The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to Pittsburgh, and that hasn't been a common statement in franchise history. The Buccaneers have only played four other regular season games in the Steel City, and of all the cities already boasting teams when Tampa Bay joined the NFL in 1976, only Buffalo has been a less common destination for the 27th franchise. The Bucs are 1-3 all-time in Pittsburgh, having pulled out their first win in the closing seconds of their most recent visit in 2014. (More on the Bucs-Steelers series history below.)
Of course, this time the Buccaneers are bringing Tom Brady with them for the first time, and that could very well make a big difference. Brady has enjoyed a historic level of success against Pittsburgh in his career – albeit all of it while with the New England Patriots – including a 12-3 record and a career 112.2 passer rating in 15 previous meetings, playoffs included. In fact, in terms of all-time Steeler opponents, Brady is the all-time leader in QB wins, passer rating, completion percentage (69.2), passing yards per game (296.7), touchdown passes (34) and touchdown-interception ratio (34.5).
And, of course, while Brady is one of the central storylines in virtually every game he plays, this one has the added draw of his team squaring off against a rookie quarterback. The Steelers drafted former University of Pittsburgh passer Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 draft, making him the first QB off the board, but opened the season with free agent pick-up Mitchell Trubisky under center. After a 1-2 start, Pittsburgh went to Pickett midway through a Week Four loss to the New York Jets, then gave the rookie his first start last Sunday against Buffalo. Pickett completed 34 of 52 passes for 327 yards, with one interception, in his starting debut but the Steelers lost, 38-3. As such Pittsburgh is staring at a 1-4 record and is in danger of finishing a season under .500 for the first time since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. It's worth noting, however, that Tomlin's teams in 2013 and 2019 also started 1-4 before both rallied to finish at 8-8.
This will be the fifth time since he came to Tampa in 2020 that Brady will oppose a rookie starting quarterback, and the first four (against Justin Herbert, Mac Jones, Justin Field and Zach Wilson) all resulted in Buccaneer victories. Dating back to 2014, Brady's teams are 12-0 when facing a rookie starting quarterback. On the other hand, if we go back even further, the first rookie quarterback ever to beat a Brady-led team – and one of only five ever – was Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. That season kicked off a long run of success for the Steelers and Roethlisberger, who finally retired after last season, and the franchise known for its stability on the field and on the sideline will be hoping for a similarly long and successful Kenny Pickett era.
Of course, Brady will actually be doing head-to-head battle with the Steelers' defense, not Pickett, and that is a somewhat less imposing task with edge rusher T.J. Watt sidelined by injury. Watt sustained a pectoral injury during a masterful Week One performance in the Steelers' victory over Cincinnati and has since also had arthroscopic knee surgery. It's hard to overstate the importance of Watt to Pittsburgh's fortunes in recent years, but this simple note frames it nicely: Since 2017 the Steelers are 52-24-2 with him in the lineup and 0-8 without him. Pittsburgh's sacks per game drop from 3.5 with Watt to 1.4 without him and their points allowed per game balloon from 20.4 to 27.5.
While there are obviously some encouraging factors in this Week Six matchup, the Buccaneers are not yet playing at the level they hope to reach this season. The offense struggled early in September in part due to a rash of injuries to the receiver and offensive line positions, and while Brady and the passing attack have awaken the past two weeks the run game remains in neutral. Tampa Bay's defense started off the season on a tear but in the past two weeks has had difficulty getting off the field on third downs, even on low-percentage ones with around 10 yards needed. The Buccaneers seemed to be putting together their first truly complete game of the season against Atlanta for three quarters in Week Five but then only narrowly escaped with a six-point victory. At 3-2, the Bucs are in first place in the NFC South, but that lead is just one game and both the Falcons and Saints have shown signs of life.
Meanwhile the Steelers are obviously off to a slow start and are now in transition on offense, but as noted Tomlin's crews have repeatedly shown the ability to right the ship. Just a season ago the Steelers started out 1-3 but still ended up in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has such established stars as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (three interceptions already in 2022) and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on defense plus an intriguing collection of young talent on offense in the likes of Pickett, wide receivers Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens and running back Najee Harris.
