The Pittsburgh Steelers will face off in a week three battle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The game will feature two teams that have surprised with their early play in starting the season out 2-0.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay’s promising young quarterback, will have a tough task facing a Steelers defense that has only allowed one touchdown in two weeks.
By contrast, Pittsburgh’s offense has only produced on touchdown itself, including last week when they forced seven turnovers against the Tennessee Titans.
Leading the Steelers offense will be Charlie Batch, who looked like he was going to be cut prior to the start of the season.
Though not as athletic as Dennis Dixon, Batch has displayed poise in the pocket and should allow the Steelers to open up their offense more so than they did in the first two weeks.
It is also expected that left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton will return to the starting line up this week.
This will be important as the Steelers will once again be playing in over 90 degrees weather and will rotate their linemen as needed.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line had trouble staying on the field last week and will be playing in similar hot weather conditions this week in Tampa.
Only rookie center Maurkice Pouncey lined up for every snap with Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott both suffering from dehydration.
Shuffling offensive linemen throughout a game is unheard of and this cannot repeat itself this week.
The Steelers line is already thin with injuries to guard Trai Essex and Starks coming back from injury. Chris Kemoeatu also suffered a minor injury in practice this week, but is expected to start.
With the linemen moving into and out of the lineup last week, the Steelers had trouble getting into a rhythm and played very conservatively.
Batch is not a mobile quarterback and will need all of the pass protection that he can get and the Steelers will not be able to maximize this unless the starters can stay on the field.
The Steelers offense has been ineffective on third downs so far this season.
Through the first two games, Pittsburgh’s offense has only converted six of 29 third down attempts.
Ranking last in the league in this category, Pittsburgh will have to do better than 20 percent on third downs. They are making it more difficult for their defense by not sustaining drives and begin to lose the game of field position.
With Batch being very familiar with the offense, the Steelers should have an opportunity to throw the ball more.
It has been clear the last two weeks that Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians developed an offense to protect Dennis Dixon from having to throw the ball.
Batch is an accurate quarterback, though does not have the arm strength to go downfield is still an effective passer.
This will enable the Steelers to mix up their offense more and will open up the playbook for third downs.
In week one, Hines Ward had over 100 yards receiving. Last week, he only had one reception.
A simple solution to some of the Steelers offensive woes is to get the ball to Ward.
Ward is a chain mover who can spark the offense when they are struggling.
Even as the veteran of the group, Ward is the go-to receiver and things seem to happen when the Steelers look in his direction.
If Pittsburgh can shift Tampa Bay’s defensive focus to Ward it may free up the deep threat in Wallace.
Ward can also be a key if the Steelers get into the red zone. Though he does not have the height for a jump ball, Ward is still one of the more dangerous red zone receiving threats in the league.
Last week, the Steelers forced Vince Young into numerous mistakes forcing Jeff Fisher to pull him for Kerry Collins.
They will look for similar results against second year quarterback Josh Freeman.
Freeman is a big quarterback who will be tough for the Steelers to bring down, but with the strength of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as well as the athleticism of Lawrence Timmons, Freeman will have a lot to worry about.
The complicated Steelers defensive scheme could force the inexperienced quarterback into mistakes to help put the offense in better position.
Pittsburgh should have plenty of chances to pressure Freeman as they will likely focus on shutting down the run so Freeman has to beat them through the air.
After winning their first two games, the Buccaneers are a confident team coming into home game against the Steelers, a team they will not overlook.
With the Steelers offense struggling, Tampa Bay can put pressure on them early by capitalizing on a big play.
Freeman has a strong arm to connect on a deep pass meaning that the Steelers will have to stay disciplined in the secondary.
So far Pittsburgh has been successful in this area.
Troy Polamalu has been key in this area as he has the speed and instinct to defend the deep ball and Ryan Clark has maintained his position very well.
Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden have both been cautious of getting beat long and have kept most of the throws short.
As long as Pittsburgh’s defense maintains its level of performance, do not expect to see any big plays.
For the second straight week, showcasing Timmons on defense will be key because he once again had a great showing and is playing at an elite level.
Timmons has been able to apply pressure to the quarterback, be stout in the run game, and force turnovers.
Dick LeBeau is able to use Timmons as a weapon all over the field, giving the Steelers a dual threat with him and Polamalu.
Timmons should have even more room on Sunday to roam around with Hampton back in the lineup.
Charlie Batch is finally getting a chance to start again and he will surely take advantage of this opportunity.
Batch will look to make the most of this chance and will almost certainly have more passes called than what Dixon has.
This will allow the Steelers to mix up their play calling so they are not predictable on the early downs, running the ball.
Pittsburgh will depend on Batch to lead the offense to more than just field goals this week. They will not be able to survive off of not scoring touchdowns for two more weeks as they did the first two.
However, if the line struggles, Batch will be a sitting duck in the backfield and could be a detriment to the Steelers offense.
Considering this, Pittsburgh will need to establish their offense early and provide Batch with adequate protection so he can get the ball out to his receivers.
James Harrison earned the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his stellar play last week and he will look to carry over his performance to the game against Tampa Bay.
Harrison is once again playing at the same level as he did when he was Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
So far this season, Harrison has three sacks and two forced fumbles and has been laying out punishing hits against the opposition.
After being fined $5,000 for a hit on Vince Young last week, Harrison may look to take out his anger on the Buccaneers.
- The Steelers have are 7-1 all time against Tampa Bay.
- Sunday will be the first time that Mike Tomlin will coach against the Buccaneers.
- Pittsburgh won the last meeting between the teams, 20-3 on December 3, 2006 at Heinz Field.
- The Steelers have won 21 of 25 games against NFC opponents.
- With one more touchdown, Hines Ward will move into a second place tie with Jerome Bettis on the team’s all-time touchdowns scored. Ward currently has 79 touchdowns.
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