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Steelers

Kevin Gorman: Steelers are hunting Jaguars' Leonard Fournette

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, 9:27 p.m.
The Steelers' Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt sack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt sack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Stephon Tuitt has something for Leonard Fournette, a warning that will have you howling.

The Steelers put a target on the Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back, who might as well be wearing a bull's-eye instead of No. 27.

“We're hunting him. That's something he's just got to know. He should already know that,” Tuitt said.

“You come here and run for (181) yards on us, and you already know that your face is on everybody's wall when they wake up in the morning. I'm eating breakfast with you at the table right now because I'm looking at you every day.”

Fournette ate the Steelers for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Jaguars' 30-9 victory over the Steelers on Oct. 8 at Heinz Field, their most lopsided loss of the season.

His 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries — for a 6.46 yards-per average — were all career highs, even if half came on one play.

Safe to say, stopping Fournette will be the focal point for the Steelers when they play the Jaguars in an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday at Heinz Field.

Tuitt talks about Fournette like folklore, in a way that sounds more superstitious than superstar.

“My whole defense, we're werewolves right now,” Tuitt said, with a sly smile. “Must believe he's on everybody's mind. If he breaks a run, we're chasing him down.

“You're not trying to run. We know what you're trying to do, and I'm confident to be able to say we're going to do that because that's what we have to do.”

So I asked Tuitt: What did he mean by saying the Steelers were werewolves?

“You ever see a werewolf, when he's hungry and he's going out hunting and he's got his pack?” Tuitt said.

Can't say I have, but go on.

“Most of the time you only see one, but imagine seeing all of them running together, trying to get some food,” Tuitt said. “You'll be scared. You'll start running the other way.”

At this point, I wasn't about to interrupt or disagree.

“We're running right now to get what we want. We traveled a distance to get there. We've got a couple people we've got to destroy.”

Starting with Fournette, a 6-foot-1, 228-pounder from LSU who rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns on 268 carries this season.

“The season is the season,” Tuitt said. “We're about to play you in the divisional playoff to go to the next round. You're the starting running back. I'm looking at you.”

Tuitt's talk isn't all bravado. There's a precedent for his prescience, especially in the postseason.

In 2016, Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in the Miami Dolphins' 30-15 victory over the Steelers in mid-October.

When the Dolphins visited Heinz Field in the AFC wild card, the Steelers shut down Ajayi, who ran for 33 yards on 16 carries in the rematch.

The Steelers allowed four 100-yard rushers this season, but Fournette had 41 yards more than the next best.

Despite Fournette waving on Mike Mitchell only to truck the Steelers free safety, the defense believes it did a decent job against the Jaguars star.

Except, of course, for that one play.

Fournette broke a 90-yard touchdown run with 1:47 remaining, a score that added insult to defeat.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree blamed it on the Steelers shooting the wrong gaps, taking chances by trying to making a big play in an attempt to overcome a two-touchdown deficit.

“We were guessing on that play,” Dupree said. “Guys thought he was going to go inside because they were backed up. We just hit the wrong holes and let him get a big one.”

A big one in which Fournette was clocked at 22.05 mph. And you wonder if the Steelers have incentive?

“Anytime you get creased like that, of course that's a lot of motivation,” Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave said. “We know he's going to bring it, and we're going to bring it, too.”

That's not to suggest the Steelers don't respect Fournette.

Stopping Fournette is the formula for beating Jacksonville. Well, that and not throwing five interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes.

“Fournette is the key piece to that offense,” Dupree said. “He's big, physical, strong and he's got a great spin move. We've got to get him before he gets going, before he gets a full head of steam.

“We've just got to make sure that we go in with the mindset that he's going to get the ball, he's going to try to run hard and he's a hard runner who's going to run people over. We've just got to make sure that we're not the one at the bottom of the pile.”

The Steelers have their sights set on the Super Bowl, and Fournette is the first player focused in their scope.

“We're not worried about anybody else. We're worried about stopping the run,” Tuitt said. “Nobody is supposed to run like that. We took that to heart, and we're going to show it this weekend.”

So, the Steelers are hunting. Leonard Fournette, they're looking at you.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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