By Christina Rivers
Concern was a word that was mentioned as much this week as consistency in regards to the Pittsburgh Steelers and how they would keep from repeating the same mistakes they made against the Carolina Panthers from translating into disaster against the Jacksonville Jaguars in NFL Week Five. The Steelers didn’t appear to have made many changes until the defense started pressuring Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. With a bit of luck on a pick-six by Brice McCain, the Steelers edged the Jaguars.
Ben Roethlisberger likely heard all the Blake Bortles comparisons heading into the game; how Bortles could extend plays, that Bortles threw similar passes. What Roethlisberger needed to do was step onto the field and put the comparisons to bed by leading his team to victory – something Bortles has yet to do – and it’s what Roethlisberger did, for the most part. Although there were early struggles, Roethlisberger’s execution was excellent in the final part of the game, completing 15 of his final 17 passes. Roethlisberger was 26-of-36 passing for 273 yards and one touchdown. That single touchdown pass went for a single yard to tight end Michael Palmert that put the Steelers up 10-3 before halftime. The offensive play-calling was once again suspect this week, which hampered Roethlisberger and the offense as a unit. There were opportunities to throw downfield that were missed due to a called bubble-screen. Whether Roethlisberger should be held accountable for that is up for debate. Roethlisberger suffered four sacks, at least one of them being the result of a poor decision to throw instead of run the ball in the redzone.
Not many NFL offenses can afford to let an undefeated team outscore them and not face some harsh criticism. The Steelers may have gotten the win against the Jaguars, but it wasn’t due to stellar offensive performance. Held without a score until the second quarter, the Steelers were able to get down the field for the Palmer touchdown and marched again to a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but didn’t hand the ball off to Le’Veon Bell or LeGarrette Blount. The result was a third down situation and Roethlisberger trying to scramble to find an open receiver only to be sacked by Paul Posluszny. Shaun Suisham had to tie up the game with a field goal. The Steelers didn’t score on offense for the remainder of the game against a Jacksonville defense that was full of holes, but played up to their opponent instead of down.
The Steelers offense went 8-16 on third down conversions on 68 total plays for 372 yards. They averaged just 5.5 yards per-play on ten drives. The Steelers were 1-4 in the redzone as that area continues to haunt them. Receiver Antonio Brown had a nice snag over the top of Jacksonville cornerback Will Blackmon that resulted in a 30-yard gain. Blount ran responsibly in the final minutes of the game, chewing up the clock and keeping the Steelers on top. Bell and Heath Miller were big contributors, but there is still a lot that needs to be addressed before the Steelers can be called an efficient and effective offense.
Unexpected results from players that aren’t usually mentioned as often became two major victories for the Steelers defense on Sunday. Jason Worilds could be given an assist for keeping Bortles pressured resulting in a deep pass down the right sideline that was picked off by Cortez Allen. Brett Keisel was credited with batting down another Bortles pass. Perhaps anger and frustration should get the credit for the Brice McCain interception that led to a touchdown with just 12 minutes left it the game because it came two plays after a strip/sack on Roethlisberger at the Jaguars’ 17-yard line. The Steelers defense held Jacksonville to 243 yards of offense and allowed only three-of-12 third-down conversions, giving Dick LeBeau another notch against rookie quarterbacks in the NFL (18-2 since his return in 2004 as defensive coordinator). “Any time you get a turnover, it’s huge,” Allen said after the game. “But any time you get a turnover and score off it, it’s bigger. That (McCain) turnover swung the momentum back in our favor.”
Someone got Brad Wing to wake up, and it resulted in him kicking a 53-yarder on his second punt. Wing can thank Terence Garvin for nailing Ace Sanders at the Jacksonville 21-yard line. Wing had five punts on the day for an average of 45.4 yards per-kick and one touchback. Kicker Shaun Suisham wasn’t called on much, but was perfect on the day with a field goal and two PATs.
Robert Golden made a special teams error on a kickoff following the field goal that gave Jacksonville a 3-0 lead that pinned Pittsburgh on their own 13-yard line to begin their second offensive possession. Later Golden was called for an illegal block in the back on a punt return, putting the Steelers at their 10-yard line for the first offensive possession of the second half. Vince Williams, lining up next to the kicker, was called offsides, resulting in a five-yard penalty a re-kick of the tying field goal. The very next play, Antwon Blake was offside, nullifying a personal foul penalty against Jacksonville. The third time was the charm, but had coach Mike Tomlin on the sideline daring one of his players to make a mistake.
The Steelers continue to get in their own way with mistakes and penalties, poor play selection and execution. Against Jacksonville, the team finally found a way to finish on a positive. “I like the way we finished, especially when you consider that we didn’t do a good job of it last week and it cost us the game,” coach Tomlin said. “The defense had the necessary stop there in the latter part of the game, created a turnover and put points on the board for us.”
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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