The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hit the road in Week Six to square off against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium for the first time in the regular season since 2014. The game is scheduled to commence at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 16. Pittsburgh went to Kenny Pickett midway through a Week Four loss to the New York Jets after a 1-2 start and gave the rookie his first official start last week against Buffalo. The Steelers are riding a four-game losing streak and are in danger of finishing the season under .500 for the first time since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. The Bucs will head to the Steel City with a 3-2 overall record, looking to distance themselves from the other teams in the NFC North. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Steelers showdown in Week Six. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Sunday afternoon.
Antoine Winfield Jr.
On Sunday, Kenny Pickett will have to know where Antoine Winfield Jr. is on every play. Last week, Pickett got his first starting nod in the NFL and has assumed full command of Matt Canada's offense. Although he is undergoing a learning curve with a small sample size of work, Pickett was highly regarded coming out of Pittsburgh for his mobility, accuracy from a variety of platforms and quick decision-making skills. Winfield will be tasked with keeping Pickett in check this weekend. Winfield is a pillar of the Buccaneers' defense and commands the middle of the field in a hybrid role. Winfield lines up at safety in the Bucs' base 3-4 and transitions to slot corner in nickel packages – which is run primarily to combat the growing presence of 11 personnel in the league. Whether it is stifling the run in the backfield, blitzing the quarterback, making plays on the ball as a single-high safety or walking up to set the edge, Winfield produces at a high level. He is smart and instinctive, playing with a rare, "old-school," unadulterated love and passion for the game. Winfield is constantly around the football, delivering hard hits. Winfield's versatility will come into play on Sunday. On a corner blitz or if Pickett breaks past the second level while tucking and running, he will meet Winfield one-on-one.
The Buccaneers will try to take advantage of favorable matchups with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin – Tom Brady's go-to targets. As players in the receiver room have worked their way back from injury for the Buccaneers, the aerial attack has been reinvigorated. The trend of production could continue on Sunday, as the Steelers have struggled in pass defense, tying for 30th in yards allowed per game and rank 27th in yards allowed per pass play. Granted, the loss of T.J. Watt – who suffered a pectoral injury in Week One and recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee – cannot be miscounted and has affected the Steelers' pressure up front. Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers' do-it-all superstar has continued to play at an elite level making splash plays all over the field, however, the overall unit has not fared well through the first five weeks of the 2022 slate. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has given up 12 completions for 183 yards, and his counterpart Arthur Maulet has allowed a passer rating of 109.7 when targeted. The Steelers are thin on the back end with Fitzpatrick, Witherspoon, Cameron Sutton and Levi Wallace missing practice this week due to injuries. The Buccaneers will surely try to exploit to create advantageous matchups. Against the Falcons' soft coverage in Week Five, Tampa Bay was able to take advantage with Chris Godwin, Cade Otton and Rachaad White over the middle of the field in the underneath-intermediate area. When the Bucs were presented with match, man coverage, Brady threaded the needle and hit Evans in stride down the sideline. Sunday could provide opportunities for the Bucs through the air, as Brady methodically delivers the football to his talented cast.
Carlton Davis III
Diontae Johnson, the Steelers' middle-round draft pick, has turned into an immediate impact player. He currently leads Pittsburgh with 28 catches for 267 yards through the first five weeks. With Pickett under center in his first start last week, he targeted Johnson 13 times. Johnson lines up on both the left and right side of the formation, drawing Carlton Davis III when he is on the right. Johnson is a nuanced route-runner who creates with suddenness. He showcases yards-after-catch ability on short passes and Davis will receive a heavy dose of the young playmaker. Davis exited the Week Five game with a hip injury but was back on the field to begin practice this week. As the Buccaneers' top shutdown corner, Davis utilizes his size and length to gain leverage and wins the battle when the ball is in the air. The multi-faceted corner is productive in both man and zone coverage, striving to shut down top-talent receivers. If Todd Bowles dials up blitzes – a gamble against a mobile quarterback – that will create favorable one-on-one matchups for the Steelers' receivers, with more resources allocated to the front of the defensive formation.
Leonard Fournette put on a show in Week Five, to the tune of 10 catches and 139 yards. He elevated the Bucs' screen game, optimizing a wrecking-ball mentality in the open field. Bucs' Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich dialed up motions and loaded the left side of the formation to draw the defense away, then unleashed Fournette to the right side. Fournette scored both of the Bucs' touchdowns in their 21-15 victory over Atlanta, becoming the offensive catalyst. Fournette punishes defenders with power and continues to establish himself as a lethal weapon as a pass-catcher. The Steelers will likely employ Myles Jack to try and prevent Fournette from having another dominant day out of the backfield. Pittsburgh picked up Jack quickly following his release by the Jaguars in March. He has solidified the middle of the Steelers' 3-4 front alongside Devin Bush. Jack currently leads the Steelers in tackles with 50 and is a stellar pass-coverage linebacker. He possesses great read-and-react skills, with the coveted combination of size, speed and athleticism for the linebacker position. In man-to-man, Jack will be tasked with stopping Fournette from bulldozing his way past the second level to generate yards after catch.
Once again, the interior of the Buccaneers line will undergo a tall task on Sunday in facing future Hall of Fame interior defensive lineman, Cameron Heyward. Earlier in the week, Brady described Heyward as one of the best defenders he has gone up against. He commands double teams with a lethal long-arm. Heyward is the heartbeat and anchor of the Steelers' defense, regularly imposing his will on the opposition. Although he might not garner the same level of attention, Heyward is an Aaron Donald-caliber player. Heyward lines up in multiple places along the interior of Pittsburgh's defensive line, meaning Robert Hainsey, Shaq Mason and Luke Goedeke will contend with one of the league's best. The Bucs acquired Shaq Mason in the offseason via trade with the Patriots. He previously blocked for Brady for five seasons in New England, featuring two that culminated in Super Bowl Championships. He is a stout anchor in pass protection and shows natural agility in the run game to get up field, pushing defenders to create seams. This game may very well hinge upon protection in the trenches.