PITTSBURGH – After playing three of their first four games on the road, the Steelers are more than happy to be playing a game at Heinz Field.
And after being at the center of a couple of controversial games, the Steelers should be glad to just line up and play without any drama.
Two weeks ago, they drew the ire of many fans when they attempted to dodge controversy by staying in a stadium tunnel at Chicago rather than being on the field for the playing of the national anthem.
Last week, it was wide receiver Antonio Brown taking out his frustration on a water cooler after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failed to see him open downfield in the second quarter of a win at Baltimore.
The Jacksonville Jaguars could be just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers.
When the Steelers (3-1) host the Jaguars (2-2) today, they have a pretty good idea of exactly what Jacksonville wants to accomplish.
This figures to be a good old-fashioned game of smash mouth football.
“That’s exactly what they do,” said Steelers safety Mike Mitchell. “You’ve got to knuckle up. They’re playing vintage 1999, 2000 with two fullbacks, three tight ends. You know it’s a run. Stop it. We’re up to that. We’ll see what’s up (today).”
The Jaguars don’t typically mess around with outside zone stretch runs, which have caused the Steelers issues the past two weeks, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try it.
After allowing more than 200 rushing yards in a 23-17 overtime loss two weeks ago at Chicago, the Steelers gave up runs of 50 and 23 yards on outside zone stretch plays last week despite limiting Baltimore to 82 rushing yards overall.
“They’re going to get off the bus running the outside stretch, based on what we’ve done the past two weeks,” said Mitchell. “They have two good running backs. They can get to the edge and make cuts vertically. But they’re also going to come out in their two-back formations and run the ball because that’s their personality.”
Rookie Leonard Fournette, all 228 pounds of him, and 223-pound Chris Ivory have combined for 403 rushing yards in Jacksonville’s first four games.
As much as Jacksonville would like to establish its running game, the Steelers will be tempted to do the same.
The game features the league’s top two pass defenses and pass-rushing teams. But Jacksonville’s run defense is dead last in the league, allowing 165.5 yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had his first 100-yard game of the season last week, with 144 yards on 35 carries. Having him play well will be key against the Jaguars and help take pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“We’ve got to be on top of our game, run and pass, whether we’re protecting or throwing,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “This is a good defense that’s very disruptive, and if you let them get going , disrupting and creating turnovers, it’ll be a long day.”
Jacksonville has thrived on turnovers, forcing 10 in four games, including five interceptions by a secondary that features cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Roethlisberger hasn’t had a 300-yard passing performance in 10 regular-season outings and could be hard-pressed to break that string in this game. He’s more concerned about playing mistake-free football and keeping the offense moving in rhythm.
“Rhythm is within yourself. It’s also within the conscious of offense and other guys,” said Roethlisberger. “(There are) guys on the field who you have to be in rhythm with. If we can just win football games now and then play your best football late in the season.”
Odds and end zones
The only Steelers player listed as either doubtful or questionale to play is right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), who sat out against Baltimore. … The series is tied 11-1. … Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone had a tryout with the Steelers in 1991 before being released in training camp. … Roethlisberger has averaged 316.5 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last six home games.