The Buccaneers have lost eight of nine games against the Steelers, with their only victory coming in 1998, when Pittsburgh still played at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Buccaneers are off to an 0-3 start and will be decided underdogs after getting clobbered 56-14 last Thursday night at Atlanta. The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off an impressive 37-19 victory at Carolina, which beat Tampa Bay in the first week of the season.
ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas and ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the game.
Brown: Pat, the Buccaneers aren’t making me look too smart. Not hard, I know, but I predicted them to be that team that goes from worst to first in its division. It’s early, but the Buccaneers look like they could have a long season ahead of them. Did new coach Lovie Smith inherit a rebuilding project or are the Buccaneers a better team than their record indicates?
Yasinskas: Scott, you're not the only one who expected more from the Bucs. I predicted a .500 season and thought they might even be able to do a little better than that. I really thought new coach Lovie Smith would turn things around quickly. So much for that. I'd like to say the Bucs are better than their record indicates, but I can't. What happened in Atlanta was the ugliest defeat I've ever seen a team have. The Bucs simply looked like they weren't even in the same league as the Falcons. And I don't see Tampa Bay suddenly having some sort of revival against the Steelers. The Bucs are a bad team and they will be without starting quarterback Josh McCown. I'd like to say it can't get worse than it did in Atlanta, but it might get worse against the Steelers.
I was very impressed with Pittsburgh's win over Carolina. The Steelers looked like a complete football team to me. Do they have any weaknesses that Tampa Bay might be able to exploit?
Brown: The defense has injury issues, as the Steelers will be without three starters this week: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Ike Taylor. The Buccaneers’ size at wide receiver could be a problem for the Steelers, as Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin caught eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against them last Sunday. And I need to see more than one good game against the Panthers to say that the Steelers can consistently stop the run. Carolina abandoned the run early and did not employ the zone-blocking or stretch plays that have given the Steelers problems. A healthy Doug Martin will test the Steelers, and Bobby Rainey looks like he can play when he isn’t fumbling.
Pat, I was a little perplexed when the Buccaneers signed McCown and didn’t give Mike Glennon a chance to battle him for the starting job. Glennon seemed to show promise last season as a rookie, and McCown has been a journeyman. What is your take on the Buccaneers’ quarterback situation, and with Glennon starting against the Steelers, what are his strengths and weaknesses?
Yasinskas: Glennon did some very good things, despite some very difficult circumstances, as a rookie last year. I also was surprised he didn't at least get a chance to compete for the starting job. But Lovie Smith had history with McCown in Chicago, and the coach wanted a veteran to run his offense efficiently. Smith has said that Glennon is the team's quarterback of the future and I think the future could be now. Glennon's main positive point is a very strong arm and the Bucs need to let him use that. Glennon has a huge receiving corps, and the Bucs need to take advantage of their size. Glennon's other strength is his intelligence. He's not going to make a lot of mental mistakes. I think Glennon can be just as -- if not more -- efficient than McCown.
So how much are all those injuries going to hurt the Steelers?
Brown: Cornerback could be an issue for the Steelers, especially if the Buccaneers can get them into their nickel defense. I don’t like the matchup between the Steelers' cornerbacks and the big, physical Buccaneers wide receivers. When the Steelers go to the nickel, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain or B.W. Webb will play right cornerback if William Gay doesn't play there. If Gay, who is starting for Taylor, stays at right cornerback in the nickel package, McCain will likely play in the slot. What should also be worrisome to the Steelers is if they sustain more injuries on defense against the Buccaneers. They are stretched thin at a couple of positions and their top reserve at outside linebacker is James Harrison, who officially retired three weeks ago today.
Pat, I can’t figure out the NFL, so anyone who thinks the Steelers are a lock in this game is nuts. What has to happen for the Buccaneers to pull off an upset at Heinz Field?
Yasinskas: Something pretty close to a miracle. The Bucs are a bad team that likely will be playing with a backup quarterback. I've seen nothing out of the Bucs that leads me to believe they have any chance against the Steelers. But, getting back to your question, I'll give you an answer. It's hypothetical, but the Bucs have to play the perfect game to have any chance at a victory. They need to play the way Lovie Smith has designed this team: a great defense and an efficient offense. We haven't seen the Bucs play that way yet, but maybe they'll shock us.
The thing that jumped out at me Sunday night was Pittsburgh's running game. The Steelers ran the ball exceptionally well against a Carolina front seven that I think is one of the best in the league. Did Pittsburgh just get lucky and take advantage of the lead, or is this the second coming of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier?
Brown: It’s too early to put Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in the class of Harris and Bleier, but they are on their way to giving the Steelers the best running tandem they have had in years -- and certainly the top one since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. Bell does everything and he has emerged as a dynamic runner. I actually thought Blount might be the Steelers’ most talented runner going into the season, and he is more than just a big back. He has excellent feet, which make him anything but a plodder. Blount ripped off a 51-yard run last Sunday against the Panthers, adding to the 81-yard gain Bell had earlier in the game.
The Steelers rushed for 160 of their 264 yards when the Panthers were within 10 points or fewer. They pretty much ran the ball whenever they wanted to against a really good front seven that was dominated by the Steelers’ offensive line. The line and the backs should take a lot of confidence into Sunday.