'This is a very good defense'

Posted Jan 10, 2018

Villanueva knows what Steelers are up against.

The Jaguars’ defensive reputation will precede them into Heinz Field on Sunday, which is as it should be in the estimation of Steelers left offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

“Oh, my God, yes,” Villanueva said. “They’re an unbelievable group of guys.”

Jacksonville finished No. 2 in the NFL in total defense (286.1 yards per game allowed), No. 2 in scoring defense (16.8 points per game against), No. 2 in takeaways (33) and No. 2 in sacks (55, trailing only the Steelers’ 56).

And the Jaguars’ defense was as representative as it was relentless in last Sunday’s 10-3 postseason decision of Buffalo.

Jacksonville allowed 263 total net yards, collected a pair of sacks and managed two interceptions while advancing.

“I think Yannick (Ngakoue), No. 91, is probably one of the most underrated pass-rushers in the NFL,” Villanueva said. “You talk about a snub in every category that you can possibly think of.  He’s one of the few players in the NFL that is developing a move that is becoming his own. He’s got this hop, sort chop-rip move. The first time I saw (Ngakoue) I was like, ‘Who is this guy? How is it that the entire NFL is not talking abut this kid?’ He’s the definition of a scary pass-rusher.

“Obviously, Calais Campbell is having, in my opinion, the best season as a defensive player. And he’s a great guy, too, so it’s very tough to find anything to hate about the guy. And then (Dante) Fowler (Jr.) and Malik Jackson are Pro Bowl-caliber players that are playing great defense. To have Marcell Dariius rotate in (along the defensive line) is crazy.

“I don’t think you can find a more compete and talented front seven in the NFL. And the corners (Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye) are obviously playing great football, so this is a very good defense, a very tough challenge for us.”

The Jacksonville defense is more a product of who the Jaguars have than what is asked from the defenders, Villanueva maintained.

“Just the energy that defense has, we have to be able to match that if we want to win the game,” he said. “They collapse the pocket pretty quickly. If the ball gets held it’s challenging for the quarterback to make a throw because everybody’s rushing in, that’s a problem. We have to create space for (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger). We have to be smart how we call our protections to make sure the pocket stays clean a little longer because they also have very good corners and that’s going to make it tough for receivers to get open.

“The schematics are simple but they’re just so good at executing it. They can rush the quarterback with four guys, that’s primarily what they’re going to do. Great defenses do exactly that, they don’t try to trick you. They play very vanilla football but they just execute very well.”

The Steelers will counter with the NFL’s No. 3 total offense (377.9 yards per game), a unit that has averaged 31.3 points per game over its last seven games.

They also have Roethlisberger.

“This is not his first rodeo or first playoff appearance,” Villanueva observed. “I’ve even noticed how much he leads the team during practice. Everything that is asked of him to do, he’s going to do it.

“Then you go into football, the variables of football, the play-calling, how we’re going to attack the game. That’s what makes the Steelers different, what makes us unique.

“We’ve had an extra week to prepare for the Jaguars. We sort of assumed, taking our best guess, that they would win this game last Sunday. I think the coaches have done a great job managing the game and now it’s going to be up to us to execute.”

It won’t be easy, but the Steelers aren’t expecting anything to be the rest of the way.

“If you’re trying to win the Super Bowl you can’t hide away from challenges,” Villanueva said. “For us to win this game is going to take a lot from everybody and is truly going to give us a sense of accomplishment if we play these guys like we know we can play them.”