JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the surface, a 9-0 team facing a 1-8 teams would seem like an easy game to pick. And maybe it is. But if you consider the history between the Jaguars and Steelers, perhaps it deserves a second look.
The Jaguar sand Steelers have played 26 times in history. The Jaguars have won 14 of those meetings, including six of the last 10.
The Jaguars famously became the first team to beat the Steelers twice in Pittsburgh in the same season during a playoff run in 2007. Then, a decade later, they did it again.
So could this week bring another historic win for the Jaguars, who enter the game as a 10-point underdog to the last unbeaten team in the league.
“Sometimes I think in the past we’ve matched up pretty good. I think that we have probably the largest difference in the matchup for us going against them and I’m only speaking of the teams I’ve been a part of here going against them,” Marrone said. “. They have a lot at stake, 9-0. They watched us play last week where we played a tough game, we have turnovers, we have a special teams play, so they’ll be ready to go. You’re not going to catch them or anything like that.
To beat the Steelers, the Jaguars will have to contend with a defense ranked first in sacks. That means protecting rookie quarterback Jake Luton is a high priority.
“I think you have to stick to your game,” Luton said. “You can’t get too caught up in trying to get the ball out too quick or forcing things or pressing yourself. I think you have to stick to the game plan. We’re going to go through it this week and prepare really well and coaches will put a good game plan together and we’re going to try to stick to it. Sacks happen, tackles happen, all those things happen. That’s football and it’s all about playing the next play and sticking to our game plan.”
Part of the Jaguars’ approach must center around the running game. Rookie James Robinson enters the game ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and the Steelers have struggled against the run the past three games, surrendering an average of 183 yards per contest against the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, and Cincinnati Bengals.
“Obviously, you like to be able to control the ball, keep it away from their offense, which is obviously a high scoring offense, but how do you do that? Do you try running the ball against this front seven, which is probably the best front seven that we’ve played this year? They’re good at both levels all around and I’m just focusing on them,” Marrone said. “Obviously their secondary is playing very well. If you get yourself into a game where you get behind, then they’re going to eat you up. You talk about guys that can rush the passer at both inside and outside, guys that have been hitting quarterbacks, sacking quarterbacks, doing all that stuff and it can get ugly fast.”
The Jaguars will have to keep the game at their pace. If they get in a track meet, they’ll have a tough time keeping up with the Steelers. So far this year, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Big Ben tossed four touchdowns after not practicing all week.
If the Jaguars lose, they will match the longest losing streak in a season in franchise history and will hand Shad Khan his 100th loss as an NFL owner. Since Khan bought the team, the Jaguars record is 41-99, including one playoff appearance, in 2017.