The Buccaneers are 2-0 on the road this season and in fact have won six straight away from home dating back to the middle of last season. However, that road doesn't often go through Pittsburgh and the Buccaneers will be ready for anything in that unfamiliar locale on Sunday.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
Sunday, October 16, 1:00 p.m. ET
Acrisure Stadium (capacity: 68,400)
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: TBA (play-by-play), Dayrl Johnston (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The all-time series between the Buccaneers and Steelers has not been close – that's partially the result of a hamstrung expansion team being born right in the middle of a Pittsburgh dynasty – but the most recent outings have been tight, with each team winning by a single field goal.
Overall, Pittsburgh leads the infrequently-contested head-to-head battle 9-2. Curiously, Tampa Bay's two wins in the series came during not particularly successful seasons overall. After breaking a 14-year postseason drought in 1997, the Buccaneers slipped to 8-8 the next year and missed the playoffs, but they did dominate the Steelers in a December game that was crucial for two teams fighting on the edge of contention. Pittsburgh, also in the playoffs the year before, was 7-6 while the Bucs were 6-7 but both teams were even after Tampa Bay's defense intercepted Kordell Stewart three times and allowed him just nine completions in 21 attempts for 88 yards. Bucs starter Trent Dilfer also completed just nine passes for 111 yards but Mike Alstott scored the game's only touchdown on a three-yard run in a 16-3 final.
The Buccaneers' other win in the series, and their only one in Pittsburgh, occurred in 2014, after Tampa Bay had gotten off to an 0-4 start in Lovie Smith's first season as head coach. The visitors scored less than two minutes into the game, as defensive end Michael Johnson sacked Ben Roethlisberger and forced a fumble on the opening series, setting up Mike Glennon's seven-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans. However, the Steelers took a 24-20 lead well into the final period on three Roethlisberger touchdown passes, two to Antonio Brown. After a 41-yard catch by Louis Murphy got the ball to the Steelers' five with 12 seconds left, Vincent Jackson made diving catch in the end zone on third down to win it, 27-24. That was one of only two wins for the Buccaneers in 2014.
The most recent meeting between the two teams was in 2018, when the Steelers came to Raymond James Stadium to face a 2-0 Buccaneers team that had started the season with rousing wins over the Saints and defending-champion Eagles. This one got the Monday Night Football treatment, and Roethlisberger once again threw three touchdowns as the Steelers opened a 30-10 lead by halftime. The Buccaneers scored the only 17 points of the second half as Ryan Fitzpatrick found both Evans and Chris Godwin for touchdowns, but the Bucs' final drive went three-and-out and the Steelers ran out the last three minutes.
The Steelers won the first four games in the series, beginning with a monumental mismatch in 1976, won 42-0 by Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay's threadbare expansion roster had been thinned even further by injuries and the Steelers – who had won the Super Bowl the previous two seasons and soon would win two more – mercilessly sacked Steve Spurrier and Terry Hanratty five times, allowing only five completions and 105 yards of offense. Pittsburgh was also one of only three teams to beat the Buccaneers in 2002 (along with New Orleans and Philadelphia) as the Buccaneers stormed their way to their first Super Bowl championship. That game fell in Week 15, with starting quarterback Brad Johnson out with a back injury, and it opened with a first-quarter pick-six thrown by Shaun King in a 17-7 final.
· Mike Tomlin, who has been the Steelers' head coach since 2007, began his NFL coaching career with the Buccaneers in 2001. He first joined Tony Dungy's staff as the defensive backs coach, then retained that job under Jon Gruden from 2002-05. He left in 2006 to become Minnesota's defensive coordinator but spent just one season in that position before being hired by the Steelers.
