- The Steelers were hurt by the Chiefs’ spread formations last week. Can they get it together against the Buccaneers, or will Tampa Bay’s duo-TE packages get the best of Pittsburgh?
Can Pittsburgh get its first win of the season, or will the FitzMagic continue in Tampa Bay on Monday night? Three things to know before the Steelers visit the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
1. The biopsy from the Chiefs game in Week 2 showed that Pittsburgh’s defense was killed by Kansas City’s spread formations. Andy Reid emptied the Chiefs’ backfield, giving Mahomes five eligible receivers across the field; often four of those receivers ran vertical routes, which was problematic to a Steelers D that plays only three men deep in zone. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played in spread-empty formations much of his career (coaches believe it forces him to play more on-schedule), and Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, who is fond of spread-empty, has two sharp weapons to feature down the seams in tight ends O.J. Howard and especially Cameron Brate. That’s where Travis Kelce gouged the Steelers.
2. Spread-empty formations could also be a staple for Pittsburgh’s offense on Monday night. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has become very comfortable in these and, as the Saints in Week 1 found out again and again, it’s a way to isolate Tampa Bay’s young zone corners. The one caveat is that Pittsburgh’s spread formations have been potent in large part because they feature Le’Veon Bell in the weak side slot, next to Antonio Brown. But Bell, of course, isn’t with the team right now. His replacement, James Conner, has run the ball well, but he doesn’t pose nearly the same threat from the slot.
3. We were too distracted by Patrick Mahomes’s greatness and Antonio Brown’s childishness to notice, but Roethlisberger turned in an outstanding performance last Sunday. He was vintage Big Ben, consistently extending plays late into the down, and we could see more of that Monday night. The Buccaneers have a better pass rush than the nonexistent one they had last year, but these first two weeks, it’s still been below average.
Bold prediction: If the Steelers score first, they’ll win. The Buccaneers’ big plays have come on early down throws, which are less potent when playing from behind.