At Tampa Bay
82 degrees thunderstorms
Key Decision #1 (TB ball / TB leads 7-6 / third-and-8 PIT 27 / Q1)
· The teams traded early TDs, and TB led 7-6 off a missed PIT extra point kick. TB came back with a nice drive that started on their own 17, and the Bucs were looking to take the lead again, playing in front of a loud home crowd.
· TB had a FG attempt in their pocket from the PIT 27, but PIT DC Keith Butler made a great blitz call that resulted in a sack all the way back to the TB 36. The Bucs were forced to punt, the Steelers took the next possession in for a FG and a 9-7 lead that they would never lose.
Key Decision #2 (TB ball / TB trails 16-7 / second-and-10 TB 2 / 2:58 Q2)
· TB faced a second-and-long on their own 2 and trailing by 9 points late in the second quarter.
· QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had been rattled up to this point with constant Steeler pressure, and on this play call, the Bucs chose to call a screen to 5-6 RB Jacquizz Rodgers in the middle part of the field. Fitzpatrick had no throwing lane, and we doubt he could have seen Rodgers as Fitzpatrick had raised arms in his face. The result was an INT returned for a TD and a 23-7 PIT lead. Could the Bucs simply have run the ball and punted and played defense? We believed so at the time, as any turnover in that situation would have given the Steelers great opportunity to ice the game fairly early (and they would have if not for their own mistakes).
· The Bucs spent the rest of the night trying to fight back into the game.
· One of the better recent games for the Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin with respect to their effort. The Steelers played with great energy and physicality, and while there still were too many bad penalties (particularly two personal fouls by S Sean Davis and an unsportsmanlike penalty on WR Heywar-Bey), the Steelers played to their talent tonight.
· While PIT did an extremely poor job of closing out this game, PIT won this tough road game with their defensive game plan and with the play of their offensive line.
· Defensively, PIT game planned well to blitz often on the early downs and have TB QB Ryan Fitzpatrick feeling pressure all night long. The Bucs never really adjusted their protections at all, and they simply seemed intent on getting all their playmakers into the play and leaving Fitzpatrick vulnerable. There are moments, however, where the Steelers don’t show enough nuance. Ahead 30-10, and with the Bucs struggling and facing a 2nd and 20, instead of simply playing coverage, the Steelers chose to blitz again and were burned for an apparent 56-yard TD strike to Bucs WR Chris Godwin. The Steelers were taken off the hook with a reversal call and the Bucs had to settle for a FG.
· Likewise, into the fourth quarter and possessing a 10 point lead, the Steelers chose to keep blitzing and Fitzpatrick found WR Mike Evans for a 24-yard TD. In our view, if PIT would have mixed it up just a bit more, perhaps they would not have unnecessarily let TB back into this game.
· The PIT offensive line played an incredible game; the OL fended off TB blitzes regularly and TB rarely got pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger. As a result, Roethlisberger and the Steeler WRs were able to exploit their mismatches against a TB secondary playing three rookies and banged up vet S Chris Conte (who was manhandled on a 75-yard catch and stiff arm by PIT TE Vance McDonald.
· TB did a good job fighting to get back into this game, but we wonder how much better they might have performed early in the game if they would have adjusted their OL protections for QB Fitzpatrick. They never adjusted at all, showing zero max protect looks, and in the first half, this allowed the Steelers to build a lead that held up all game.
· TB did do a good job of continuing to spread the ball around on offense and utilizing all of their personnel. This will be a hard offense to stop, but they must better protect their QB when faced with the kind of pressure shown by PIT in this game.