Tampa Bay Buccaneers host Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s break down those who need to step up tonight.
If Ryan Fitzpatrick ever needed to prove he deserves the starting job, this would be his penultimate test. Yes, throwing for 400 passing yards and 4 touchdowns in consecutive games to start the season would ensure anyone a solid spot. He’s also confirmed that he’ll still be the starter on the short week after the game, but the main reason why he’s been a journeyman in his 14 year NFL career is his lack of consistency weekly.
If heaven forbid, he tosses another 400 yard pummeling, or at least nears 300 yards passing, you can almost guarantee the job will be his a little longer beyond the bye week following the game against the Chicago Bears.
Fitz has been known as a strong starter and his accomplishment this early in the season should not be overlooked, but in every other instance when he was the starter for the team he was playing for, he crashed hard keeping his teams in mediocrity instead of among the elite.
Beating the Saints and the Super Bowl Champion Eagles was not small feat, but the Bucs are still far from consistent themselves and each game was decided within a score. Scoring early and often did work for the team so far, but there are things to keep in mind.
The Steelers are a perennial playoff team with good reason. They never let their losing get away from them and this is the perfect bounce back game after getting torched numerous times by the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, but it still became a shootout. The Steelers are going to play desperate, treat this like a playoff game and will be going after Fitz so he doesn’t get enough time to toss deep routes.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will likely utilize safety help and extra defensive backs to help in coverage. Fitz will need to use the Steelers’ aggression against them. Max protection and quick strikes down the middle and short passes like screens will keep their defense honest. The Philly defense in their comeback attempted to sack Fitz to keep themselves in the game.
While the Bucs can engage in another shootout, the gassed defense will only get worse if the fatigued players get even more injured.
One glaring weakness of the Bucs offense is the running game. While Barber provided a somewhat serviceable game against the Saints, he was nonexistent against the Eagles. For the health of the defense, the Bucs should try to slow on as the game progresses. I’m not suggesting conservative play, but if the passing remains efficient as it has the previous games, Monken will need to be more methodical in attacking the underneath.
Use the pass to set up short yardage situations and help build Barber’s confidence and tire out the likely more aggressive Steelers line. Switching up between three receiver sets to two tight end sets should help Barber’s running.
Successful short yardage situations should also help set up playaction pass to give Fitz more time for deeper routes. Bucs should dominate time of possession since the sun won’t be on their side tonight.
Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen
This is a bit of a cheat here, but the Bucs defensive line needs to step up a huge way to keep pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who’s still very efficient in the air despite star receiver Antonio Brown seeking the bulk of the coverage. Big Ben has tossed for 787 yards and 4 touchdowns through two games.
The extra attention to Brown made the biggest beneficiaries out of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has 240 receiving yards and a touchdown; and Jesse James, who has 198 yards and 1 TD. Brown is still very much a threat with his 180 yards and 1 TD.
If the pass rush can’t generate pressure against Roethlisberger, he could be frothing at the mouth from a much younger and inexperienced secondary with Brent Grimes still nursing a groin injury and is listed as questionable as is Chris Conte with his knee. With Vernon Hargreaves lost for the season with his shoulder injury, it will put even more pressure on Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart to keep the play in front of them.
What’s also important from this front four is to help contain James Conner, who’s likely going to permanently replace holdout Le’Veon Bell barring some last minute deal.
If Steelers dominate time of possession, expect another chaotic shootout or it could get ugly real quick.