PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 08: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field on October 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

The Pittsburgh Steelers want nothing more than to avenge their Week Five loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In that game, Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and the offense failed to move. Defensively, the run defense struggled against rookie running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh defense. All of this resulted in a 30-9 embarrassment at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh is out for revenge this coming Sunday, and rightfully so. This can be done, but Pittsburgh must force Blake Bortles to throw, and have a balanced attack.

It was very apparent in their first meeting that Pittsburgh wanted to throw the ball against Jacksonville. Pittsburgh threw the ball 55 times, while rushing only 20 times. Roethlisberger had some success throwing the ball, racking up 312 yards. However, drives could not be finished, and Roethlisberger tried to force the ball. This resulted in only nine points, and too many turnovers to overcome the deficit. On the ground, Le’Veon Bell rushed for only 47 yards on 15 carries. This can be attributed to his slow start, which he soon overcame to have a successful season.

Buffalo Bills Suffer Similar Fate

Last week against Jacksonville, the Buffalo Bills also tried to throw the ball. Tyrod Taylor threw 37 times, while the Bills leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, only had 19 carries. Taylor had little success, completing only 17 of his passes. However, McCoy did see some success against the Jaguars run defense, picking up 75 yards.

Balanced Attack Key to Steelers Offensive Success

In both of these matchups, a pass first approach failed miserably, resulting in nine and three points respectively. However, both Bell and McCoy averaged over three yards per carry against Jacksonville. This shows Jacksonville’s run defense, while stout, is not unbeatable. With all of his weapons, Roethlisberger will be successful throwing the ball in some capacity. However, with a solid run game established early in the game, the offense can thrive and score. Bell, Roethlisberger, and the offense as a whole will be a lot more impactful if the Steelers utilize a balanced attack.

Fournette a Factor

Defensively against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh did well limiting Fournette for the most part. Towards the end of the game, Fournette broke off a 90 yard rush, boosting his yardage for the game. Taking away that rush, Fournette ran for just 91 yards on 27 carries. However, because Jacksonville had tremendous field position most of the game, Blake Bortles only threw 14 passes. This allowed Jacksonville to rely on the run game and stay in their comfort zone.

Buffalo’s Blueprint

Much was the same last week against Buffalo, where Jacksonville ran the ball 34 times, while passing 23 times. However, Buffalo shut down Fournette, holding him to only 57 yards on 21 carries. In fact, Bortles struggled throwing the ball, and Jacksonville’s only offense came from Bortles scrambling. Regardless, Buffalo held Jacksonville to just 10 points. This showed that the key to stopping Jacksonville’s offense is to stop the run and force Bortles to make plays.

Pittsburgh Must Stop the Run

This week, the number one priority for the Pittsburgh defense has to be stopping the run. Fournette has already acknowledged he does not like running in the cold. This bodes well for Pittsburgh, with the high for Sunday in Pittsburgh predicted at just 18 degrees. If Pittsburgh can contain Fournette on the ground, they can force Bortles to throw. This is another advantage for Pittsburgh, as Bortles threw the ball poorly last week. Also, this will only be Bortles’ second playoff start. Pittsburgh must capitalize on his inexperience an create turnovers to successfully shut down Jacksonville.

The Stage Is Set

Sunday’s match up is the perfect scenario for Pittsburgh to avenge their embarrassing loss from Week Five. There has been trash talking from both sides leading up to the Divisional Round. However, come Sunday, 60 minutes on the field will decide who will advance to the AFC Championship game. Experience and hunger for victory are two aspects of playoff football Pittsburgh possesses in this game. If Pittsburgh can establish the run game and force Bortles to throw, they will be rewarded with a trip to the AFC Championship game.

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