Steelers aren't buying 'Blake Bortles is a choker' storyline, say Jags QB 'can get hot'

In Blake Bortles' three seasons, he hasn't yet lived up to the expectations that come with being a No. 3 overall draft pick. But he has improved to the point where he's no longer a liability. That's been an important development since the Jaguars have gone from laughing stock during Bortles' first three seasons to one of the AFC's best teams in 2017.

As a rookie in 2014, Bortles ranked dead last in total value among all quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. He improved to 25th in total value in 2015, when he threw 35 touchdowns along with 18 interceptions and five lost fumbles. And if last season was among his most disappointing -- Bortles had 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and six fumbles and there were constant calls to bench him for Chad Henne -- this season has been his most encouraging. 

Still, the inertia of "BORTLES IS TERRIBLE!" storylines perpetuate the perception that he's among the league's worst quarterbacks. In reality, he's a replacement-level passer, which makes him decidedly average. In terms of value per play this season, Bortles is 16th -- between Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. That's pretty good company.  

The critics remain,  however, and they're probably not going anywhere

After the Titans held the Jaguars' offense to three points in Week 17, Tennessee defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said this about the Jags' quarterback:  "As long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands, he's going to choke." 

Casey was the latest opponent to question Bortles' credentials; Following the Jags' Week 14 win over the Seahawks, safety Earl Thomas conceded he wasn't impressed with Jacksonville's "subpar quarterback."

You'll hear no such trash talk coming from the Steelers this week, even if Bortles' stat line (8 of 14, 95 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) wasn't exactly noteworthy when these two teams met in October.

"[Bortles] is a guy that can definitely get hot," Steelers rookie cornerback Cam Sutton said, via ESPN.com. "When they get that run game going, it makes his job that much easier, then teams are sitting on the run and teams are sneaking out boots, they are sneaking on over routes, pick routes. It shows at various times throughout the year he's looked really good. He's had some good passing games. A lot of teams sleep on his mobility."

And second-year safety Sean Davis added: "He's a quarterback for a team that's in the playoffs -- I say we give him his credit. We're not running from anybody. We're not scared of anybody. We're just going to see what happens. We're not going to let him beat us with his feet."

Bortles may look like a pocket passer but he's most dangerous when he's on the run. We saw that last week against the Bills; he was just 12 of 23 for 87 yards but rushed 10 times for 88 yards. Jacksonville won, 10-3, in what proved to be the lowest scoring Wild Card game in NFL history. 

Still, Bortles can throw, the conditions just need to be near-perfect. 

The Jaguars' coldest game of the 2017 season came in that Week 17 get-together with  the Titans where it was 23 degrees in Nashville. Jacksonville had just 229 yards of total offense and Bortles finished 15 of 34 for 158 yards and two interceptions. We mention this because  Sunday's forecast at Heinz Field calls for temperatures to be in the teens.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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