The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their third game of the 2018 regular season Monday night against the undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what figures to be an exciting game with quite a bit of scoring. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their first win of the 2018 season Monday nigh on the road in Tampa.
Make FitzMagic disappear from the pocket – It goes without saying that Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a good start to the season as the veteran has already thrown for 819 and 8 touchdowns via a 78.7% completion percentage. While he has been intercepted once in the Buccaneers first two games, the blame for that one isn’t on him. Fitzpatrick’s hot start has been aided by him not getting pressured a lot during the Buccaneers first two games as he’s generally had a nice, clean pocket to throw from. Hes been hit just 7 times in two games and sacked just twice. The Steelers defense must find a way to consistently make Fitzpatrick move off his mark Monday night via a pass rush not totally reliant on sending more than four and as well as via a blitz. Fitzpatrick has been known to make his fair share of mistakes when consistently harassed and at 35 years of age he’s no longer very mobile.
No quick-strike double-explosive Buc cannons – Like it or not the Buccaneers offense is probably going to hit the Steelers defense up for four or five explosive passing plays of 20 yards or more Monday night. The Steelers defense can still withstand such explosive hits, however, as long as none of them are double explosive in nature (40 yards or more). The Buccaneers have already registered 13 explosive plays in their first two games and 4 of those resulted in not only gains of 50 yards or more, but touchdowns as well. That’s half of Fitzpatrick’s 8 total touchdowns he’s tossed this season. The Buccaneers offense must be forced to put together drives of longer than 7 plays if they want to win Monday night.
Limit the loads of unforced yellow laundry – The Steelers entered Week 3 as the league leader in accepted penalties against with 24 for 206 yards. That’s over two full football fields and to make matters worse, 5 others were declined by their opponents. The Steelers obviously won’t be able to eliminate all penalties moving forward but they sure can prevent the easy ones from being called against them. 8 of the 24 accepted penalties so far this season were unforced ones and the breakdown of that is: Defensive Offside (3), Illegal Formation (2), Too Many Men on Field (1), False Start (1), and Neutral Zone Infraction (1). On top of those 8 unforced penalties, 2 more were for Unnecessary Roughness on outside linebacker T.J. Watt and cornerback Artie Burns. If the Steelers can limit themselves to 6 or fewer penalties Monday night, doing so might just go a long way in helping them pick up their first win of 2018.
Hey, diddle, diddle send Conner up the middle – The Buccaneers like to rotate out their defensive linemen throughout games. Because of injuries to defensive tackles Beau Allen and Vita Vea, however, the Buccaneers will likely dress just two true interior linemen in Gerald McCoy and Jerel Worthy against the Steelers. Additionally, defensive end William Gholston will likely have to absorb a few snaps Monday night inside as a defensive tackle for the Buccaneers. McCoy is obviously a great player, but with that said, the Steelers need to attempt to keep him, Worthy and Gholston busy most of Monday night defending the run and especially right up the middle. The Steelers won’t have All-Pro right guard David DeCastro Monday night, but his replacement, B.J. Finney, along with center Maurkice Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster, should be expected to handle the interior of the Buccaneers defensive line in this game. So, expect running back James Conner to get quite a few carries between the two guard spots Monday night. Conner is a very capable inside power runner with a nice college history of breaking tackles and he could wind up being a difference maker Monday night in that role.
Win the POOTOS battle – The Buccaneers have only turned the football over twice this season with one time being an interception and another time being a fumble. Both of those turnovers, however, didn’t result in points being scored by their opponents.The Buccaneers offense, on the other hand, has only produced one touchdown off of two total turnovers in their first two games. The Steelers defense has only allowed one touchdown to an opposing offense following their six offensive turnovers, of which all came in the team’s week 1 tie against the Cleveland Browns. Winning the POOTOS battle alone Monday night could be enough to produce a victory for the Steelers and especially if Pittsburgh manages to accomplish one or two other of the four keys I listed above.