Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are naturally claiming the Jaguars’ 30-9 thumping of the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 5 will have little bearing on the outcome of Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS).
While that may be the case, there were certainly contributing factors in that game both teams are well aware of as they prepare for the rematch. There has also been a change in personnel at a few key positions since that meeting more than three months ago.
Here are the top five matchups to watch in Sunday’s playoff game between the Jaguars and Steelers:
5. Jaguars DT Marcell Dareus vs. Steelers OG David DeCastro:
Pittsburgh averaged 4.33 yards per carry running up the middle during the regular season. That was a weakness for Jacksonville, until the midseason trade for Dareus. It will be difficult for the Steelers to make a living running outside against the Jaguars’ team speed on defense, so it’s critical that DeCastro & Co. create lanes between the tackles.
4. Jaguars WR Marqise Lee vs. Steelers CB Artie Burns:
Both enter the game banged up. Burns hyper-extended his knee during practice, but expects to play. Lee returned from a sprained ankle last week and played 35 of the Jaguars’ 59 offensive snaps against the Bills. However, he was targeted just once and finished the game without a reception. Lee led Jacksonville with 56 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns receiving despite missing the final two games of the season. That included catching two passes for 49 yards in Week 5.
3. Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette vs. Steelers ILBs Vince Williams and Sean Spence:
Fournette rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in the first meeting, including a 90-yard scamper. As a team, Jacksonville averaged 6.2 yards on 37 carries, never letting Pittsburgh back into the lopsided game. Williams had eight tackles that day, as did Ryan Shazier. With Shazier out for the season, Williams has been thrust into the role as the quarterback of the Steelers’ defense, while the veteran Spence is charged with helping to slow down the league’s top rushing attack.
2. Jaguars DE Calais Campbell vs. Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert:
Campbell had a half-sack and four quarterback pressures in the first meeting, which Gilbert missed due to suspension. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Campbell out specifically as the leader of the Jaguars’ strong front four, and he won’t be just Gilbert’s problem. Campbell plays outside in the base defense, but often slides inside in sub packages.
1. Jaguars CBs A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey vs. Steelers WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster:
There will be a ton of talent on the perimeter in this game. Brown caught 10 passes in the first meeting and had an NFL-high 1,533 receiving yards in the regular season. Smith-Schuster (four catches, 58 yards) was not a huge factor but has taken on an increasingly big role in the offense the second half of the season. Bouye and Ramsey both earned Pro Bowl nods this season, and Ramsey had one of the Jaguars’ five interceptions in the first meeting. The matchup with also include third receiver Martavis Bryant, who had five catches on eight targets, but for only 21 yards, in Week 5.
–Derek Harper, Field Level Media