I'll be the contrarian.
I think our O out-performs expectation, and our D under-performs.
On offense, we've seen this pattern before. The team comes out and whomps up on some cupcakes early, we think the offense is finally living to potential, it gets tested against tough defenses and sputters, then takes the middle part of the season to find a groove. On the upside, this may be the most talented group of QB/WR/RB we've seen in a long, long time. Downside: the OL and OC.
Well, OK, but even with injuries all over the place, Jax's D just ain't that unit that was so stingy in years past. They're giving up 4.1 YPC and 50.0% of 3rd down conversions (worst 3rd down D in NFL). Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA rating is only good for 27th best in the league. Even without FWP and Mendenhall, I think Moore's shifty scat style of running, with Dookie taking some late snaps, and Gary Russell possibly coming in for the short grinder yardage, will be effective. Arians has pussyfooted with using the run to set up the pass, seeming to take us out of whatever rhythm we get into with a Whitman's Sampler of offensive playcalling. If he can be patient and start setting up 5, 6, 7 yard runs, that will open up opportunities downfield, where we have not been going deep effectively.
I'll say Moore gets 90 yards rushing, Dookie 30, and Russell 25.
On D, the Steelers run D numbers are good, allowing 2.9 YPC, but we always seem to have problems with Taylor and MJD. Their offensive line is a mess, though, so our mess of a D line (which played pretty well against the Ratties) needs to jam it down their throats. Late in the game I expect us to win this battle, but if the Jags do run well and control the clock, the game will be flowing their way. Yes, a high-scoring game definitely favors us in this matchup. I expect them to run well in the first half, but as LeBeau and the D adjusts in the 2Q, the running lanes start to close, and the Jags have a hard time getting the run going late.
Taylor 75 yards, MJD 60.
For some reason, despite the fact that the Jags' WR suck slimy corpse balls, they've had maddening success with dickweeds like Cokie Jones against our DBs. Looking at their receivers -- Jones, Reggie Williams, Troy Williamson, Dennis Northcutt, TE Marcedes Lewis -- I think to myself that we should keep them under a 100 yards passing, especially with that hodgepodge OL. Call it a gut feeling, but I think they'll sneak a few medium range plays over the middle -- groaner plays, like "Why didn't Farrior have Lewis covered for that 25 yard pickup?" and "Why in the name of all that's holy do we have Woodley covering Matt Jones 20 yards downfield?", and so on. But these little sporadic flareups still don't add up to a coherent offense, IMO.
They've averaged just under 20 PPG against Tennessee, Buffalo, Indy, and Houston. Steelers have given up 14.5 to Houston, Cleveland, Philly, and Baltimore. I don't see Jax getting more than 17 or 20; they may get right around 13 or 14. Flipside of that, Steelers have averaged 19.24 PPG, while the Jaggies allowed 21.25. OK, so 20 or 21 points, right? I think if Ben gets into a rhythm, we could see 24-27, otherwise 20-21 might be about right, just playing the averages. If we get pressure on Garrard and take advantage of our front 7 vs. their OL issues, maybe that pushes the score our way a little more.
So, after allowing too much running by the Jags, and establishing the run ourselves, I can see halftime looking like 13-7 Steelers, but if we start cooking in the second half I'll call it 24-14 final. Ben gets on track with a couple of TDs in the 2H to Miller and Holmes, and Moore has a scramble early for a 20 yard TD.