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Previewing the Steelers Enemy, Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The early surprise of the NFL season will see a stumbling, but talented Steelers team. Who are the Buccaneers?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come off wins against two of the best teams in the NFL last season, the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles. How have they done it? Through high-powered offense and a bit of Fitzmagic to go along with it. They do not have a flashy defense, and it is not particularly good, but they get back a few key players this week, which could hinder the Steelers’ plans as a whole.

Quarterback

I simply do not know what to expect from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Is he a good QB? No. But he has some magical runs where he plays like a top tier QB. This seems to be one of those runs. If Fitzmagic shows up like he has the past two weeks, the Steelers are going to have a tough time stopping him through the air.

The secondary will be getting Joe Haden back, but CB2 is in turmoil with the uncertain nature of who will start there. The correct answer to start is Artie Burns, not Coty Sensabaugh.

As for Fitzpatrick, he has shown tremendous accuracy in the past two weeks, but has faltered under pressure. It will be up to the Steelers’ DL and OLBs to get pressure so Fitzpatrick can’t drive the ball at will.

Running Back

I wish I could describe how bad this backfield is. It is one of the worst in the NFL. Peyton Barber is an average RB who will get around 3 YPC all game, but has serious vision issues and offers very little out of the backfield in the receiving game. He, by Koetter’s estimates, is the best RB on the team.

Jacquizz Rodgers is a back who has some power in him and can grind out yards in the late game, but yet again, he is painfully average.

Solid run defense, which the Steelers lack at times, is the way to stop Rodgers, otherwise he can put up yardage.

As for Ronald Jones, I believe he is the Bucs’ best back, but he has shown nothing in his short time in Tampa Bay. Jones looked great at USC, and maybe it is just the issue of finding the correct ways to use him in this high powered offense, but if he gets going, watch out.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

This receiving core is a top five receiving core in the NFL. Led by top 10 receiver Mike Evans, Fitzpatrick has an array of options to throw to.

Evans himself can stretch the field and win on jump balls easily. He has one of the best releases off the line in the game, and over the past year has really improved as a route runner. Evans has polished his game and looks to be one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL. Whoever is covering him will have their hands full. Regardless of how well Evans is playing, he is always a factor due to his height and speed combination.

As for who is opposite of Evans, that would be DeSean Jackson. Jackson appears to be back after new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has found out how to use him — get him deep. Jackson’s speed is always an issue in the screen game and on slants, but even more so on the streak. He may be getting older, but his down year last year was due to Dirk Koetter’s inability to scheme him correctly. This game, Jackson is going to be a force and a hard stop for the Steelers’ defense.

However, if that was not enough, one of the most promising young receivers in the game, Chris Godwin, will be playing as well. Godwin is a do it all WR, but where he really shines is as a chain mover who can gain serious yards after the catch. Godwin is also a premier deep threat, but is first and foremost a Golden Tate-like receiver how he works best out of quick breaking routes.

For the Buccaneers, he is their JuJu Smith-Schuster.

At Tight End, OJ Howard and Cameron Brate combine to make possibly the best TE duo in the NFL. Howard may only be in his second year, but he has finally blossomed into the receiver they hoped he would be. He is a virtual mismatch against anyone he faces. Brate is a chain moving tight end, but where he really comes in handy is the red zone. He has not been much of a factor so far, but he has gotten the snap count, so he could still be a factor.

The Trenches

This offensive line is tough to read. I like some pieces, but others really leave some substance to be desired. Ali Marpet is a pro bowl Guard and is one of the best in the NFL. He is easily the best guard the Steelers have seen all season and his matchup with Cameron Heyward is going to be one of the most enjoyable matchups of the game. Former Raven Ryan Jensen is a very good run blocker. He is not a great pass blocker, but he will reach the second level in run blocking. Donovan Smith is not particularly good, but he is not bad. He is an average LT, but he is facing Bud Dupree, so he is not getting a very tough assignment in pass protection. Demar Dotson has been one of the best pass blockers over the past five years but he faces T.J. Watt who currently is 3rd in the NFL in pressures. Caleb Beneoch will have his hands full, but he is so painfully average, and if Tuitt plays the way he can, Tuitt will have a big game.

The Bucs will be without Vita Vea and Beau Allen, which are two significant injuries along the defensvie line, but Gerald McCoy is still there. He is one of the best DTs in the game and will continue to do so as a dominant 3 technique. Only Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward, and Geno Atkins have a higher pass rush rate than McCoy. Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul will flank him to create a solid trio inside. While both are great run stoppers, their pass rush rate has been down to start the season, so it will be something to watch with Matt Feiler likely starting at RT.

Linebackers

With Kendall Beckwith on the sidelines for now, Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander how some uncertainly around them as Adarius Taylor and Jack Cichy split time. David and Alexander are some of the best linebackers at their positions, although they are not the greatest duo in terms of coverage, which could mean more opportunities for JuJu Smith-Schuster. Cichy is a talented youngster who will fly all over the field, but he is not polished enough yet to truly be a force. Taylor is an average player, but has improved as his career has gone on, but Beckwith was their option and they are taking steps down from him with these two.

Secondary

A battered and bruised secondary could get back Brent Grimes and Chris Conte, but they are both questionable. Grimes is not fast enough to keep up with Antonio Brown, nor is he physical enough to beat James Washington at the line. If they trot out Carlton Davis, the physicality they would gain is a key factor in stopping the Steelers’ aerial attack. Davis is promising and has looked good so far. Ryan Smith has filled in admirably, but was picked apart by Nelson Agholor as the game went on last week. With that said, it leaves JuJu-Smith Schuster with another great matchup once again. MJ Stewart is a promising slot CB who is fast and tenacious, but is he quick enough to keep up with Antonio Brown? For a rookie, that is a tall task.

As for safety, Justin Evans continues to grow and show improvement as he plays more. He is developing into a truly nice cover safety over top for the Bucs. His backup Jordan Whitehead has shown his versatility in the slot and deep on numerous occasions this season, and should get some playing time if they want to maneuver Evans around. Isaiah Johnson seems likely to get the start even if Conte is active, but Johnson and Conte both have to be more disciplined in their instinctual reads on play action. That could be a key aspect in the gameplan of Randy Fichtner.

Player to Watch: OJ Howard

Really bad matchup for the Steelers this week to be facing such a lethal receiving tight end in OJ Howard yet again this week. Terrell Edmunds will have to be on his best game as the Steelers will likely employ man coverage as Fitzpatrick is the least mobile QB the Steelers have faced this season. Will it work? We will see what the rookie can do.

Matchup to watch: DeSean Jackson vs. Artie Burns / Coty Sensabaugh

The second corner spot is so hazy for the Steelers. However, if they want to stop these quick receivers, it is always best to play with Artie Burns. No matter how much you hate Burns, you can never deny that he is a good man coverage corner. That is what he is. You cannot play him in a largely zone scheme. Give him safety help, yes, but give him man assignments. Jackson will be the key cog in the deep play possibility of the Buccaneers offense, so it will be key for Burns or Sensabaugh to slow him down. My confidence increases greatly if Artie Burns is out there.

Prediction

The Steelers have looked bad the first two weeks. There is no denying it, but they did not go 13-3 last season for nothing. This team still has a ton of talent and at some time, especially with their backs against the wall, they have to wake up. If there is anything we know about Mike Tomlin led teams it is that when they are up against a wall, they come out with a vengeance. Last season they traveled to Kansas City and got a huge win to really propel the season forward after the loss to the Bears. I know the Bucs have played dang well these first two weeks, but I think the Steelers finally wake up and pull this one out.

Prediction: Steelers win 34-28