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Jacksonville Jaguars

Gameday- Jaguars battle Steelers for spot in AFC Championship Game

Roy Cummings

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

What: AFC Divisional round playoff game

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

Spread: Steelers (-7 1/2) U/O (41 points)

Why to watch:

The above makes it obvious. A chance to meet the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game is at stake, as the Jaguars get set to rematch the Steelers. As you probably know by now, Jacksonville shocked Pittsburgh 30-9 in week five intercepting QB Ben Roethlisberger five times in the game. The build up has included Roethlisberger saying he wants another crack at the Jaguars defense. Well, he’s about to get it. And the Jaguars, who smothered the Bills last week in their wildcard game, are more than ready to attempt to stifle Big Ben and the Steelers. If they do, it’s their first trip to the AFC Title Game since January of 2000, when the lost to the Tennessee Titans 33-14.

Key Matchup:

LeVeon Bell vs. Jaguars front seven

Despite all the talk about the Jaguars interceptions of Roethlisberger (two of them returned for TDs) in game one, equally impressive was they held Bell to just 93 total yards in October. If Roethlisberger’s top weapon, WR Antonio Brown, is limited with his calf injury, then it will be even more important that Pittsburgh gets Bell going early and often. For all of it’s overall monster accomplishments on defense in 2017 (Sacks, points allowed, takeaways, etc.) their run defense is 21st in yards allowed per game this season. They also are allowing 4.3 yards per rush, which is 26th. So, that’s the challenge up front. Can they stuff the Steelers nearly 1,300 yard rusher, again? If the Jags do, then they are in great shape to win this one.

Statistically speaking:

We laid out the rushing numbers for Bell and the Steelers above. As for the Jaguars, RB Leonard Fournette had 181 yards on 27 carries in game one. Now, 90 of them game at the two minute warning on his electrifying breakaway touchdown run to clinch the win. But up until that time, he had only 91 yards on 26 carries or only 3.5 yards per carry.

And along those lines, here’s the recent disturbing trend for the Jags arguably best offensive weapon in Fournette: He had 21 carries for just 57 yards (2.7 avg.) last week against the Bills. The previous week at the Titans 19 attempts 69 yards (3.6 avg.) and in week 16 at San Francisco 18 carries 48 yards (2.7 avg). So, that’s three straight games without at least 70 yards on the ground and didn’t come close to four yards per tote in any of them. None of that is good news. The Jaguars must get something, themselves on the ground.

The Steelers run defense is pretty solid at 10th on average at 105.8 yards per game.

Talk all you want about QB Blake Bortles not being able to throw it very much or very well. And, he hasn’t. But, the Jaguars want to run and play defense to set up the offense. So, those numbers above must change.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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