The Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers this afternoon, coming off a Pyrrhic victory that saw the team win by 18 points, but finish down three starters on defense. Of course, the team was well on its way to 0-4 by this time last year, so the 2-1 start is certainly nothing to grumble about. Below are some points of emphasis to watch out for today when the Steelers are on defense.
Some points are more obvious than others, of course, especially when you have new faces in the lineup.
To begin with, third-year inside linebacker Sean Spence will be making his first career start after logging 35 snaps a week ago in place of Ryan Shazier, who is out at least this week with a knee injury, if not longer. He played well against the Panthers, recording four solo tackles, two of them going down as run stops.
Spence had already been rotating with Shazier for a series or two per game already, however, though this may have been just to give the rookie a break to keep his head from spinning.
But Spence hasn’t played much at all in the last two years, and the 35 snaps he logged last week are perhaps the most he’s played since college. For that reason, we may see the team sub for him from time to time with Terence Garvin, who rotated in last year as a rookie.
Meanwhile, right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will be out at least eight games, and his replacement, Arthur Moats, had an auspicious debut performance in replacing him. He played 30 snaps in the second half and regularly got pressure on the quarterback, including notching his first sack as a Steeler.
How he holds up in the run game remains to be seen, but Pittsburgh also brought back James Harrison to supplement Moats on the right side. It’s unknown to what extent he might play today, but I can see the pair gradually developing a run/pass rotation to complement each other’s strength and mask weaknesses.
Jason Worilds has had a quieter than expected beginning of the year. But he’s also dropping into coverage or shadowing significantly more often than he did a year ago, meaning that he’s simply not rushing the passer as much. I wonder if the Steelers send him more often knowing that they’ll be without Jones, who leads the team with two sacks, for months.
The other major injury was, of course, to Ike Taylor. Replacing him in the starting lineup will by William Gay, who has been the team’s best cornerback since returning last year. He’s a better nickel corner than on the outside, however.
Antwon Blake replaced Taylor on the outside in sub-packages last week. I assume that he will be the one to do so today as well, but it’s not a guarantee. Also worth watching is just how much the team uses the nickel. Though they don’t see to be running it perhaps as much as anticipated based on the preseason, they didn’t shy away from using it heavily late against the Panthers while holding a big lead.