· Bruce Arians, the Buccaneers senior advisor to the general manager, spent eight seasons on the Steelers' coaching staff, tutoring the wide receivers from 2004-06 before serving as the offensive coordinator from 2007-11. Arians was on the staff for Pittsburgh's Super Bowl-winning teams in the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
· During Arians tenure as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, current Buccaneers Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin worked with him as an offensive line coach and quality control coordinator.
· Rob McCartney, the Buccaneers' Director of Player Personnel, is the son of Steelers Director of Facilities Bob McCartney. The elder McCartney has worked for the Steelers for 50 years, and Rob worked during training camps with the team as he was growing up.
· Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich played three seasons with the Steelers as a quarterback over two separate stints. He first joined the Steelers in 2008 and, after one season playing for the Buccaneers in 2009, returned to Pittsburgh for his final three seasons in the NFL as a player. Leftwich played eight games for the Steelers, making one start and completing 51 of 96 passes for 617 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
· After playing linebacker and defensive end at the University of Tennessee, Buccaneers Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 1992.
· Larry Foote, Tampa Bay's pass game coordinator/inside linebackers coach Larry Foote played 13 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker, 11 of them with the Steelers. Originally a fourth-round draft pick in 2002, Foote spent his first six seasons in Pittsburgh, went to Detroit for the 2009 campaign and then returned to the Steelers for four more years. After one season playing for the Cardinals in 2014, Foote transitioned directly into coaching under Arians.
· Buccaneers Senior Offensive Assistant Tom Moore, whose coaching career spans more than 50 years, got his first NFL position with the Steelers in 1977, coming on as a wide receivers coach under Chuck Noll. After six seasons in that position, Moore was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1983 and remained in that spot for seven more campaigns. Moore worked for the Steelers teams that won the Super Bowl after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
· Offensive lineman Brandon Walton came to the Buccaneers as a waiver claim in August of 2021 after he was waived by the Steelers during training camp. Walton had spent the entire previous season on Pittsburgh's practice squad.
· Tackle Fred Johnson originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers in 2019. He made Pittsburgh's roster as a rookie but was later waived in October and claimed by the Bengals.
· Steelers running back Jeremy McNichols (currently on injured reserve), originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2017. In addition, Steelers practice squad linebacker Chapelle Russell was a seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2020.
· Alfredo Roberts, the Steelers' tight ends coach, served in the same position on Tampa Bay's staff under Head Coach Raheem Morris from 2009-11.
· Pittsburgh Quarterbacks Coach Mike Sullivan was Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013 under Head Coach Greg Schiano.
· Garrett Giemont, Pittsburgh's Senior Conditioning Coordinator, was the Buccaneers strength and conditioning coach on Jon Gruden's staff from 2003-05.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Head Coach Todd Bowles
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers
· Pass Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach Larry Foot
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Mike Tomlin
· Assistant Head Coach John Mitchell
· Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada
· Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin
· Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith
KEY 2022 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· P Jake Camarda (fourth-round draft pick)
· WR Russell Gage (UFA)
· G Luke Goedeke (second-round draft pick)
· DL Logan Hall (second-round draft pick)
· T Fred Johnson (FA)
· WR Julio Jones (FA)
· TE Ko Kieft (sixth-round draft pick)
· G Shaq Mason (trade–NE)
· CB Zyon McCollum (fifth-round draft pick)
· OLB Carl Nassib (FA)
· S Keanu Neal (UFA)
· TE Cade Otton (fourth-round draft pick)
· TE Kyle Rudolph (FA)
· S Logan Ryan (FA)
· RB Rachaad White (third-round draft pick)
· C Mason Cole (UFA)
· G James Daniels (UFA)
· TE/FB Connor Heyward (sixth-round draft pick)
· LB Myles Jack (FA)
· DE DeMarvin Leal (third-round draft pick)
· WR Gunner Olszewski (FA)
· WR Kenny Pickens (second-round draft pick)
· QB Kenny Pickett (first-round draft pick)
· LB Mark Robinson (sixth-round draft pick)
· QB Mitchell Trubisky (UFA)
· CB Levi Wallace (UFA)
· RB Jaylen Warren (UDFA)
ADDITIONAL 2022 CHANGES OF NOTE
· While the Bucs continue to maintain enviable continuity on their coaching staff, there is a new person in the corner office. In March, Bruce Arians stepped down after three years as the head coach and took on a new role as a senior advisor to the general manager. Todd Bowles was promoted from defensive coordinator to take his place. Bowles previously served as the New York Jets' head coach from 2015-18 before rejoining Arians when the latter came on as the Buccaneers' head coach in 2019.
