Jags at Steelers: OVER 41
I think it’s very easy for even smart bettors and good cappers to get caught up in the simple square narratives. “Bortles is TERRIBLE! They might not score! And that Jags D is for REAL! This will be an ugly 13-10 game, or even if the Steelers dominate it will be 24-6 and stay under.” Ok, Bortles is terrible and the Jags D is for real… but I don’t think this game stays under. Here’s why.
The Steelers' defense has been very suspect in recent home games. Over the past four home games, they allowed the opposition to rack up totals of 28, 38, 27, and 24 points.
Prior to the Ryan Shazier injury, Pittsburgh was allowing 24.6 yards per drive, the fourth-best rate in the league. From Weeks 13 through 17, they allowed 33.3 yards per drive, the fourth-worst in the NFL during that stretch. Teams the Steelers faced over their final five games: Cincinnati, Baltimore, New England, Houston, and Cleveland. And most importantly for Jacksonville -- the most run-heavy team in the NFL this season -- during this Shazier-less stretch, Pittsburgh's allowed running backs to rush for 4.96 yards per carry. With Shazier, that number was 4.19. And if you remove Week 17's contest against Cleveland (one where the Steelers rested a lot of offensive starters), without Shazier, they've allowed 5.67 yards per carry to opposing running backs.
So, Bortles still stinks, but if they are having some success with the run (and they will) they can do some play action and dink and dunk stuff. We watched Flacco, who looks 57 years old, go up and down the field throwing 4-yd checkdowns to some guy named Alex Collins. I think this Jags offense, KNOWING they need to get Bortles going, will be able to move the chains here and there, grab a FG or 2. And Bortles might get stripped sacked by TJ Watt in the “here’s why James Harrison was expendable” play, so that could be a free 7 points for the Steelers. Let’s face it, Pitt secondary has looked better once they got Joe Haden back, but this isn’t some world-beater lock-down defense. Especially without Shazier. Corner Artie Burns is expected to miss this game. Again, he’s not Deion Sanders, but they cant afford to be missing warm bodies in this secondary. One of these no-named Jax WR’s will get wide open on a bomb while Mike Mitchell shrugs his shoulders pointing at who was supposed to help. Taking deep shots is safe, the INT is like a punt, and the possible flag gives them a free 3 points.
I think the Jags can get to or over 16, 17, or 20-21 points in this game. In fact, despite their reputation as a bad offense that cant score, they are actually #5 in the league averaging 26.1 ppg (Steelers are #8 at 25.4ppg).
Pittsburgh had become an “under” team this year, since their totals were set high due to their infamous big-play offense, but remember all that “what’s wrong with Pittsburgh?” when they came out of the gate rusty. And the defense was quietly getting it done and keeping more of their games under than over. Of course as already mentioned, the Shazier injury changed that, and being at home changes it. Five of their last six home games have gone over their totals… and done so by a whopping average of 14.9 points per game. This even includes Week 17, when the Steelers rested most of their offensive starters.
The Steelers threw the ball deep on 22.20% of their passes this year, which was the fourth-highest rate in the league. Yes, Jax has 2 great corners, but Pittsburgh has 3 top-flight WR’s plus Always-Open-4-Checkdown Bell out of the backfield. At that point Jesse James or anyone is fine at TE cuz he’ll be wide open. You could have Jenna Jameson at TE when you have so much other weaponry elsewhere. Those top 2 Jags corners cant cover 3 or 4 guys, and the middle of the field will be open, especially with injuries to several Jags LB’s (Starters Telvin Smith and Paul Posluszny missed Wednesday's practice, and Blair Brown, Posluszny's backup, suffered an injury during the session).
We always cap the Steelers on the road by talking about Big Ben’s home/road splits. So let’s do the same for him at home: Per the Rotoviz Game Splits App, Roethlisberger has averaged close to 300 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game since Todd Haley joined the team as offensive coordinator in 2012. I think Pittsburgh can get to 27-31 points in this game.
We’re getting a great low number here, because the Jags just played a stand-alone game featuring 13 total points in which Bortles rushed for more yards than he threw for. And no one has even seen the Steelers play since they witnessed Antonio Brown get hurt. So fresh in our minds is the Jags great D, Jags terrible O, “Ben threw 5 picks vs the Jags this year,” and Brown might not be 100%, and when people see the number at 41, 40.5, they buy into all that narrative. Like this is gonna be some knock-down drag-out Steelers/Ravens style game. Well guess what, just a few weeks ago Pitt/Balt played a 39-38 barnburner in Pittsburgh. I don’t see this game going that way. But I do see Pittsburgh winning 28-20, 27-17, 31-14… Even if they do the classic Win-but-don’t-cover thing they are famous for: 21-20, 24-20, 23-21.
After watching Andy Reid’s sphincter clinch up with a big lead last week, the Steelers will stay aggressive and push the lead if they are winning. So while usually a blowout stays under, I could also see 31-10 or 35-6 or 34-9. This game will go over that modest total we’ve been gifted with.