Bucs expect the best from Pittsburgh on Monday night

by Gary Shelton on September 21, 2018 · 4 comments

in general

Koetter's offense is clicking so far./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 3 a.m.

By their nature, they are among the finest franchises in the NFL. Six Super Bowl championships. Twenty-four Hall of Famers. Thirty playoff appearances since 1972.

A lot of others teams fall. A lot of other teams go through head coaches. But Pittsburgh is the hallmark of consistency.You can count on them being among the hardest teams in the NFL to play.

Um, but not this year.

This year, the Steelers have unraveled. They tied the Cleveland Browns in the first week. They were clobbered by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second week. Their star running back (Le'Veon Bell) is holding

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out. Their star wide receiver (Antonio Brown) received some sort of vague punishment for missing a meeting this week Their quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) has a starring role in a new book by Stormy Daniels.

So, uh, how is your month going?

Oh, the Steelers still have their stars, and they still have the second-best offense in the league (behind the Tampa Bay Bucs). But in a bottom-line sport, the Steelers are at the bottom of the AFC North.

And welcome to town, Pittsburgh.

Oh, the Bucs are so impressed with the Steelers that they don't notices Pittsburgh's 0-1-1 record. Evidently, some others don't either. In their weekly Power Rankings, ESPN has the Bucs (2-0) as the 11th-best team in the league. The Steelers (0-1-1) are 10th. ProFootball Focus has the Bucs 16th...and the Steelers 9th.

"They’re not off to a slow start offensively if you look at their numbers," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "Even defensively — we’ll start on that side — they're  second in the league in sacks with eight. They led the league last year with 56 or 57. They’re allowing 30 percent third down conversions which is out of sight. If that held up, that would lead the league or be right in the top two. They play — they’re a true 3-4 defense. This isn’t one of those teams that just says they’re 3-4 — they really are a 3-4 team.

"Those outside backers are very versatile players — (T.J.) Watt and (Bud) Dupree. They’re rushers, they’re droppers, they’re zone exchangers, they’re ends in sub. (The Steelersa0 are very stout inside (with) their defensive ends that become defensive tackles in sub. Then you move over to the other side of the ball — they’re lighting it up. Ben Roethlisberger, 13th year, going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. We talk about in our division with Drew Brees going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, but Ben will be a Hall of Fame quarterback. And then those two receivers — (Antonio) Brown as good as there is in the league and (JuJu) Smith-Schuster, a young guy, extremely explosive. They target those two guys. The tight end’s a good player. This is a good football team They’re all good, but these guys are really good.”

So why are they winless? Well, their defense hasn't played well in the key moments, They gave up six touchdown passes to Patrick Mahomes in his third NFL start.

To compete Sunday, the Bucs will need explosive plays.

"We have 22 explosive plays," Koetter said. "By the way, Pittsburgh has 21. That shows they’re a pretty explosive team. I don’t really know what down they’ve been coming on, so obviously that one was the first play of the game. No, not by design, but somewhat by situation. We had an explosive play — we were in a two-minute drive before the half — so that happened to be first down but we were also in a two-minute offense situation. I don’t go back and look at them like that."

The Bucs did improve defensively in its second game.

“I think the biggest progress that we made as a defensive football team was that we were a lot better in our pass rush and putting the pressure on the quarterback," said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "We got to him three times and we hit him about a dozen times. That was probably the biggest thing. It was a lot of individual effort, but it was also a group of guys that were working together in terms of knowing what each other was doing and being assist-men for each other.”

Tampa Bay could get cornerback Brent Grimes and defensive tackle Vita Vea back this week.

“It’s going to be great to have (Grimes) back today first — out there on the practice field — and getting him reacclimated to playing football. He’s a very good defensive back that is going to make us a better defense, so we love having Brent out there. He knows and understands the game and he’s going to help the other guys as well because he’s a guy that really studies and understands splits and how people are trying to attack us. Defending (Ben) Roethlisberger and the offensive attack that they have — it’s going to be a big challenge.

"Vita’s a big man. He’s going to demand four hands on him. If they try to put two hands on him, he’s going to be a guy that is going to be able to get penetration into the offensive backfield. We’re just waiting for the word where he can get out and help us.”

Jason Pierre-Paul said the Bucs have their hands full with Roethlisberger.

“Big Ben – obviously he’s going to be a future Hal of Famer," Pierre-Paul said. "He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. He’s a great quarterback — hard to bring him down. You’ve got to get two hands on him — it (isn’t) just an arm tackle.”

“They’re desperate for a win, so they’re going to come in here and any team starting off like that – I think they tied one and lost one. It’s only the first couple of games — well this is game three — it’s the first couple of games of the season. You know how it is. From the second half you could get rolling or you could just (quit). Play one game at a time. They’re desperate for a win and we know they’re desperate for a win. You know that old Pittsburgh Steelers defense and they run the ball. They’re going to try to come in here and run the ball, but I think we’re really doing a pretty great job of containing or setting the edge on both sides of the run. Last week they got out on me, but that was my fault. I’ll correct it this week though.”

Expect the Pittsburgh defense to go after Ryan Fitzpatrick in the game.

“They were pretty aggressive against Kansas City last week," Koetter said. "They do have a lot of different packages that they do not only out of their base 3-4 [defense], out of their nickel, out of their dime. They move guys around a lot. Kansas City did a good job of spreading them out. Sometimes the extra blitzer couldn’t get there in time. (Patrick) Mahomes did a good job of getting the ball out of his hand. That’s part of the give-and-take week to week in the NFL. Whatever a team does well, the other team’s going to work on it — whatever team, us included, does poorly you’re going to try to shore it up because teams are going to test you. Whatever you were good or bad at, you’re going to get tested to see if you’ve fixed it the next week. Doesn’t matter if it’s us or anybody else.”








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