Archive

Analysis: Steelers face another threat with Buccaneers’ high-powered offense | TribLIVE.com
Breakfast With Benz

Analysis: Steelers face another threat with Buccaneers’ high-powered offense

Tim Benz
FitzMagicDisputeFootball47067jpgfdc08
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick rolls out during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are facing a particularly difficult challenge Monday night in Tampa Bay. That’s because the Buccaneers are the NFC version of the Chiefs.

And the Chiefs just skewered the Steelers in Pittsburgh, putting 42 points on the board.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL with 10 touchdown passes. Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick is second with eight.

Kansas City features Tyreek Hill at wide receiver. He’s tops in the AFC in receiving yards with 259. DeSean Jackson of the Bucs leads the NFC with 275. Teammate Mike Evans is sixth with 230.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce just popped off for 109 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers defense. O.J. Howard of the Buccaneers already has three catches over 20 yards. Only one other NFC tight end — Seattle’s Will Dansby — matches that.

The only difference is that the Chiefs actually have a running game. Andy Reid’s crew is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. That’s 10th best in football. Their back, Kareem Hunt, led the NFL in rushing last season.

Meanwhile, Dirk Koetter’s Bucs have the worst ground game in the league through the first two weeks, averaging a meager 2.7 yards per carry. Koetter’s offensive players barely run the ball. And he hardly seems to care.

Why should he? When Fitzpatrick has completed 78 percent of his passes to the tune of at least 400 yards in each game, the run game hardly seems necessary.

“People desire to be balanced,” Koetter said. “But they desire winning more so than being balanced.”

The Bucs have done that twice in a row to start the season. In fact, if they beat the Steelers on “Monday Night Football,” they can boast wins against the defending AFC North, NFC East (Philadelphia), and NFC South (New Orleans) champions to start the 2018 season. That would be three straight wins with a backup quarterback, against three clubs who combined to total 37 regular-season victories last year.

Impressive. Even more impressive when you consider it has all been done without even the whiff of a run-game threat.

“Our explosive pass game has been red hot,” Koetter said. “You are going to take it any way you can get it. The name of the game is points. No matter how you get them, you just want to get them.”

The phrase “selling out to stop the run” is a typical football cliche. You don’t hear it as much applied to the passing game. That’s especially the case because if you do so, you leave yourself susceptible to short, efficient chunks of yardage from the opposing running back even if — as is the case with Tampa’s Peyton Barber — they don’t have much of a track record of success.

“You’ve got to prepare for both,” Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton said. “They might have tendencies. But they’ll go back to the run eventually.”

It’s not like the Bucs don’t try to run. They’ve kept it on the ground 57 times. That’s eighth the NFL. Consistency just hasn’t been there in Tampa Bay. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin isn’t leaning too much on the splits from the first two weeks.

“As they step into more stadiums and the volume of work gets bigger, I think you’ll be able to assess some of that,” Tomlin said. “I just think at this point you should appreciate what they’ve done through two games and be prepared to minimize that.”

Indeed. Based on what we saw from Kansas City last week, minimizing the score to at least the mid-to-low 30s may feel like a moral victory.

Although with the Steelers at 0-1-1, a moral victory won’t be good enough. So that defense needs to get better and get better fast.

Tomlin said: “We won’t hate the extra day.” He meant for practice time in advance of facing Fitzpatrick and the Bucs.

Extra day? They may need an extra week. Maybe an additional training camp. Or maybe even ask the officials if it’d be OK to play with 12 or 13 players.

All that could be necessary before the Steelers have visions of minimizing the Bucs on offense.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.