Brace for the Rebound: Buccaneers @ Steelers Preview

It’s officially week four of the 2014 NFL regular season. Going into week four, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 0-3. The only other teams currently 0-3 are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders. I don’t have to tell you that that’s not good company to have when it comes to NFL rankings. However, at the end of week four there is a possibility that the Buccaneers will be 1-3. Based on current records, 16 of the 32 NFL teams could walk out of week four at 1-3. That’s better company to keep, and it could include our NFC South brethren, the New Orleans Saints. We’d still be without a divisional win, but it could be a start.

The Buccaneers have not started the season off well, but there’s plenty more football to be played. This continues on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh is coming off of an impressive 37-19 victory on the road against the Carolina Panthers. To be fair, they’re not the exact same Panthers that defeated us to open the season. Carolina entered week one with Cam Newton as the only player on their injury report. Carolina entered week three with Cam Newton, but also had 14 players on their injury report.

Most of these players were listed as probable and played against Pittsburgh, but being significantly banged up clearly affected the Panthers. The offense put up just one point less than they did against the Bucs in week one. The defense was another story. They were without star defensive end and already convicted wife-beater Greg Hardy, which no doubt led to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both running for over 100 yards against them. Combine that with Ben Roethlisberger’s turnover-free performance that included two touchdown passes to Antonio Brown, possibly a Spartan, and the outcome is not surprising.

The outcomes of week three seem to spell disaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but going on the road against the equally banged up Steelers is not a lost cause. The team will have to look better than it has all season to turn things around. The potential returns of Doug Martin, Gerald McCoy, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are promising. McCoy has been vocal about how pathetic week three was and the need for the team to bounce back. Perhaps more than anyone, he’ll be leading this team with a fire and passion needed to be successful in Pittsburgh.

On the offensive side, the key to victory will lie in preventing turnovers and having an effective rushing attack. On the ground, Doug Martin’s possible return from injury could reignite some much-needed consistency. If Bobby Rainey plays, performing like he did in week two rather than week three would make a world of difference. The bonus for the offense is that the Steelers defense will be without cornerback Ike Taylor, linebacker Ryan Shazier, and linebacker Jarvis Jones. James Harrison coming out of retirement to help the Steelers at linebacker may be noticeable in later weeks, but there isn’t enough time for him to get in shape, in rhythm, and make a significant impact on Sunday.

Turnovers, including two uncharacteristic fumbles by Bobby Rainey last week, crippled multiple opportunities for the offense to gain momentum this season. With McCown injured, Mike Glennon does not need to have the game of his life. His comparative lack of experience may make him more cautious, and an interception-free performance can go a long way this week. Vincent Jackson’s lingering injury might hinder him, but Glennon certainly gained a comfort level with him last year that will carry over.

On defense, the key to victory is pretty much identical. Containing Pittsburgh’s rushing attack and creating turnovers will be most important. Both of these options largely place a need for the defensive line to step up to the plate. Defensive pressure and effective blocking will be necessary, but the secondary absolutely has to show up. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, it has to be capitalized on. The secondary is easily the healthiest unit on the team, but it hasn’t shown. They’ll have to do everything in their power to get interceptions.

It may be tough to see amidst last week’s tragedy, but a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers is far from impossible. It would take the absolute best from everyone on the team. Below is my prediction, and it works under the premise that pretty much everything I’ve said needs to happen… happens. If any of them do not happen, a loss will be more likely. If multiple factors don’t work out, the loss could look worse. I’m predicting a win, but I’m bracing for a loss. The Steelers are tough, and they’re hungry to follow up a road win with the same homefield success. Are the Bucs hungrier? Gerald McCoy makes it sound like they are, and only Sunday will tell.

Prediction: 20-17, Bucs win.