By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers failed to take control of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their Sunday game at Heinz Field during week four of the NFL regular season, losing 27-24 in the final minutes. The Buccaneers gained their first win of the season from that loss, bumping the Steelers to third place in the AFC North with a 2-2 record. Their next opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to win a game in 2014. The Steelers have plenty of things to work on this week in preparation for their week five match at Heinz Field, and one of them should be focusing on not overlooking a team that is statistically weaker.
The Jaguars gave the first start of the season to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles against the San Diego Chargers. While the Jaguars lost the game, Bortles showed good pocket presence but made rookie mistakes, including throwing two interceptions. Similar to Ben Roethlisberger, Bortles has the ability to buy time in the pocket to create a situation to assist the offense and that is something many veteran quarterbacks in the league today still have yet to accomplish. Bortles went 15-of-18 for 149 yards in the first half of the game against San Diego and received praise from veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers. “(Blake’s) a great quarterback…He came out like, firing…I think he’s going to be a real good quarterback in the league.” Bortles said he felt the first half went well, but the Jaguars aren’t finishing games.
Offensively, Jacksonville has had issues with injuries and an offensive line that hasn’t produced at an effective level. The Jaguars have struggled to get the push up front to create opportunities for critical third- and fourth-down conversions and have let stronger defenses to push them into the backfield, creating dangerous situations for the quarterback and rushers. Sunday was the fifth straight game the Jaguars lost by double digits dating to last season’s finale. They’ve been outscored 152-58 this season. It hasn’t helped that wide receivers Cecil Shorts III had to leave the game due to continuing hamstring issues. Second-year veteran running back Denard Robinson has given a sleepy run game a bit more life and may push for more playing time against the Steelers. Toby Gerhart gave Jacksonville their first rushing touchdown since November 24, 2013.
Jacksonville has allowed 38 points and more than 450 yards per game through four weeks this season. While the run defense has been more reliable, the secondary has allowed big yards and plays to keep them out of games. Coverage issues, blown assignments and poor communication has plagued the Jaguars. Against the Chargers, struggling cornerback Dwayne Gratz sustained a concussion and will be evaluated and likely replaced by Demetrius McCray in the lineup.
The Jaguars look to be a team in near-constant transition. With a struggling defensive secondary continuing to flounder, Jacksonville followed a pattern they’ve seen all season – they released a member of the team. On Monday, veteran safety Winston Guy, Jr. was sent packing. Before the game against San Diego, Josh Evans took Guy’s starting spot. As a reserve, Guy was beaten long by Chargers receiver Eddie Royal. To replace him, Jacksonville re-signed rookie safety Craig Loston from the practice squad. In the wake of struggles, the team released veteran right tackle Cameron Bradfield two weeks ago after allowing two sacks. Last week, safety Chris Prosinski was released and replaced by safety Sherrod Martin. J.T. Thomas was moved to the starting lineup in place of LaRoy Reynolds. On Monday, the team also signed receiver Tommy Streeter to the practice squad – a sixth-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 NFL Draft.
While Pittsburgh continues to work out the wrinkles in their own defense, week five may find them setting up an opportunity for Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount to gain big chunks on the ground and take advantage through the air with receivers Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. Lance Moore only caught one reception against the Buccaneers and this week could be a good opportunity to get him more involved in the offense. Execution and consistency must be the theme despite the fact that they will be facing a Jacksonville team that has yet to find an identity.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on