This Sunday the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Tampa to face the 2-0 Buccaneers. Few would have guessed that either of these teams would be under undefeated after two games. But going into week 3 of the NFL season, that’s exactly where both teams stand; tied for the best record in the NFL.
The Steelers have beaten all odds and found a way to win their first two games. Last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans was one that few thought the Steelers had a chance of winning. But the Steelers are winning the old fashioned way; with defense and the running game.
Frankly, I don’t believe that this is a sustainable formula for victory. That’s not an indication that I have an aversion to good defense. Rather, it’s an indication that I have an aversion to predictability. And if there’s one thing the Steelers have become, it’s predictable.
The Steelers have announced that they will be starting Charlie Batch at quarterback. In training camp this summer, nobody believed that Charlie was even going to make the team this year. So having to start him has thrown a wrench in the Steelers’ plans.
The Steelers were already without Ben Roethlisberger due to his 4-game suspension. Then they lost his intended replacement, Byron Leftwich, to an injury during the preseason. Then last week, they lost Dennis Dixon to a knee injury, leaving Charlie Batch as the only healthy quarterback on the roster.
Their tenuous quarterback situation made the Steelers completely predictable. They didn’t have another quarterback on the roster (though both Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward played quarterback in college), so the Steelers couldn’t take a risk of getting Charlie Batch hurt. So instead they handed the ball of to their running backs on almost every play. Like I said, predictable.
The Steelers attempted only 17 pass plays last week against the Titans. Moreover, they completed only 9 of those passes for 21 net yards. That’s not good. But what other choice did the Steelers have? Allowing a quarterback to drop back for a pass increases his odds of taking an injury-causing sack. And the Steelers couldn’t afford that, so they put handcuffs on Charlie Batch. They’ll likely do the same thing this week, even though Byron Leftwich will be dressing for this week’s game.
The Tennessee Titans responded to the Steelers’ predictable offense by stacking 8 or 9 men in the box on almost every play. This made it almost impossible for Rashard Mendenhall to find any room to run. Expect Tampa Bay to use the same strategy until the Steelers prove to them that they are willing to beat them with the pass.
We all know that Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would prefer to pass the ball on every play. If it were up to him, running the ball would be outlawed in the NFL. But Arians understands the limitations of his roster. Byron Leftwich is just returning from an injury, and he’s still not 100% healed, and Charlie Batch attracts injuries the way marijuana attracts Santonio Holmes. So Arians’ options are limited.
Fortunately, the Steelers will be facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers’ 2-0 record is a reflection the teams that they have faced so far (the Carolina Panthers and the Cleveland Browns), and not a reflection of them being a powerhouse team. Nobody expects the Bucs to be 16-0 at the end of the season. In fact, few even expect them to make the playoffs. Most analysts predicted that the Bucs would finish last in the NFC South, and that is still likely to happen.
The Bucs have a young quarterback in Josh Freeman. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau loves facing young quarterbacks. He eats them for breakfast.
Expect LeBeau to serve up healthy doses of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, with a bit of Troy Polamalu thrown in to keep Freeman guessing.
If the Steelers can continue to play tough defense, and mix it up a little bit on offense, they should be able to leave Tampa Bay with a win. The key will be to make sure that they don’t take Tampa Bay too lightly. Last year Cleveland, Oakland, and Kansas City showed the Steelers what can happen when you take a team too lightly.
Hopefully, Steelers will bring their “A” game this week. If they do, I predict a 21-10 Steelers win.
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