· With Bowles stepping up the Bucs needed a new defensive coordinator and they essentially named two of them. Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers added the title of Run Game Coordinator while Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote switched to inside linebackers and added the title of Pass Game Coordinator. They are in effect co-defensive coordinators. Bob Sanders joined the staff to take over for Foote in the outside linebackers room. Foote made his switch after Inside Linebackers Coach Mike Caldwell landed the defensive coordinator position in Jacksonville under new Head Coach Doug Pederson.
· The Buccaneers had two key players retire after the 2021 season, but only one of them stayed retired. While quarterback Tom Brady eventually elected to return 40 days after announcing he was stepping away from the game, his long-time buddy Rob Gronkowski walked away for good, leading to big changes in the Bucs' tight end room. While veteran Cam Brate returned, O.J. Howard left in free agency and the Buccaneers subsequently drafted Cade Otton and Ko Kieft and signed veteran Kyle Rudolph.
· Tampa Bay's defense also saw the departure of two front-seven stalwarts from the extremely successful 2020-21 seasons, as neither DL Ndamukong Suh nor OLB Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed. The team signed veteran standout Akiem Hicks and drafted Houston's Logan Hall 33rd overall to address depth up front and are relying on 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up on the edge.
· Steelers Vice President/General Manager Kevin Colbert retired following the 2022 draft, ending a run of more than two decades in the team's player personnel department. Starting in 2000 as director of football operations, he was later named the first "general manager" in franchise history in 2010. The Steelers' meticulous search – featuring 12 interviewed candidates – for Colbert's replacement ended up right where it started, as the team chose to promote vice president of football and business operations to the GM post. Prior to his promotion, Khan had been with the organization almost as long as Colbert, starting in 2001 as the football administration coordinator.
· After Khan moved into the GM office he hired Andy Weidl away from the nearby Eagles to serve as his assistant general manager. Weidl started his NFL career as an intern for the Steelers in the late 1990s, then worked his way up the ranks in Philadelphia to the position of vice president of player personnel. Weidl's strong scouting background is intended to be a good complement to Khan's organizational and business strengths.
· Keith Butler, a Steelers coach since 2003 and the team's defensive coordinator since 2016, retired in January. The team also promoted from within to fill that vacancy, giving the DC title to former senior defensive assistant and secondary coach Teryl Austin. Austin has previously served as a defensive coordinator for the Lions (2014-17) and the Bengals (2018).
· After Brian Flores was let go in Miami following three seasons as the head coach, the Steelers brought him onto their staff as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach. Other changes to the coaching staff include the arrival of Frisman Jackson to tutor the receivers after Ike Hilliard's contract wasn't renewed; the hiring of Pat Meyer to coach the offensive line after Adrian Klemm departed late last season for a job at Oregon; and the replacement of assistant offensive line coach – now the main OL coach for the Bears – with Isaac Williams, making his first stop in the NFL coaching ranks.
· Pittsburgh has also very recently made a very important change in-season, announcing that rookie Kenny Pickett would take over for veteran Mitchell Trubisky as the starting quarterback. The Steelers drafted Pickett with the 20th-overall pick in April, making him the only quarterback selected in the first two rounds. Trubisky, signed as an unrestricted free agent after one year with the Bills, started the first four games and compiled a 73.7 passer rating while the Steelers got off to a 1-3 start.
