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 have the ball on offense.
The biggest question that I want to see answered on offense in this game is how the Steelers plan to use veteran free agent wide receiver Lance Moore. He missed about a month with a groin injury, and when he returned last week, he only got on the field for one snap.
First-year receiver Justin Brown, meanwhile, has logged 150+ snaps through the first three games, catching six passes for 54 yards and fumbling one of them. But blocking has been his calling card so far, and I imagine he will continue to see time throughout the season for this reason, regardless of any other developments.
Speaking of developments, the offensive line certainly showed some development last week as they helped guide the offense to over 450 yards on the ground and through the air. The right side of the line in particular was at its best, with Marcus Gilbert showing much improvement, especially in pass protection, over the first two games.
The Steelers hope to get Ramon Foster back at left guard, but if not, figure on Cody Wallace to get his second career start there. He has much less playing experience at guard than at center, so hopefully he’ll have learned some things from last week.
Running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount each rushed for over 100 yards in the last game. With that said, it’s still clear that Bell is the lead dog, and that the carries will not be divided by any equitable measure as long as he’s healthy and the game is not out of hand.
Still, last week showed that the Steelers do have a very capable backup to their future Pro Bowler, who, it seems, may continue to log extra carries in the red zone. Of the team’s three rushing touchdowns, Blount owns two of them so far.
Though Ben Roethlisberger averaged only 6.5 yards per pass attempt, he was efficient with the ball, and on target, finding Antonio Brown twice in the end zone. The Panthers defense was tough against the pass until the run game opened things up. Will it take a similar strategy today against Tampa Bay’s front line?
After predominantly running out of the 11 personnel in the no huddle through the first two games, Todd Haley varied his offensive looks considerably more last week in Charlotte, getting a lot more work out of the tight ends and Will Johnson, who played nearly 10 games the amount he did in the first two games.
On Johnson’s play, the Steelers used him on the perimeter as a tight end more than they did as a lead blocker out of the backfield. This was true even on running plays. Roethlisberger also looked his way twice, but he dropped the first pass, and the second was waved off by a penalty. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets with the Steelers back home with a familiar crowd, where they may be more likely to rely on the no huddle.