and anticipation have been what the Jaguars defense has used to evolve in 2017, plus better players and the development of Jalen Ramsey. A tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by Abry Jones was redirected to Telvin Smith who sure-handedly pulled it in and ran the other way for a TD. Jason Myers missed the PAT and the Jaguars lead 13-9.
Just two plays later, Ramsey made a nice leaping recovery from behind Antonio Brown, tapping the ball loose where Barry Church picked it off. Church has shown to be a consummate pro, calmly gathering the ball in and going the other way for a TD. This time the PAT was good and the Jaguars led 20-9. The Jaguars offense was on the field for three plays in the 3rd quarter.
When they did get on the field in the 4th quarter it was from their own 4 yard line and it was textbook Doug Marrone/Coughlin: Run it until they stop it.
And since the Steelers weren’t stopping the run, Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory were making them pay. Run, run, run and the Jaguars finished the drive with a FG to take a 23-9 lead with just under 7 minutes to play. They did not attempt one pass on the drive. The Jaguars ran the ball 18 straight times from the middle of the third quarter.
Again the Steelers tried some up-tempo on offense but Tashaun Gipson picked off Roethlisberger to give the Jaguars offense the ball near midfield. It was the fourth interception thrown by the Steelers quarterback, something he hasn’t done since 2008. It was the kind of play the Jaguars were looking for when they signed Gipson as a free agent last year.
A 90-yard TD run by Fournette capped the Jaguars scoring. Nice kick-out block by A.J. Cann and Fournette outran everybody. He’s tough, he’s shifty, but he is also plenty fast. 30-9 Jaguars.
Again a dominating defensive performance by the Jaguars, not the result of lucky bounces. Pressure on the quarterback, coverage by the corners and speed from the linebackers eliminated a lot of the things the Steelers wanted to do. The bubble screen was there early but the Jaguars, especially Aaron Colvin, figured it out. Marrone has said the Jaguars are a gap defense and they controlled their gaps, stopping the run.
At 3-2, the Jaguars are on top of the AFC South, the latest they’ve led their division since they were in the AFC Central in 1998. The resurgent LA Rams are in town at the stadium next week for the only 4:05 start of the year.