Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, for the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again home underdogs today, this time playing host to quarterback Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Brady might not quite be at his most elite any longer, the Steelers certainly look like a shadow of their former shadows, and it could very well be even worse today.
There are plenty of directions we can go today with the lead observation, but for me, the elephant in the room is the absolutely battered and bruised secondary, down four starters today. Cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace are all out, and as if that were not bad enough, the cherry on top comes in the form of All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick joining them inactive on the sidelines due to injury.
It wouldn’t even be so bad if, you know, they had some depth. James Pierre was benched defensively last season just because he was struggling so much. Now he’ll be starting. Josh Jackson is a veteran cornerback, but he is on the practice squad for a reason. Arthur Maulet is limited as a coverage option in the slot and is best left in a specialized role. And the two worst games of Tre Norwood’s career are the two games he’s had to start. This could easily make the top three.
In other words, there’s no reason to believe the secondary won’t be dreadful, and they won’t be much aided by a pass rush that hasn’t been getting home as it should since Week 1. Sure, Alex Highsmith and perhaps Cameron Heyward will win their share of matchups, but it hasn’t translated into the pressure required.
The only hope the Steelers have is to match the Buccaneers offensively, and frankly, they have a better chance of doing that. They drafted Kenny Pickett for a reason, and this would be a good time for him to show the stadium that they were right.
There is talent around him, particularly at wide receiver. He is quickly developing a rapport with fellow rookie George Pickens through six quarters of action, and Diontae Johnson keeps nearly making excellent plays that he’s bound to start making again.
One can only hope that Najee Harris looks closer to his peak form from last season now that he is no longer encumbered by a steel plate in the shoe of the foot he injured in training camp, but we have been promised more of Jaylen Warren as well, so either way, there is some promise of a more stable running game.
Of course, the Buccaneers have a great front seven, though the Chiefs and Falcons were able to run all over them in the past two weeks. The Steelers need to find out how that happened and exploit the same tendencies.
This Tampa Bay offense hasn’t been lighting things up (they been held to 21 points and under in four of five games), so there is a chance. But I wouldn’t necessarily be getting any pre-emptive commemorative tattoos celebrating a victory, either.