Will Bowles Dial Up the Pressure? – As noted above, Tom Brady will be competing directly with Minkah Fitzpatrick and company, not Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. Similarly, Pickett will be less concerned about Brady and more about the kind of defense that Todd Bowles is going to throw at him. Will Bowles try to force the green starter into mistakes by blitzing him frequently? It certainly would be no surprise. Already a very aggressive play-caller – the Bucs have blitzed on 38.6% of pass plays since Bowles arrived as defensive coordinator in 2019 – Bowles has dialed it up even further in four of the Bucs' last five games against a starting rookie quarterback. Most recently, the Buccaneers blitzed the Jets' Zach Wilson at a 44.1% rate in Week 17 of last year. The most extreme example is Tampa Bay's game at New England in Week Four of 2021, in which rookie Mac Jones saw a blitz on 47.8% of his drop-backs. The only rookie in that span against which Bowles did not get ultra-aggressive was the Chargers' preternaturally gifted Justin Herbert, and even then it was still a 37.0% blitz rate. On the other hand, the Steelers are surely aware of this and will likely expect a lot of defensive play-callers to take this approach against Pickett. It becomes a cat-and-mouse game, and the Buccaneers are hoping they can find a way to make Pickett the mouse in a room full of mousetraps.
Searching for Another Dimension – Bowles routinely pushes back against the notion that the Buccaneers specifically need to find "balance" on offense. His goal is not a 50-50 run-pass split but rather the right play calls for the opponent and situation. Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich says the Bucs want to be "multiple" on offense, capable of beating defenses in a wide variety of ways. So while the Bucs aren't necessarily trying to run it as often as the pass it, they certainly would like to run it better when they do go that route. Tampa Bay currently ranks 31st in rushing yards per game (66.0) and perhaps more tellingly last in yards per carry (3.11). Leonard Fournette has been one of the team's most productive offensive players and he's coming off a game in which he rang up 139 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Rookie Rachaad White has emerged as the clear second option and is gaining snaps as the season goes on and he shows some dynamic capabilities. The offensive line has three new starters on its interior, including inexperienced players at center (Robert Hainsey) and left guard (Luke Goedeke), and Bowles has said on several occasions that he is pleased with their progress. The Bucs seem to have the makings of an effective run game, but it hasn't come together yet, save for a strong performance in the season opener.
Remaining Road Warriors? – As noted above, the Buccaneers have won six straight road games dating back to last November. That's tied with the Cowboys for the longest active streak in the league. It also happens to be the longest streak in franchise history, besting three other five game streaks, the most recent of which came during the 2020 Super Bowl season. After a three-game homestand that didn't go quite as well as hoped – with losses to Green Bay and Kansas City before a Week Five rebound against Atlanta – the Buccaneers now must try to strengthen their lead in the division while on the road. They will put their streak on the line in Week Six at Pittsburgh, a place in which they have only won one other time, and then will have fly back out the following week to play the Panthers in Charlotte. Since Brady's arrival in 2020, the Buccaneers are 17-5 in road games, including the postseason, which is by far the most successful run in franchise history. That's the most road wins for any NFL team in that span, and only Kansas City has a better winning percentage at 78.9% (15-4). Having dropped those two early games in front of the home crowd, the Buccaneers will be looking to make up for what they lost with some continued road dominance.
Favorable Matchups? – Brady has thrown 104 passers over the past two weeks, racking up 736 yards and four touchdowns without being intercepted. As players like Chris Godwin and Russell Gage have worked their way back from injuries, the Bucs' passing attack has started to resemble what it had been in Brady's first two seasons with the team, in terms of production if not necessarily style. Tom Brady to Godwin and Mike Evans remains the most consistent thing the offense can lean on from week to week. That could be the case again on Sunday, as the Steelers have struggled in pass defense, tying for 30th in yards allowed per game and ranking 27th in yards allowed per pass play. Pittsburgh opponents have already thrown 11 touchdown passes, though they have been intercepted eight times. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has three of those picks and makes plays all over the field, continues to perform like a superstar but some of the team's other defensive backs haven't fared as well to this point. Most notably, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has been targeted 18 times and has given up 12 completions for 183 yards and two touchdowns. His Expected Points Added (EPA) when targeted is +14.9, which is the worst for any Steeler DB, and opposing quarterbacks have a 113.9 passer rating when throwing his way. Nickel back Arthur Maulet has a +9.4 EPA when targeted and has allowed a passer rating of 109.7. All of this is surely exacerbated by the absence of Watt and how that has affected the Steelers' pressure rate up front. The Buccaneers will surely try to take advantage of some favorable matchups with Evans and Godwin. Also of note: Witherspoon, Fitzpatrick and cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Levi Wallace were all held out of practice on Wednesday due to injuries.
