We fired off some questions regarding the state of Pittsburgh’s team for Behind the Curtain’s Jeff Hartman to see if he can shed some light on what’s going on with the Steelers heading into Week 6.
What’s there to say about Kenny Pickett’s first career start? Did the play of Trubisky really accelerate things after being pulled the week prior?
If you are comparing the two quarterbacks, Pickett has done a great job thus far after just six quarters. However, the offense as a whole hasn’t made the step forward many were hoping for. Pickett hasn’t gotten a ton of help from his pass catchers, and has made some rookie mistakes at times. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been promising. The hope for Pickett is he continues to improve every week he gets as the team’s starting quarterback. The next step is improving on 3rd downs and in the red-zone.
Tampa Bay seems to often make rookie quarterbacks look like they are All-Pros. But what are other bright spots of the Steelers offense that may surprisingly give the Buccaneers defense headaches?
The bright spot, if you want to call any part of their offense a bright spot, is the talent they have at their skill positions. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have had their issues with holding onto the football, but when they are on they are dynamic. Pat Freiermuth, who is in the concussion protocol, is turning into a very reliable target at tight end, and Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are a dynamic duo in the backfield. Outside of those players, the player who should be on Tampa Bay’s minds is George Pickens. The rookie wide receiver is coming off games of 102 yards vs. the Jets and 83 vs. the Bills. He and Pickett have a great connection already, and he seems to only get better with more targets coming his way
On the other side of the ball, the Pittsburgh defense is near the bottom of the league in yards given up through the air. There seems to have been several busted coverages and bad positioning against the Bills especially on that 90-plus-yard touchdown by Buffalo. How will the Steelers rectify that so Tom Brady and the Bucs offense doesn’t attack the backend of the Steelers defense the same way?
The game against Buffalo was a perfect storm of playing against one of the league’s best, and the Steelers dealing with injuries in the back end. Terrell Edmunds was out with a concussion, starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was out with a hamstring injury, the other starting cornerback Cam Sutton was dealing with a hamstring injury which wouldn’t let him finish the game, and cornerback Levi Wallace left the game with a concussion. So, at one point, the only experienced member of the secondary was Minkah Fitzpatrick and second year safety Tre Norwood. Not a good mix when going against an aerial attack like the Buffalo Bills.
The Steelers are hopeful to have Edmunds back, and hopefully Witherspoon and Wallace too. If Sutton could return, it would be a good sign for the secondary. Pittsburgh needs all hands on deck with their lack of pass rush without T.J. Watt. With all that being said, if the Buccaneers were to pick apart the Steelers, I don’t think it would be with the deep ball, but with the intermediate routes over the middle. It’s Tom Brady’s bread-and-butter and has been an issue with the Steelers this entire season.
Name a player that could be a nice surprise for the Steelers this Sunday against the Bucs?
I already mentioned Pickens, so I’ll go with running back Jaylen Warren. Warren is an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State, and he reminds me a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew in both style and stature. Najee Harris looks banged up, and has been ineffective throughout the season. The Steelers are turning over to Warren more and more this year, and he could have an impact in the game in a lot of ways. He has good hands out of the backfield, runs hard with aggression and has shown some nasty blitz pickup skills. He has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and hopefully that trend continues.
Tampa Bay is currently favored by eight points. How do you see this game playing out?
When you look back at the times in the Mike Tomlin era the Steelers have been beaten by 30 points, they usually rebound the following week. I’m not saying to take the Steelers on the moneyline, although I like the odds in that regard, but I am saying I think the Steelers keep it close, especially at home, to stay within the 8-point spread. The Steelers are still a proud franchise, and I’d be stunned if the team laid an egg two weeks in a row.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the over/under is currently set to 45 for this matchup.