The Buccaneers, albeit controversially, got back into the win column last week against the Atlanta Falcons and are now 3-2 on the season. While it’s not what everyone would have liked to see following a 2-0 start, there’s still a lot of season left and a lot of improving to be done if the Bucs are going to compete for a championship. The next step in that journey is against a team that the Bucs, historically, haven’t had much success against.
The Bucs are 2-9 all time against the Pittsburgh Steelers, having won 27-24 in Pittsburgh in 2014 thanks to a late touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson. Their other win at home way back in 1998 when the Bucs won 16-3. Other than that, the Steelers have had two separate winning streaks of four games spanning from 1976-1989 then again from 2001-2010. The Steelers also won the most recent match-up, 30-27, in Tampa.
On the flip side, the Steelers haven’t fared too well when facing Tom Brady. Brady has faced the Steelers twelve times and emerged victorious in nine of those occasions. He has a 69% completion percentage with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions against them. Brady also faced Pittsburgh three times in the playoffs (2001, 2004, 2016) and won all three times.
That said, this is a very different Steelers team than the Bucs - or Brady - most recently faced. Ben Roethlisberger is gone and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has taken over for free agent signing Mitchell Trubisky. Last year’s rookie standout Najee Harris has been a bit stagnant, rushing for only 222 yards on 69 carries - 3.2 yards per rush - this season while adding in just 64 receiving yards on fifteen catches. That’s a far cry from his 1,200 rushing yards and 467 receiving yards posted as a rookie.
The Bucs’ rush defense, unfortunately, might be exactly what he needs to get on track. Tampa’s run defense is now 18th in the NFL, having given up 340 yards on the ground over the last two weeks at 5.0 yards per attempt. That’s nearly two yards more per carry from two seasons ago when the Bucs were at the top of the league. Part of that could be attributed to Ndamukong Suh’s departure while some of it could also be attributed to the fact that the offense isn’t jumping out to big, early leads like they have the last two years - allowing teams to continue running the ball deeper into the game than they did since the arrival of Brady.
Either way, it’s going to be a “get right” game for one of the two sides. Either Harris gets back on track and helps keep the Steelers in it or the run defense finally looks like their old selves and removes that part of the game from Pittsburgh’s arsenal.
With Brady attempting 52 passes in each of the last two weeks, the passing game looks to be inching closer to the high octane attack Buccaneers fans have become accustomed to over the last two seasons. When Brady attempts over 50 passes in a game in his career, he has a winning percentage of 65.7% (23-12) while the next closest to him is Warren Moon at 50% (5-5). The Bucs have wanted to keep Brady fresh and healthy, but opening up the pass game more will help the Bucs offense - and take pressure off of the NFL’s 31st ranked rushing attack, averaging just 66 yards per game. Yeah, you can point to their three rushing yards against the Chiefs as the reason for the low number, but they also had 152 rushing yards in week one against the Cowboys. Put those together and it comes out to being more than their per game average.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buccaneers are 8-point road favorites with an over/under of 44. The Bucs are currently on a six game road winning streak while the Steelers haven’t covered the spread in their last four games.
The Buccaneers and Steelers are set to kick off inside Acrisure Stadium at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX. Joe Davis and Daryl Johnston will be on the call for FOX, however - if the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies matchup in the NLDS reaches a game five, Davis will be replaced by Adam Amin.