Steelers-Jags Long Way From 'Super Bowl Week'

Steelers' old division rivals putting it all on rookie QB Blake Bortles.

The Steelers used to be the benchmark for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and when the former division rivals squared off it was "Super Bowl Week" for Tom Coughlin's old team.

Now?

Well, the Steelers are hardly the physical powerhouse of the division which the Jaguars once emulated. And the Jaguars? They're 0-4 and no one's really surprised or even that upset.

How's "Super Bowl Week" seem to you, Blake Bortles?

"I don’t know what the mood was around back then," said the Jaguars' rookie quarterback. "I can tell you that this week it feels good. I feel positive vibes, good vibes, and we’re excited to go compete just like we have been the previous weeks."

A good mood around a team that's lost its games by an average score of 38-15? A team that ranks 31st in offensive yards and points scored? And ranks 32nd in defensive yards and points allowed? A team that will be without injured starters at both receiver spots, tight end and cornerback? A team that will have only one offensive starter -- OG Zane Beadles -- with more than 10 career starts?

"It’s been really positive," Bortles said. "There were some good things that we were able to watch and pull from San Diego (last Sunday). There were some things that weren’t so good that we’re learning from. Guys are excited. Guys are positive, excited for this week to go out and compete and definitely looking forward to getting better this week and going out there Sunday."

As one might suspect, there's a difference in team expectations.

The Steelers are also "excited for this week" if only because they're away from a town that's lambasting them for losing last Sunday to Tampa Bay and falling to 2-2.

Of course, the Steelers have the real Ben Roethlisberger, not a guy in Bortles who's only been a draftnik comparison.

Bortles, like Roethlisberger, is a big man at 6-5, 232, with the ability to not only move, but throw bullet spirals while on the move.

The third pick of this year's draft moved into the Jaguars' lineup two weeks ago and has completed 71 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 82.4.

Roethlisberger's first start occurred in Week 3, and in his first two starts he completed 62 percent of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 88.7.

Of course, the difference is Roethlisberger's Steelers won both games on his way to a 13-0 rookie season.

"He’s got a very young team," said Roethlisberger. "They’re loaded up with draft picks this year. I was blessed to come to a team that was laced with veterans and experience, been-there, done-that guys. Definitely different situations."

Bortles will attack the Steelers behind a line that includes Beadles, two rookies, a left tackle who played in only five games as a rookie last season, and a right tackle who started his first game two weeks ago.

Bortles can hand off not to former Jaguars great Maurice Jones-Drew but to journeyman Toby Gerhart, who averages 2.6 yards per carry, or former University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who averages 3.3 per carry.

With last week's injury to Mercedes Lewis, Bortles' tight end is Clay Harbor, and with starting wide receivers Cecil Shorts and rookie Marqise Lee out Bortles' primary targets are second-round pick Allen Robinson of Penn State and undrafted rookie Allen Hurns.

In a nutshell, it's all on Bortles.

"The sky's the limit for this guy," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of the rookie QB. "He’s a creator. There was a play in the game last week where the protection completely broke down and he was actually rolling into an unblocked player. He did something that very few people can do: He made the guy miss. He didn’t even know he was there until the last second, reversed his field, got away and then threw a perfect 35-yard pass. You only have to see that one play to recognize that the guy has tremendous talent. He just has a feel for the position and he’s going to be an excellent player."

Steelers offensive personnel point to a Jaguars defensive front that has 10 of the team's 12 sacks. The Jaguars rank second in the league with those 12 sacks, but have also had the second-most chances since opponents have attempted 163 passes against them.

And why not pass on the Jaguars? Their pass defense ranks 29th in completion percentage (69.3), 30th in yards per attempt (8.4), 31st in QB passer rating (115), and 32nd in TD passes (11) and yards per game (344).

With second-year cornerback Dwayne Gratz out, Demetrius McCray, a seventh-round pick in 2013, could make his second career start. He would line up opposite veteran Alan Ball. The slot corner is veteran Will Blackmon. Second-year players Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien are the safeties.

Of course, these Jaguars are a long way from the recent days of Rashean Mathis and Donovin Darius, or back to Fred Taylor, Tony Boselli and Mark Brunell. But the Steelers did lose in Jacksonville to the 1995 expansion Jaguars, and are 2-5 at Jacksonville in games played during the first six weeks of the season. And these Steelers certainly haven't been world-beaters themselves lately.


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