The one match-up we were all hoping for in the AFC Divisional round is finally upon us (sorry Titans fans). A rematch of the surprising 30-9 regular season game that showed the league just how frightening the Jaguars defense is. Big Ben threw a career-high 5 picks, and questions arose about his aging ability and the inconsistency of the Steelers offense. But don’t forget, this all happened over 3 months ago.
Since then, the on-and-off, experimental Steelers offense has found its rhythm. They’ve scored at least 28 points in 5 of their last 7 games, and are easily one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs. The Steelers are notorious for this; having a few bad games early in the season that look completely out of sorts before gaining momentum and settling into what works best for them in the last half of the season. I wouldn’t say the Steelers weren’t worried about winning that previous match-up, but it looked like they used the game more as a test to explore Ben airing it out against a young, scary Jags secondary. Le’Veon Bell, who leads the league in rushing attempts, ran the ball only 15 times in a game that followed one of his best rushing performances of the season. This odd coaching decision left Roethlisberger having to throw 55 times, only 50 of which weren’t interceptions.
Two pick 6’s are a little hard to come back from, but Ben ended up having an all-out slingfest that gave him plenty of insight into how Jalen Ramsey and his boys operate. I highly doubt they were preparing for a playoff rematch that early in the season, but it was obvious that they were trying out a lot of interesting, aggressive strategies. It didn’t help that the Steelers defense yielded 181 yards and two touchdowns to Leonard Fournette (despite keeping Bortles under 100 yards passing), but that wasn’t the story of the game and I don’t see them letting up such a blowout performance in the playoffs.
I think the overall decider in this game, as in every other game in this year’s divisional round, is a huge imbalance in quarterback experience. Sure, if any of the defenses in the playoffs could carry their quarterback to a win, it would be the Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey alone has the talent and ability to single-handedly make plays that could change the outcome of this game, which is why this will be such an exciting game to watch. But at the end of the day, half of the game is going to be in the hands of two-time super bowl champion, future hall of famer Ben Roethlisberger, and the other half will be in the hands of Blake Bortles. And we all saw how ugly that Bortles half can be in his game last week.