Here we are in week 3 and the Steelers are 2-0 without Ben Roethlisberger, without Byron Leftwich. They also were without starting nose tackle Casey Hampton and starting left tackle Max Starks last week in Nashville. Can you say defense? It should not be surprising that Dick LeBeau has this unit firing on all cylinders already. The linebacker play has been out of this world and the secondary looks galvanized by the return of Troy Polamalu. All that said, the Steelers must now travel to a hot and humid Tampa to face an undefeated Bucs team. Per my usual, below are my 7 keys to the game that I believe the Steelers need to focus on to beat the Buccaneers and a game prediction at the end.
Attack The Grimm Kid - Buccaneers rookie Cody Grimm will replace Tanard Jackson at the starting free safety this weekend as Jackson has been suspended for the season. The Buccaneers like to play the the Tampa Two defense in which the safeties are required to cover quite a bit of the field. Great play action, pump fakes and looking off the safety could go a long way to getting receiver Mike Wallace open over the top of the safety. The question is can Charlie Batch get it to him. Look for the Steelers to try to exploit the side that Grimm is responsible for and make him earn his keep in his first start. If the last name sounds familiar it is because it is indeed the son of former Steelers offensive line coach and recent Hall of Famer, Russ Grimm.
Flatten The Tires On The Caddy - The more the Bucs have to pass, the better chance the Steelers defense has to force Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman into a mistake. The Steelers have done a great job against the likes of Michael Turner and Chris Johnson in the first two games and need to make sure Cadillac Williams is held in check as well. Keeping the Bucs in third and longs all day will make them predictable and it starts with stopping the run on first down.
Convert 3rd Downs - The Steelers are a measly 6 of 29 in converting 3rd downs in the first two games. Sooner or later this percentage will cost you a game if you keep it up. In the defense of quarterback Charlie Batch last week, several receivers had some balls they could of or should of caught last week against the Titans. If the Steelers convert less than 35% of 3rd downs on Sunday, it could be deadly. The defense needs to be off the field as much as possible because of the heat and humidity and the Steelers must sustain drives longer than just 3 and out.
McCoy Versus Pouncey - The Buccaneers drafted Gerald McCoy with the 3rd overall pick of the 2010 draft. McCoy is not tearing up the stat sheet, but is making opposing offensive lines use multiple people on him. If rookie center Maurkice Pouncey can manage McCoy mostly on his own when called upon, it will allow guard Chris Kemoeatu to help more on the left side or pick up any inside blitzer. This should be a great matchup to watch of two players that should be around the league for a long time. The Bucs really want to attack Pouncey so that he can not help right guard Doug Legursky, who will make his first start at right guard.
No Williams Skinny Post - The young Bucs receiver Mike Williams out of Syracuse is already making an impact in his first two games and is becoming the go to guy for quarterback Josh Freeman. He has been deadly on skinny post routes and deep slants. Bryant McFadden might get most of his work against Williams and needs to make Williams run flawless routes and earn every catch. The Steelers have been great about not allowing many yards after the catch and this must continue as Williams has great vision and speed to make things happen after he catches the ball.
Special Teams As A Weapon - What a difference a year makes. The Steelers special teams unit has played a big part in both wins thus far this year. Antonio Brown looks likely to start again and return kicks and Jason Worilds looks to return after a one game absence to help out fellow rookie Stevenson Sylvester and veterans Keyaron Fox, Anthony Madison and Arnaz Battle on kick coverages. The Steelers first two big plays last week against the Titans took the crowd right out of the game and set the tone for the day.
Miller Time - Heath Miller could be in for his biggest game of the year as the Steelers will look to exploit the middle of the field with the tight end. If the line can give Charlie Batch the time, there is no doubt that Batch knows where he will be. An 8 catch day for 100 yards would not be surprising.
Steelers Buccaneers Game Prediction - I have heard the trap game reference all week concerning this game and how Steeler Nation has a bad feeling about this game. No one can give good reasons though on how the Steelers can lose this game. The Steelers are the better team even with 4th string quarterback Charlie Batch starting. Is it possible the Steelers lose this game? Absolutely, as every week in the NFL is a trap game. They lose if they self inflict damage by means of turnovers or special teams gaffs. You can not give any NFL team a chance at a short field or an easy pick 6 or fumble return. If the Steelers do not turn the ball over, they should win and it should not be close. That said, two weeks on the road in extreme heat and humidity can take it\'s toll on a team. I would not be surprised to see the Steelers be a bit more sluggish this week, but they still should win. This is the one game that all of Steeler Nation had circled on the schedule as a win prior to the start of the season. Just because Tampa has two wins against bad teams does not change this.
Final Score: Steelers 20 Buccaneers 17