Two things are often forgotten about the Jaguars’ 30-9 victory in October over the Pittsburgh Steelers: they trailed 9-7 midway through the third quarter, plus how well the defense held up before Telvin Smith and Barry Church flipped the momentum with interception returns for touchdowns on back-to-back possessions.
When these teams stage a rematch Sunday at Heinz Field in the AFC divisional playoff, it’s unlikely the Jaguars’ ball-hawking defense will repeat intercepting Ben Roethlisberger five times, but Doug Marrone’s team will prevail again due to its proficiency in the red zone.
The defense set a tone the first time by holding Pittsburgh to field goals after it had first downs at the Jacksonville 13, 17 and 5-yard lines. The Steelers gained a combined six yards in nine plays and never got in the end zone, which has been a problem area all season.
On both sides of the ball, there’s a substantial red-zone gap. The Steelers’ offense is 22nd in the NFL in red-zone TD percentage (50.8), compared to 64 percent (2nd) for the Jaguars. Defensively, Pittsburgh is a shaky 61.5 percent (28th) and Jacksonville is 39.3 percent (2nd).
However, those numbers won’t mean much for the Jaguars if they lose the turnover battle. Given the explosiveness of Pittsburgh’s offense, it’s imperative the Jaguars are on the plus-side in turnover margin. If quarterback Blake Bortles has at least two turnovers, that may be too big a burden for Todd Wash’s defense to overcome.
Look for the Jaguars, within reason, to remove the shackles from Bortles that reduced the offense to a vanilla attack in last week’s wild-card win against the Buffalo Bills. In a tighter rematch, the road team pulls off another upset. Jaguars 23, Steelers 20… .
Best part of Jacksonville possibly going to New England for the AFC title game: seeing how the defense schemes against Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski, the most valuable non-quarterback left in the playoffs… .
Good to see former Jaguars’ receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, 74, back on the sidelines at LSU. Sullivan leaned heavily toward retiring when he left the Jaguars, but coaching is too much in his blood… .
How many lunch tabs will Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos, who missed a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation against Georgia, have to pick up for QB Tua Tagovailoa for rescuing him from a lifetime of reliving a nightmare? …
Stealing a win in basketball should now be known as a “Cheeze.” Florida’s Chris Chiozza deserves that much for his game-winning, buzzer-beating acts of grand theft against Wisconsin last year and Missouri last week… .
Pigskin forecast: New England Patriots over Tennessee Titans by 7 (armor cracks); Atlanta Falcons over Philadelphia Eagles by 1 (untimely QB injury); Minnesota Vikings over New Orleans Saints by 1 (monster homefield advantage). Last week: 3 right, 2 Georgia safety coverage angles.
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