Major Takeaways – Tampa Bay's defense has forced nine turnovers through five games, a respectable total that is tied for fifth in the NFL. Five of those nine takeaways came in one game at New Orleans, however, and in fact four of them occurred in a single quarter. Since that game the Bucs have only nabbed three takeaways including one in a Week Four loss to the Chiefs and none last Sunday in the win over Atlanta. Tampa Bay only has 10 points off turnovers in the last three games combined. The Buccaneers' defense has thrived off of takeaways in recent seasons, tying for third in the league with 63 of them and ranking first with a +21 turnover ratio. In that same span, Tampa Bay is 19-0 when it has a positive turnover ratio in a game. Obviously, the Buccaneers want to get back to making those big plays that often decide the outcomes of games. Perhaps they will find some success against a rookie quarterback in just his second start. Pickett has played 106 offensive snaps so far and has thrown four interceptions.
1. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Steelers LB Alex Highsmith
After missing two games with an elbow injury, stalwart left tackle Donovan Smith has returned for the past two contests and, despite being somewhat limited with one arm has helped the Buccaneers' line allow just one sack in that span despite Tom Brady making 105 drop-backs. Smith will likely see a lot of Highsmith on Sunday, as the Steelers' edge rusher more often comes off the right end of their defensive front. The team's leader this season with 5.5 sacks, Highsmith is giving the Steelers a pass rush threat they badly need in the absence of J.J. Watt. He showed off a Watt-like ability to dominate for an entire game against Bengals in Week One when he racked up 3.0 sacks, nine QB pressures and nine defensive stops. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he is the only player in the last seven years to have nine pressures and nine stops in a single game. Smith has the agility to stay between such shifty rushers and the quarterback and to hold up strong against power moves. He was an anchor on a Buccaneers offensive line that allowed the lowest sacks-per-pass-play rate in 2001, and the line is fourth in that category again this season. In the three games that Smith has played, Brady has been sacked only three times.
2. Steelers WR Diontae Johnson vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
Fourth-year wideout Diontae Johnson, one of a seemingly endless stream of middle-round draft picks who turn into very productive receivers in Pittsburgh, leads the team with 28 catches for 267 yards through the first five weeks, and that isn't likely to change with rookie Kenny Pickett now starting at quarterback. Pickett targeted Johnson a whopping 13 times in his first start last Sunday, resulting in five catches for 60 yards. The Steelers like to isolate Johnson on one side of the formation, and from 2021 through the first three weeks of this season he had been targeted out of such formations 88 times, far more than any other player in the league. Johnson lines up on the right and left sides pretty equally, and when he's split right this Sunday he's going to see a lot of cornerback Carlton Davis, presuming Davis suits up for the game. Davis left the Week Five win over Atlanta with a hip injury but was back on the practice field to start this week. The fifth-year corner has established himself as the Buccaneers' top shutdown cornerback and he will have a size advantage on the 5-10, 183-pound Johnson. If the Buccaneers choose to blitz Pickett frequently that will lead to more snaps with the defensive backs in man-to-man situations, and Johnson is one of the NFL's most productive receivers when facing man coverage.
3. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette vs. Steelers LB Myles Jack
Tampa Bay's offense produced 420 yards of offense against Atlanta in Week Five and Leonard Fournette was responsible for almost exactly a third of it. His 139 yards on 10 catches and 14 runs kept the offense chugging along when the Falcons focused on bracketing the outside receivers. He also scored both of the Bucs' touchdowns in the 21-15 victory. Fournette is a bruising runner, especially when he builds up a head of steam, and he continues to show that he is a smooth pass-catcher who can pick up important yards after the catch. The Steelers snapped up linebacker Myles Jack almost immediately after he was released by the Jaguars in March and put him right in the middle of their 3-4 front next to fellow inside linebacker Devin Bush. Jack leads the Steelers with 50 tackles, 17 more than any other defender, and also has two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed. Jack flows smoothly from sideline to sideline and sheds blocks to plug gaps in the running game and make stops near the line of scrimmage. He is better in coverage when tasked with man-to-man matchups rather than zone responsibilities and could be an important part of the Steelers' efforts to keep Fournette from having another big pass-catching day out of the backfield. Fournette is currently tied for second in receptions among all NFL running backs.
4. Steelers QB Kenny Pickett vs. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Antoine Winfield Jr., the Buccaneers' third-year safety, has been all over the field in the early part of the season, taking advantage of his new hybrid safety/slot corner role to make plays on every level. His contributions have included 32 tackles, two tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two QB hits, an interception, two passes defensed and one forced fumble. He notched that forced fumble on a strip sack of Marcus Mariota last week, a critical play that forced Atlanta into a long and unsuccessful field goal and set up the Bucs for their own score right before halftime. Winfield is a sure and willing tackler, he hustles relentlessly to get to the ballcarrier and he has been outstanding in coverage in whatever role he's in. According to Next Gen Stats, Winfield has produced an Expected Points Added (EPA) of -15.9 since the start of last season, the eighth-best figure among all safeties in that span. Kenny Pickett is obviously still very green but he was considered the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2022 draft and he is now at the helm of the offense after getting his first start last weekend. Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles has been impressed by what he has seen so far. "He's a very heady football player," said Bowles. "He knows where his checkdowns are, he has a very good arm, [is good at] reading defenses, going to the outside or the inside. He can get out of the pocket and run pretty [well] if he has to. It looks like he has a good command of the offense so we expect him to play well." One thing Pickett is going to need to know this Sunday, as well, is where Antoine Winfield Jr. is at all times.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· TE Cameron Brate (concussion) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Jaelon Darden (tooth) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· CB Carlton Davis (hip) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Lavonte David (rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Mike Edwards (elbow) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Mike Evans (rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Russell Gage (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Will Gholston (rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Chris Godwin (hip/knee/rest) – WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Akiem Hicks (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· WR Julio Jones (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· OLB Carl Nassib (illness) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Breshad Perriman (knee/hamstring) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Logan Ryan (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· T Donovan Smith (elbow) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DT Montravious Adams (hip) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· C Mason Cole (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· TE Zach Gentry (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Terrell Edmunds (concussion) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· TE Pat Freiermuth (concussion) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Out.
· WR Diontae Johnson (hip) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DE DeMarvin Leal (knee) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· DT Larry Ogunjobi (back) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· CB Cameron Sutton (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· CB Levi Wallace (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Out.
· CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
Partly cloudy, high of 61, low of 45, 24% chance of rain, 66% humidity, winds out of the WSW at 5-10 mph.
