National Football League 2018 Divisional Round Preview: (3) Jacksonville Jaguars at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers


Attempting to use a poor man's version of the 2015 Denver Broncos' template to ride a dynamic pass defense to a Super Bowl championship, the Jacksonville Jaguars will take a massive step up in competition in the divisional round.

The Jags take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday at 1:05 p.m. But the Jaguars defense is the most formidable Pittsburgh will see all season. LB Telvin Smith led team with 11 tackles.

But Jacksonville might want to play a better overall game on offense if it really wants to extend the season.

Hargrave downplayed the significance of suddenly missing a practice three days before a playoff game.

The Jags are getting seven points in Las Vegas largely due to their quarterback.

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If you thought Blake Bortles' 95-yard passing game against Pittsburgh was just an off day, think again.

The fourth-year quarterback outdid his miserable 2016 season, but the Jags still can not count on him in big spots.

None of it seemed to bother Bortles, who has been sullied all season. Another was Leonard Fournette breaking a 90-yard run when the score was 23-9 and in garbage time. But much has changed for both teams since that point, and Thomas has emerged as an even more risky target in a Pro Bowl season.

Bortles led the team in rushing with 88 yards, one more yard than he passed for.

The Steelers do not care about Jacksonville's defensive prominence. Opposing backfields have run for 130 (Cincinnati), 152 (Baltimore) and 176 (Houston, although in a blowout) yards since the Steelers' defensive leader went down. He simply needs to play well enough for the Jags to cobble together about 20 points, and hope that the defense - the true heart of his team - goes stout on Big Ben and the Steelers offense. He should get 25+ carries in this one. Yet even with a stronger offensive line and supporting cast, duplicating or improving upon that production in the divisional round could be hard. On the surface, the answer is yes, because this is how the Jags are built to win. But this unit, Sacksonville notwithstanding, has underperformed against the run. And kind of like our defense has played all year, they were incredible. Considering the personnel employed, this ranking is underwhelming. It was the inability of the Steelers defense to play gap control defense plugging their run fits with any consistency. That's why I was so damn jealous last week when Nick Greene (no relation) at Slate penned this absolute masterpiece, "The 10 Best Punts of the Bills-Jaguaes Game". The Steelers ranked 10th in yards allowed, but were actually worse than Jacksonville (27th) in yards per carry allowed and definitely miss injured linebacker Ryan Shazier. He caught six passes during the season that gained at least 40 yards, and only three players in the league-Hill, Brown, and Brandin Cooks-had more during the year. Sunday will be Brown's first game back since suffering a leg injury in week 15 against the Patriots. Though David Garrard was better that season than Blake Bortles is right now, the teams almost mirrored each other offensively, the 2017 Jags have the edge on defense, and they're going to need it going up against one of the most explosive and unsafe offenses in the league.