This is the one Steelers Nation has been waiting for. Today the Steelers face off against the Jaguars in Jacksonville and be honest, when the schedule came out, you saw this game and thought, “Man do I want to see this.”
- How quickly times change. When the 2017 schedule came out, who gave the Jaguars a second thought?
I certainly didn’t. Yet it was the Jaguars, and not the Patriots, who stopped the Steelers quest to bring home Lombardi Number 7 in 2017. Yet a lot has happened in the 309 days that have passed since the Steelers playoff loss to the Jaguars.
Changes to the Steelers Since the Last Jaguars Game
Perhaps its is appropriate that so many members of the Steelers defense changed numbers during the off season, because a lot has changed.
- James Conner has replaced Le’Veon Bell
- Mike Mitchell and Sean Spence gone, replaced by Terrell Edmunds/Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic
- Martavis Bryant is in Oakland while Eli Rogers remains on the PAP list, James Washington and Ryan Switzer are playing in their place
- Antonio Brown appears to be having an off year, if not showing signs of age
Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt have swapped sides
- On offense Randy Fichtner and Darryl Drake replace Todd Haley and Richard Mann
- On defense, Karl Dunbar has replaced John Mitchell and Tom Bradley has replaced Carnell Lake
During the September, not only did it look like these had been insufficient, but that perhaps the Steelers had further regressed. But the Steelers travel to Jacksonville riding a 5 game winning streak, that has seen the Steelers improve week in and week out.
Across the board, whether you’re looking at third down conversions, Red Zone efficiency, or Ben Roethlisberger’s performance, all of the trends Pittsburgh is taking into this big game are pointed the right way.
As Tony Defeo pointed out in taking a shot at the Team Turmoil thesis, it was just two years ago, on November 13, 2016 when the Steelers home loss to the Dallas Cowboys seemed to signal all hope had been lost.
- Except it wasn’t, and the Steelers have gone 26-6 since then.
But story symmetry can be a tricky thing. While Jacksonville had bested the Steelers at Heinz Field in the regular season – with Ryan Shazier on the field – Ben Roethlisberger had played one of the worst, if not the worst game of his career. Big Ben bounced back to play the best football of his life in the second half of 2017.
Few thought Jacksonville would give the Steelers must of a test last January, but reports that Stephon Tuitt missed practice time due to an arm injury foreshadowed a flatfooted defensive response to Leonard Fournette’s fierce rushing.
- And, as fate would have it, Stephon Tuitt will miss the rematch against the Jaguars.
So be it. The Jacksonville Jaguars may be on a 5 game losing streak, but this still is the same team that schooled the Patriots early in the year. But they were without Leonard Fournette for most of that stretch. But he will play this afternoon.
- And that’s good in at least one sense.
Fournette’s presence means the outcome of today’s Steelers-Jaguars matchup in Jacksonville will still give Steelers Nation a true measure of how far Pittsburgh has come since that playoff defeat or, how far they still need go.