WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 5.5
WHERE THE STEELERS STAND:: 3-1 Record. The Steelers are tied for first place in the AFC Central Division
HEAD COACH: Bill Cowher (0-1 record vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Mularkey
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tim Lewis
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Jay Hayes
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Buccaneers MLB Jamie Duncan vs. Steelers RB Jerome Bettis. The Steelers have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL and the Buccaneers' defense is one of the best at stopping the run. Bettis has rushed for 407 yards this season and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The Steelers are averaging 192 yards rushing per game this season. Duncan's play against the run has improved this season. He is third on the team in tackles with 20 (13 solo). Duncan will have to continue to be a solid presence in the middle against "The Bus". With Tampa Bay's secondary struggling, containing Bettis and the Steelers' running game will be a necessity.
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 21st RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 13th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 12th RUSHING: 13th PASSING: 15th
HOW THE STEELERS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 14th RUSHING: 1st PASSING: 29th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 11th PASSING: 1st
ROAD WARRIORS: The Steelers have played three of their first four regular season games on the road. After dropping the season opener at Jacksonville, 21-3, Pittsburgh has escaped Buffalo and Kansas City with wins. When Pittsburgh plays in Tampa Bay on Sunday, it will be the Steelers fourth road game of the regular season.
HANDLING THEIR OPPONENTS: In the Steelers four games this season, Pittsburgh has outscored their opponents 59-48. The Steelers allowed 21 points to the Jaguars in their Week 1 loss, but since then, the Steelers have outscored their opponents, 56-27.
BUCS MUST GET ON THE BUS: Steelers RB Jerome Bettis, "The Bus", is averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season and is carrying a struggling Pittsburgh offense. Bettis is a power runner who thrives off of missed tackles. Tampa Bay's defense has tackling woes right now, but must get them corrected immediately if they are to have a chance of beating the Steelers. The Buccaneers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
BEWARE OF SCRAMBLING QUARTERBACK: Tampa Bay's defense has struggled against elusive quarterbacks this season. The Bucs have allowed Titans QB Steve McNair and Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper to leave the pocket and run up field for big yardage. Steelers QB Kordell Stewart has rushed 25 times for 136 yards (5.4 avg.) and has scored 1 touchdown.
BUCS THIRD DOWN WOES: Tampa Bay is next-to-last in the league at stopping opponents on third down, allowing teams to convert 50 percent (26-for-52). Only Atlanta (51.6 percent, 33-for-64) ranks worse.
BUCS DEFENSE MISSING IN ACTION:: The Buccaneers defense is not playing like the dominant force they once were. The defense is missing too many tackles and has allowed 66 points in four games. This has caused them to drop to 12th overall in total defense in the NFL.
BUCS MUST CONTAIN WARD: Steelers WR Hines Ward is leading the team in receptions with 28. He has 267 yards and 1 touchdown. CB Donnie Abraham played like his usual self this season and will have to contain Ward to stop the Steelers passing game.
BUCS PASSING ATTACK Bucs QB Brad Johnson has thrown 147 passes in four games, including 50 last week against Tennessee. This is an average of about 37 attempts per game. The Bucs passing attack is ranked 13th in the league.
JOHNSON-TO-JOHNSON CONNECTION: Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson has 31 receptions this season for 389 yards through four games. Johnson has been a huge weapon on third downs. Last season, Johnson caught 71 passes in 17 games. As long as Johnson stays healthy, he will easily shatter that mark and should make the Pro Bowl.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
LT Kenyatta Walker on how the Bucs offense will approach the Steelers No. 1 defense: "It's a lot of head up," said Walker. "The Steelers are the No. 1 defense so far. They're a good team and we just have to go out there and play our game. We need to be aggressive and hand the ball to Mike (Alstott) and Warrick (Dunn)."
Walker on how much it helps having faced a 3-4 defense in preseason: "It helps a lot," said Walker. "All it does is make us more familiar with what's going on."
Walker on having faced the 3-4 defense in college: "I think Mississippi State had a 3-4 defense," said Walker. "I've faced it enough to know and be familiar with it."
