The Steelers haven't been playing a ton in their sub-packages up to this point in the season. Perhaps the intention was to keep rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier on the field and have the defense adapt to shorter zones underneath against 11 personnel.
They won't have Shazier when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in Week 4. Sean Spence will get the start opposite Lawrence Timmons, and it'll be interesting to see how the Steelers approach the redwood-sized Buccaneers receivers on longer downs.
Cornerback Ike Taylor is also out for the game, moving Antwon Blake up to the nickel position. He'll play on the outside with newly-appointed starter William Gay moving back inside in the nickel. That puts the 5-foot-8 Blake across from either Vincent Jackson or rookie Mike Evans, Tampa Bay's pair of 6-foot-5 receivers. And don't forget the 6-foot-5 Austin Sefarian-Jenkins from the tight end/move end position.
That's a lot of size and, without Taylor on the field, that's a lot of not-size for the Steelers.
One saving grace for the Steelers is Tampa Bay's current struggle in throwing the ball. They rank last in passing yards per game and an injury will force starter Josh McCown to the bench in Week 4. Mike Glennon comes in, making his first start of the season. Will the comically thin but big-armed Glennon be set free from the leash McCown was on, in terms of getting the ball downfield?
This would probably be the game of the Buccaneers' last four to really attack their opponent with a vertical passing game. That's not exactly the style of Bucs coach Lovie Smith, but strictly on size and arm-strength alone, the Buccaneers may have an advantage.
They get running back Doug Martin back from injury but Bobby Rainey has played well in his absence. The presence of both of them and the absence of two Steelers starters in the front seven (Shazier and Jarvis Jones, who's on IR-Recall) may compel the Buccaneers to try to win at the line of scrimmage and get back to running the ball.
Look for Jackson and Evans to get shots down the field, particularly if the Steelers look to counter spread-formations with an extra defensive back. If not, they're still likely to go after CB Cortez Allen, probably the most targeted cornerback in the NFL through three games. How the Steelers are able to handle the size and athleticism of Jackson (injured but expected to play) and Evans (team's leading receiver with 13 grabs) will be a key factor in the outcome of this game.
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