October 01, 2014

Frustrated by their defensive woes and a lack of discipline, the Pittsburgh Steelers are searching for answers following another stunning early season setback.

After falling to a winless club last weekend, the visiting Steelers will try to avert a similar fate while avoiding a losing record after five games for the third year in a row Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who look to end a lengthy losing streak in rookie Blake Bortles' second career start.

Pittsburgh (2-2) appeared to be on the right track following an impressive 37-19 win at Carolina on Sept. 21. However, that optimism has turned into concern after last Sunday's 27-24 home loss to Tampa Bay.

The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 11 penalties per game after they were flagged 13 times for 125 yards.

''We need to fix it,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''And if we don't we'll continue to lose close football games.''

Defensively, Tomlin's club has disappointed with seven sacks while forcing three turnovers. Pittsburgh made an attempt to improve the unit last week by bringing back veteran James Harrison, who hadn't played in nine months.

The five-time Pro Bowl linebacker could see more action after playing 29 snaps last Sunday, though he failed to register a tackle and was a non-factor in the pass rush in part to being out of position at times.

Tampa Bay, which entered as the NFC's lone winless team, converted a 41-yard pass play that set up the go-ahead touchdown with seven seconds left.

''We fell short in our responsibilities,'' cornerback Cortez Allen said after the Steelers allowed 350 total yards. ''That's why we didn't come out with a win. It's something we've got to fix.''

Slow starts have become too common for Pittsburgh in recent seasons. The Steelers had surprising losses to Tennessee and Oakland during last year's 2-6 start after suffering road defeats to those clubs during a 2-3 start in 2012.

The Steelers will try to avoid another upset against Jacksonville (0-4), one of the two remaining winless teams in the NFL.

Since taking a 17-0 lead into the half in a Week 1 loss at Philadelphia, the Jaguars have been outscored 152-41. They've dropped seven in a row since a 27-20 home win over Houston on Dec. 5.

''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.''

Bortles had a promising first half in his first start last Sunday, going 15 of 18 for 149 yards and a touchdown. He went on to finish 29 of 37 for 253 yards with the one score and two interceptions in a 33-14 loss at San Diego.

The third overall pick helped the Jaguars notch season highs with 21 first downs and nine conversions in 14 attempts on third down.

''I think he's going to be a real good quarterback in the league," Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers said.

Bortles, though, won't have key target Cecil Shorts III after he tweaked a muscle near his left hamstring last Sunday.

After missing the first two games with a strained left hamstring, Shorts - the team's leading receiver the past two seasons - has caught seven passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) is also out, but Ace Sanders will return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

''I don't know what to expect,'' Sanders said Wednesday. ''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.''

The Jaguars are hoping to make some strides on the other side of the ball after waiving starting safety Winston Guy earlier this week. They've allowed league-worst averages of 38.0 points, 451.3 total yards and 320.8 passing yards.

''I just think we're not challenging throws,'' Bradley said. ''It needs to be tighter.''

Ben Roethlisberger will try to take advantage of that porous secondary after going 29 of 40 for 314 yards with three touchdowns against the Buccaneers. He's thrown for 679 yards in two home games but 413 in two on the road.

Antonio Brown also should be able to continue his hot start, ranking in the NFL's top four in catches (29) and yards (427) while tying for the league high with five touchdowns.

The Steelers have won the last two meetings following a 31-29 wild-card home loss Jan. 5, 2008. They've won three of four in Jacksonville after Roethlisberger threw for 309 yards and three scores in a 26-21 victory Oct. 5, 2008.

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