WR Keyshawn Johnson on the Steelers No. 1 ranked defense: "They seem to be pretty good," said K. Johnson. "I watched them against Kansas City and the film of Kansas City's offense is a little different. I'd like to see them against Jacksonville where they threw the ball a little bit more and had a little bit of a running game and see exactly what you can do against them."
WR Keyshawn Johnson on the Bucs not meeting some expectations so far this season: "The expectations are not from the team," said K. Johnson. "They are from people outside the team. From the media, they have to write. The fans, they want to see everybody win. As far as the team goes, we could care less about predictions. We're the ones playing the game and we know exactly what it's going to take."
Heach coach Tony Dungy on the difference between 2001 Steelers and the 1998 Pittsburgh team the Bucs defeated in Raymond James Stadium, 16-3: "They have the same running attack and the same style of defense," said Dungy. "They're playing better than they were at that time. They're playing with a little more confidence."
Dungy when asked if the Bucs No. 12 ranked defense might be missing assistant coaches Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards: "You always miss good people whether it's players or coaches," said Dungy. "It's the same thing when someone gets hurt or someone leaves in free agency, someone retires, or coaches leave. It's easy to say we need those guys, but we basically have to play better."
QB Brad Johnson on what the Bucs need to do in order to improve their No. 30 ranked rushing game: "The key is everyone getting all of their blocks," said B. Johnson. And spreading the game out. We can't have eight man fronts on the blocks."
Bucs LT Kenyatta Walker on the importance of winning all of their homes games this season: "We've got to win our home games," said Walker. "We've got to win both of these home games and we've got real big home games at the end of the season. The Big Three I call them. With New Orleans, Baltimore, and Philly, it will be tough. That's Coach Dungy's thing is winning the home games. But to be a championship team, you have to win on the road games, too. It's easy to win the home games. You have to go into somebody else's house and pull out a win."
FLYNN'S FINAL: There's no place like home, especially at this point in the season for Tampa Bay. The Bucs have played 3-of-4 regular season games on the road. Tampa Bay is coming off of another heartbreaking loss to the Tennessee Titans in overtime, 31-28. But unlike the Bucs loss to the Vikings, Tampa Bay never really should have been in the game against the Titans.
The 3-1 Steelers are coming into Raymond James Stadium as a group of road warriors. They have won 2-of-3 road games this season, including wins in Kansas City and Buffalo.
Pittsburgh's defense presents a unique challenge for the Bucs offense. The Steelers play a 3-4 defense. The only other team in the NFL that plays a 3-4 defense is the New England Patriots, who the Buccaneers faced in preseason. Tampa Bay's offense did well against this type of defense when they faced New England's. The Buccaneers are going to have to get their running game going against the Steelers' No. 1 ranked defense and there is hope. Bucs RB Warrick Dunn rushed for 100 yards on his first five carries against this type of defense. But take this with a grain of salt. First of all, it was preseason and second of all, Pittsburgh's defense is a lot better than New England's.
The Bucs defense will aim to stop Pittsburgh's running game, which they have had success doing all season. Tampa Bay has not allowed a running back to rush for over 100 yards yet this season and is ranked 13th against the run. The Steelers offense is far from a juggernaut, but Tampa Bay's defense made Tennessee's struggling offense look good last Sunday. Pittsburgh has the best rushing attack in the NFL and they are averaging 192 yards per game.
Being at home should help the Bucs prevail this Sunday. But Tampa Bay's defense will have to contain QB Kordell Stewart. The Bucs defense has had trouble stopping quarterbacks from escaping the pocket and running for big yards this season. If the Bucs defense can rattle Stewart with some pressure and sacks, and contain Stewart and Bettis in the running game, Tampa Bay should win. Expect a defensive duel when the Bucs and Steelers clash on Sunday. Since both offenses tend to be conservative, the team that creates the most turnovers should win.
FLYNN'S PICK: Buccaneers 19 Steelers 15
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
This story is intended to be read only by subscribers to the Insiders Pass service of BucMag.com and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Insiders Pass content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Get more analysis, inside information and expert commentary from the Buccaneer Magazine staff by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.