Head referee: Shawn Smith (8th season, 5th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-7.5)
· Over/Under: 43.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 41
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans/Leonard Fournette, 3
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 1,409
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 96.5
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 280
Receptions: RB Leonard Fournette, 26
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 316
Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean, 2
Sacks: ILB Devin White, 3.0
Tackles: LB Devin White, 40
Points Scored: K Chris Boswell, 33
Touchdowns: RB Najee Harris/QB Kenny Pickett, 2
Passing Yards: QB Mitchell Trubisky, 653
Passer Rating: QB Mitchell Trubisky, 73.7
Rushing Yards: RB Najee Harris, 222
Receptions: WR Diontae Johnson, 28
Receiving Yards: WR Diontae Johnson, 267
Interceptions: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, 3
Sacks: OLB Alex Highsmith, 5.5
Tackles: LB Myles Jack, 50
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 19th (20.6 ppg)
Total Offense: 21st (337.6 ypg)
Passing Offense: 3rd (271.6 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 31st (66.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-14th (20.6)
Third-Down Pct.: 14th (39.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 4th (3.38%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-17th (57.1%)
Scoring Defense: 6th (16.6 ppg)
Total Defense: 6th (309.0 ypg)
Passing Defense: 6th (193.4 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 18th (115.6 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-4th (18.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 20th (41.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 3rd (10.61%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-29th (76.9%)
Turnover Margin: t-4th (+3)
Scoring Offense: 30th (15.4 ppg)
Total Offense: 28th (295.8 ypg)
Passing Offense: 23rd (207.2 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 29th (88.6 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 25th (18.4)
Third-Down Pct.: 23rd (36.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 14th (6.08%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 25th (46.2%)
Scoring Defense: 26th (25.6 ppg)
Total Defense: 30th (416.8 ypg)
Passing Defense: t-30th (287.6 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 23rd (129.2 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 27th (22.4)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 26th (46.6%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 24th (5.21%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 12th (52.6%)
Turnover Margin: t-9th (+1)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· Tight End Cameron Brate has 33 career touchdown catches. His next one will tie him with Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles for second place in franchise history in receiving TDs and fourth place in overall touchdowns.
· WR Mike Evans scored two touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week Four to increase his career points scored total to 482, in the process passing Connor Barth (477) for third place on the Bucs' all-time list Evans needs three more touchdowns to join former kickers Martin Gramatica (592) and Michael Husted (502) as the only players in team history to reach the 500-point mark.
· Wide receiver Chris Godwin has 29 touchdown catches on his resume. Two more would move him into a tie with Kevin House for the fourth-most in team history. Godwin also has one career rushing touchdown and needs to find the end zone one more time to tie House for sixth place on the team's total touchdowns chart.
· RB Leonard Fournette is tied for second among all NFL running backs this season with 26 receptions. Four more would allow him to surpass Cadillac Williams (134) for the fifth-most career receptions by a running back in franchise history.
· Head Coach Todd Bowles on Steelers rookie receiver George Pickens: "He's a physical receiver, you know. They have two of them – [Chase] Claypool as well. He's going to jump and try to make great catches, which he's shown week-in and week-out – that's why he got drafted so high. He's tough, he was a tough player in college, he's tough with the Steelers. They got a good draft pick – they've got a potential Pro Bowler on their hands. He's going to be a handful to deal with."
· Rookie tight end Cade Otton on being a player Tom Brady can trust in the passing game: "Yeah, you can kind of see the game plan put together on offense and you see that the tight end can be a big part of the offense and plays down the field and underneath. So, [I'm] just trying my best to be in the spot I'm supposed to be in and do my job – the trust will come in time."
· Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. on where the Bucs' defense needs to improve: "I feel like the key for us is – something we need to work on – is finishing games. Like, last week, we had a fast start, but we didn't really finish as well as we wanted to. That's probably the key thing we're working on this week."
· Bowles on the Steelers never finishing a season below .500 under Head Coach Mike Tomlin: "It's unbelievable. I don't know who else has done that. He's done an outstanding job since he's been there – as a coach and being a model citizen. [He's] one of the coaches that I have a lot of respect for in this league [and] truly look up to in that aspect."
· Defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches on the Steelers having an uncharacteristic 1-4 record: "It's the NFL. It's 'any given Sunday.' Don't let the 1-4 kind of get you going like, 'Oh, they're a bad team.' They've just had to start behind because the other opponent got up on them. They're great at running the ball. They're great at certain things. You've got to be a professional about that. You come out there thinking that they're a lesser opponent, then you're hit in the mouth and now you're looking like, 'Oh snap, we didn't prepare for this,' rather than coming out, doing what you have to do, dominating and then move on how you need to."