The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) will head to TIAA Bank Field to meet the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) in Week 11 (November 18, 2018 at 1:00pm EST). Winners of five in a row, the Steelers opened as 6.0-point favorites over the slumping Jags, who have dropped five straight.
James Connor has done a nice job filling in for Le’Veon Bell this year, but Pittsburgh’s offense still relies heavily on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s third-ranked passing attack has the team averaging 31.0 points per game (4th).
Roethlisberger (2,888 yards and 21 touchdowns) has been able to rely heavily on his top two pass-catchers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster leads the team with 762 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns. He and Big Ben hooked up for 90 yards and one TD against the Panthers last week in a decisive 52-21 win.
Brown’s yardage is down a little this year (690 receiving yards), but the All Pro has found the end zone ten times already, the most in the NFL among receivers.
Powered by Connor, the running game has been solid, if not spectacular, averaging 4.3 yards per carry (15th).
A concern early in the year, Pittsburgh’s defense has really stepped up of late, mostly due to its ability to stuff the run. They only spot their opponent 90.8 yards per game on the ground (4th), compared to 245.3 through the air (19th). The Steelers’ stinginess against the run has resulted in them allowing just 23.2 points per game (13th), and they haven’t given up more than 21 points during their five-game win streak.
The Pittsburgh defense will have every opportunity to pad its stats this week against a Jacksonville team that’s scoring just 17.8 PPG (29th).
The Jags would have a much easier time finding the endzone, if they’d just quit handing the ball over to the other team. Jacksonville has already committed 19 turnovers this season, ranking 27th in the league. As the Jaguars are learning, you cannot consistently win football games with such careless play.
Poorly thrown Blake Bortles passes have been the cause of eight of those giveaways, while the rest have come from the team not being able to squeeze the ball through contact. The coaching staff is going to have to preach increased ball security to get this offense rolling.
The good news for Bortles and company is that, as much as the Steeler defense has improved over the course of the year, it’s still not generating turnovers, with just 10 takeaways through 9 games.
On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville’s defense has been difficult to score on, but not as difficult as last year. They’re giving up 22.1 points per game (10th in the NFL), a steep drop-off from their 16.8 PPG average in 2017.
The Jaguars still have the first-ranked pass defense in the NFL (200.6 passing yards per game) but are pretty susceptible on the ground (118.6 yards per game, 18th).
Expect Pittsburgh to feed James Conner early and often to alleviate some pressure from Roethlisberger this week.
The last time these teams played was in last season’s AFC Divisional Playoffs. Jacksonville shocked Pittsburgh, 45-42, in a game in which the Steelers were favored by seven.