Sloppy Steelers search for answers against lowly Jags

( – It’s a work in progress. But thus far, it’s been light
on the progress.

The Jacksonville Jaguars were ahead, 17-0, in their Week 1 visit to
Philadelphia before allowing 34 unanswered second-half points. Those
tumultuous 30 minutes kick-started a stretch in which they’ve now played seven
halves of football and been outscored, 152-41, while doing so.

In fact, the Jaguars haven’t won at all since beating Houston, 27-20, on Dec.
5, 2013.

“We’re not light on losing,” coach Gus Bradley said. “We’re not playing our
best right now so we can’t think about anything else. We haven’t accomplished
playing our best yet. Let’s do that then we’ll see what happens.”

The Blake Bortles Era officially began last week when the rookie got his first
start over veteran Chad Henne. He connected on all but three of his 18 first-
half passes for 149 yards and a touchdown against San Diego, before ultimately
winding up 29-for-37 for 253 yards, the TD and two interceptions.

The Jaguars lost, 33-14, but they recorded a season-high with 21 first downs
and converted nine of 14 attempts on third down. And Bortles earned some
respect from the opposition, too.

“He’s going to be a real good quarterback in the league,” Chargers cornerback
Brandon Flowers said.

The next phase of his climb will be hampered by the likely absence of top
receiving target Cecil Shorts III, who injured a muscle in his left leg
against San Diego and is considered doubtful for Sunday. Shorts missed the
first two games with a strained left hamstring, then caught seven passes for
60 yards and a touchdown in weeks 3 and 4.

Among the other targets, rookie Marqise Lee remains sidelined with his own
hamstring issue, while Ace Sanders returns after a four-game NFL-mandated
suspension. He caught 51 passes as a rookie in 2013.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Sanders said. “I’m just going in, whatever they
ask me to do, I’ll do it. If it turns out, I’ll be ready for it.”

On defense, the Jaguars have been gashed for a league-worst 38 points per
game, and are also at the bottom of the 32-team barrel with 320.8 passing
yards allowed per week, alongside 451.3 total yards.

Jacksonville responded to the difficulties by waiving starting safety Winston

“I just think we’re not challenging throws,” Bradley said. “It needs to be

Approaching the matchup with eyes wide open is Pittsburgh quarterback Ben
Roethlisberger, who completed 29-of-40 passes for 314 yards and three scores
against Tampa Bay last week, only to have defeat snatched from the jaws of
victory when the Bucs pulled ahead in the final 10 seconds.

Roethlisberger has passed for 413 yards in two road games to start the season.
His top target, Antonio Brown, is among the league’s leaders in catches (29),
yards (427) and touchdowns (5).

A loss to the Jaguars would put the Steelers below .500 after five games for
the third straight year, a stretch coach Mike Tomlin would like to see end
while the team reduces its burgeoning early-season penalty rate. Pittsburgh
committed 13 penalties last week and is averaging 11 per game.

“We need to fix it,” Tomlin said. “And if we don’t we’ll continue to lose
close football games.”

The Steelers have managed seven sacks and forced three turnovers in four
games. Tampa Bay, which entered the game 0-3 and was coming off a 42-point
loss, got into scoring position late in the game with a 41-yard pass play. The
game-winner came on another pass from the 5-yard line.

Pittsburgh allowed 350 total yards for the game.

The 2013 season began at 2-6 for the Steelers, while 2012 featured a 2-3
start. Both seasons ended at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Pittsburgh hasn’t
reached the postseason since going 12-4 in 2011.

“We fell short in our responsibilities,” cornerback Cortez Allen said. “That’s
why we didn’t come out with a win. It’s something we’ve got to fix.”


Rookie vs. Mastermind

As impressive as Bortles has been through one start and one relief appearance
– throwing for 447 yards and three scores against four interceptions – he’ll
presumably face a unique challenge against the Pittsburgh defense concocted by
veteran sideline guru Dick LeBeau.

Veteran passers have ravaged the Steelers for a 62.2 percent completion rate
in 2014, but LeBeau is 18-2 against rookies since 2004.

Target Practice

With Shorts and Lee presumably out of commission and Sanders trying to feel
his way back into game action, the top target for Bortles will likely be Allen
Hurns, who’s caught 12 passes for 254 yards and scored three times in four
games. Limiting his success will be the responsibility of Pittsburgh corners
Allen and William Gay, who’ll need to limit his propensity for big plays (21.2
yards per catch).


The general consensus is that, thanks to his track record, Tomlin isn’t likely
to feel too much heat with another lackluster Pittsburgh start. But a loss to
a particularly poor 0-4 team might change that quickly.

The Steelers should have been 3-1 entering this one, so there’s a particular
urgency to make this business trip a productive one against a team they should
handle. They should get it done.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 30, Jaguars 17