Ordinarily, I’d like the Pittsburgh Steelers chances against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But last season, I was supremely confident when we faced off against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns and we all know how those games went. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And what we’ve learned is to never ever take anything for granted.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Steelers will be blushing on Sunday. Two years ago, Tampa Bay lost their last four games to miss the 2008 postseason, which ended the Jeff Garcia Era and set John Gruden loose to pollute the airwaves. The Bucs went about rebuilding using the Steelers as the model. First they bypassed the same old retreads and hired an exciting young assistant coach, Raheem Morris, as their head man. Then they went out and drafted a tall strong playmaking quarterback. In this year’s draft, they focused on building a fast athletic ball-hawking defense.
They’re not on our level (yet). A cheapskate owner and one of the worst fan bases in football will always hold them back. When Steeler Nation takes over Raymond James Stadium, perhaps we’ll provide their lousy fans with an example to copy, as well.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. BUCS OFFENSE
Second year quarterback Josh Freeman is a work in progress. At 6’6 250 pounds, he frequently draws comparisons to Big Ben. It’s not just his size but his ability to shrug off blitzers and then make a big play. He struggled in his rookie year, with a 10/18 TD-INT ratio, and then sprained a ligament in his thumb during the preseason. However, Big Josh has gotten off to a good start (4/1) and hasn’t really had any problems throwing the ball thus far.
Like any rebuilding team, the Tampa offense depends on their running game to take pressure off their young QB. Cadillac Williams is a talented back whose career has been derailed by a constant stream of injuries. With the release of former Giant Derrick Ward, he’s being counted on to carry the load almost exclusively this year. Through the first two weeks, Cadillac is only averaging 2.6 YPC and hasn’t topped 75 yards in a single game so it appears other teams know they want to run and aren’t allowing it to happen.
Tampa ranked 28th in the league in offense last season, primarily thanks to a terrible passing game. Freeman’s favorite target is our old friend TE Kellen Winslow. The draft also brought in electric rookie Mike Williams, not to be confused with the bust drafted by Detroit several years back. This Williams is the former Syracuse product who had superior talent but quit the team last year because he got sick of losing. Those character issues dropped a player with possible first round talent all the way to the fourth round. Williams only has seven catches this year but two of them are for TDs.
If the Steelers are going to win, it’s going to be because of the defense. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau tortures young quarterbacks. His defensive schemes are so tricky and complicated, even experienced pros get confused about who is coming and where they’re coming from. And the run defense, which will be bolstered by the return of Casey Hampton, is completely dominant. When you hold the Porsche of the the NFL to 38 yards, the Cadillac isn’t going to do much better. The Steelers will force the Freeman to beat them. Good luck, kid.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. BUCS DEFENSE
Take the under.
Regardless of how great the Steelers defense is, I’m concerned about the offense’s ability to score points. Remember, this team has only scored ONE offensive touchdown all season. Some of you have great faith in Charlie Batch but the coaching staff was so down on him, he was about to be released before Byron Leftwich was injured. This is Batch’s first start since 2007 when he was considered the best backup in the NFL. Since then, he’s been constantly hurt and last week he looked extremely ineffective. Perhaps a full week of practice with the first team offense will get him back up to speed but I wouldn’t expect an offensive explosion.
The offense will be helped by the return of LT Max Starks. The blindside pressure was ridiculous last week with Starks sitting out with an ankle sprain. Of course, one player returns but they lose RG Trai Essex. The upheaval on the line probably is a big reason the running game was bottled up last week. If the Steelers are to succeed in Tampa, Rashard Mendenhall will simply have to get back on track to take pressure off Batch.
The good news is Tampa was 27th in defense and dead last against the run last year. The bad news is in an effort to improve the run defense, they went D-line with their first two draft picks. DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price join the best name in football, Stylez G. White, on a line which hasn’t scared anyone since Warren Sapp left. The results thus far have been less than encouraging as they’re averaging 111 rush yards surrendered per game.
MLB Barrett Ruud is one of the more underrated players in the league. Geno Hayes is an active linebacker who runs and hits all over the field. The linebackers are probably the strength of the defense and will benefit from an improved defensive front. If and when it ever improves.
The secondary will be missing S Tanard Jackson, who is suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Ageless Ronde Barber, who is slowing in his 14th season, may move from CB to S to pick up the slack. CB Aqib Talib is a very good looking second year player who’ll be seeing only his second action of the year after sitting out the first game for punching a cab driver in the back of the head. Maybe he ran up the meter. Regardless of the holes in the secondary, I have to think the Bucs will copy the Steelers startegy and dare the QB to beat them.
For the first time this year, the Steelers are favored to win a game. Can they pull it off? I’m not sure what to expect. What I do expect is a final score along the lines of 12-9. Keep that leg limber, Skippy!
Topics: Baltimore Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben, Black And Gold, Black And Gold Blog, Cadillac Williams, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Dick Lebeau, Josh Freeman, Max Starks, Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers Blog, Raheem Morris, Rashard Mendenhall, Roethlisberger, Roethlisberger Concussion, Steeler Nation, Steelers, Steelers Blog, Steelers Nation, Stillers, Super Bowl Champions, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers