The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' venture through the AFC North begins with their Week Six clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. On a rare trip to the Steel City, the Bucs will face the Steelers on Sunday, October 16 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Tampa Bay has only played four other regular season games in Pittsburgh, and this time they are boasting 45-year-old Tom Brady under center. Conversely, the Steelers' have a rookie quarterback. The club drafted University of Pittsburgh passer Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, making him the first quarterback off the board in April. Pittsburgh opened the year with Mitchell Trubisky in the pocket but after a 1-2 start, they transitioned to Pickett midway through a Week Four loss to the Jets, subsequently giving Pickett his first official start against Buffalo. Pittsburgh has dropped the previous four consecutive games and will look to catapult themselves forward against the Bucs. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay will seek to close out a game more effectively on Sunday. The Buccaneers appeared to be forging their first complete game of the 2022 slate in all phases for three quarters against Atlanta, then coasted to a narrow six-point victory at Raymond James Stadium. At 3-2, the Buccaneers are currently in first place in the NFC South, but still need to prove they are legitimate contenders. After a week of preparation, here is what Sunday's contest comes down to:
4 Stats that Matter
- Tom Brady has had more success against the Steelers than any quarterback in NFL history. Including playoff games, Brady is 12-3 against the Steel Curtain during his tenure, the most wins by any starting quarterback against Pittsburgh since quarterback stats were first assembled in 1950. Brady has compiled the most passing touchdowns (34) plus the best completion percentage (69.2) and passer rating (112.2) versus Pittsburgh all-time. No. 12 will strive to continue his streak of dominance on Sunday afternoon.
- The absence of T.J. Watt in the Steelers' defensive front cannot be understated. Watt has been on injured reserve with a torn pectoral since Week One and recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Since 2017, Pittsburgh is 52-24-2 with Watt in the lineup and 0-8 without him. In that same time span, the Steelers averaged 3.5 sacks per game with Watt and only 1.4 without.
- In 2022, Tom Brady is attacking the seams at his highest rate in the Next Gen Stats era, while the Steelers' defense has been vulnerable on such throws. 53.1 percent of attempts thrown down the seams by Brady this season ranks fourth in the NFL and in contrast, the Steelers' defense grades in the bottom-three in pass yards, touchdowns and yards per attempt allowed on passes thrown down the seams.
- When the Steelers defense has dialed up pressure in 2022, they have been effective. The opposite has materialized without penetration. The unit ranks top-five in the NFL in air yards allowed per attempt with pressure and a measly bottom-four grade without effective pressure. The Bucs' ability to win the battle in the trenches will be pivotal.
3 Lineup Notes
- On Friday, Head Coach Todd Bowles disclosed that safety Logan Ryan, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks have been ruled out for the Week Six meeting. Additionally, Mike Edwards will be a game-time decision. Ryan will miss his second-consecutive game due to a foot injury, while Murphy-Bunting (quad) and Edwards (elbow) both suffered ailments in the win over Atlanta. Keanu Neal has assumed Ryan's role and Murphy-Bunting received reps vs. the Falcons after Carlton Davis exited the game with a hip injury. Davis has practiced fully this week and will likely suit up against the Steelers.
- For the Steelers, tight end Pat Freiermuth, who is in concussion protocol, has been ruled out of Sunday's contest. Rookie tight end Connor Heyward is expected to see additional playing time in Freiermuth's absence from the lineup. In the secondary, the club's Swiss Army Knife, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace have all been ruled out. Fitzpatrick has been battling a knee injury the past few weeks, despite playing against the Bills on Sunday. Sutton has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and while he started the game against the Bills in Week Five, he did not finish the game. Witherspoon missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and Wallace suffered a concussion against the Bills.
- Rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal was added to the injury report with a knee designation on Friday and has been ruled out. Defensive end Larry Ogunjobi (back) was a full participant in practice, as was nose tackle Montravius Adams (hip). Center Mason Cole (foot) and receiver Diontae Johnson were both full participants on Friday. In addition, safety Terrell Edmunds was a full participant for the third-straight day and did not have a game-status designation, meaning he will suit up against the Buccaneers.
2 Challenges Presented by the Steelers
The Steelers may not wow on the stat sheet, but they have a compelling nucleus of talent on offense with Kenny Pickett, receivers Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Chase Claypool and running back Najee Harris. Pickett, like Mitchell Trubisky, has functional mobility and can create off-script. While extending plays using his legs, Pickett makes a variety of throws from different platforms. Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada has utilized Pickett on the edge to stretch C-gap assignments. With motions and jet sweeps, the Buccaneers' defense will have to be disciplined in setting the edge and in pursuit to not allow yards-after-catch. Pickett has an intriguing cast of playmakers that Todd Bowles' crew has to account for. Johnson can play underneath, in the intermediate area and stretch the field deep. He is a nuanced route-runner who can dominate with suddenness. Johnson forms a dynamic tandem with Pickens, who consistently wins over the top with superb ball-tracking. He possesses an elite catch radius and fluidity at the stem of his routes. Then there is Claypool, who is a mismatch weapon adept at boxing out defenders. He is dangerous on contested catches, rounding out the Steelers' receiving trio. Najee Harris did not have a productive outing against the Bills (11 rushes, 20 yards); however, falling behind early forced Pittsburgh to be one dimensional to try and keep pace as the Bills piled on points. In 2021, the Steelers got exactly what they wanted from first-round pick, Harris. He amassed 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns behind a struggling offensive line, becoming one of the NFL's most promising young running backs. He is a trifecta of toughness, patience and vision. The Steelers are in a transition year and are in the process of finding their identity, but they certainly have impressive weapons in Matt Canada's arsenal.
Pittsburgh's defense is decimated by injuries. In addition to pass rush catalyst T.J. Watt on injured reserve, the Steelers' prized possession in the secondary, Minkah Fitzpatrick, has been ruled out of Sunday's matchup with a knee injury, along with defensive end DeMarvin Leal. The cornerback room took a monstrous hit with Cameron Sutton (hamstring), Levi Wallace (concussion) and Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) not suiting up against the Buccaneers. Despite their depleted defense, the Steelers do have the man Tom Brady dubbed, "one of the great players I have ever played against." A 23-year prolific career puts that quote into perspective. The menace mentioned is Cam Heyward, the anchor of the Steelers' defensive line. Heyward plays nose tackle, the three-technique, the five-technique and the four-technique at an elite level. With a lethal long-arm, Heyward imposes his will in the trenches. He feels the drop of the quarterback and senses what is coming, a testament to film study and his cerebral approach to the game. Heyward consistently collapses the pocket and the interior of the Bucs' offensive line has no room for error with one of the top defenders in the league on the other side barreling down.
1 Key Thought from Todd Bowles
On his impression of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett:
"He's accurate, he's extremely smart, he can get out of the pocket on the run, he can throw on the run, he can throw in the pocket, he knows where his checkdowns are and we think he's doing a good job getting the ball out of his hands."