On Sunday, January 14, 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs.
This is the same Jaguars team that waltzed into Pittsburgh in Week 5 and utterly dominated the game.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 90-yard burst.
So, how can the Steelers avoid a repeat of that and move on to face either the New England Patriots or the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship?
I think it comes down to three keys, two on defense and one on offense.
1. Do not let Leonard Fournette run like that again!
Fournette is the real deal. He had 1,040 rushing yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh was 23rd in the league against the run and the loss of star linebacker Ryan Shazier made that even worse.
The Steelers will have to commit to stopping the run, but they can't only focus on Fournette. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles ran for 87 yards against the Bills in the Wild Card round.
One way or another, the Steelers will have to find a way to keep Jacksonville from running the rock and make Bortles play quarterback if they want to find a way to win.
2. Do not allow big plays.
The Steelers have been struggling with allowing opposing offenses to make big plays against them. Again, the loss of Shazier is part of the reason, and not having cornerback Joe Haden earlier in the year contributed to that.
Haden is back and is healthy, so he needs to be the shut-down corner he has been his whole career.
The Steelers cannot allow Bortles to make big plays with his arm, but they also can't allow long runs for first downs or touchdowns.
Pittsburgh needs to return to the bend-don't-break style of defense that served them well most of the season.
The Steelers defense was fifth in the regular season in yards allowed, seventh in points allowed, and first in sacks. They will have to bring some of that to this game against the Jaguars.
3. Score on every possession.
You simply cannot play from behind and beat the Jaguars. Their defense is too good. If you are behind them the whole game, you will be behind them when the clock reads 0:00.
To that end, the "Killer B's" of the Steelers offense (QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, WR Martvis Bryant, all-world RB Le'veon Bell, and kicker Chris Boswell), along with rookie standout WR Juju Smith-Schuster will have to put points on the board every time they have the ball.
Turnovers will mean an unhappy ending. Punting will not win the game.
The Steelers must, must, MUST score when they can.
The Jaguars are not built to play from behind. They are built to play with a lead. If you can get them down by ten or more points, you have a really good chance to beat them.
This is what the Steelers must do.