Game Day Matchups

A look at the top matchups in today's Steelers-Bucs game in Tampa.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Josh Freeman and TE Kellen Winslow

Freeman, in his second year, is the biggest reason behind Tampa Bay's 2-0 start. He's playing with a high level of poise, and is making far more smart decisions than poor ones. Freeman's patience stands out as one of his many attributes, and regardless of talent level, it's hard for one team to beat another when the quarterback plays mistake-free football.

On the other hand, Polamalu has a way of making quarterbacks look bad. His disguised intentions and patience often lull quarterbacks into a false sense of security. It's likely Polamalu will bait the young Freeman a few times, waiting for him to force a throw. The Bucs don't have much of a running game to speak of, but Winslow, the team's leading receiver, has been an excellent safety valve for Freeman. He is a tremendous route-runner, especially for h is size, which could force Polamalu away from the line of scrimmage, where he is at his best.

LOLB LaMarr Woodley vs. RT Jeremy Youngblood

In what could be the most favorable match-up the Steelers have, Woodley is coming off a great Week 2 performance, and Youngblood's performance was far from spectacular. The Panthers haven't been able to establish a running threat in two games against Cleveland and Carolina, their ability to do so against Pittsburgh after their first two opponents will be even more difficult. Woodley's versatility in rushing the quarterback as well as covering the flats (interception in Tennessee) will give Tampa Bay fits.

Across from him, Youngblood, as well as the rest of the Buccaneers offensive line, has given up a large amount of pressure through two games this year. Tampa Bay doesn't go very deep at their receiving positions anyway, so they'll provide Youngblood with help from a tight end and running back, but Winslow is the team's top target, they'll have to release him at some point, potentially leaving Woodley or AFC Defensive Player of the Week James Harrison with one blocker.

QB Charlie Batch vs. MLB Barrett Ruud

Batch is making his first start since Week 17 of the 2007 season – a throwaway loss at Baltimore. His performance off the bench at Tennessee was less inspiring than it was consistent. It's likely Batch, with a week to prepare, will be more in sync with his offense. His ability to complete passes consistently and protect possession will be key for Pittsburgh.

While that's not the sexiest strategy for Batch, it's one defensive leaders like Ruud have to respect. Ruud has been exploited on the play-fake a few times this year, and is better in run support than pass coverage. Batch doesn't have an incredible arm, but he can work Ruud's coverage area with his tight ends, completing higher percentage throws. Ruud has to maintain discipline, or risk allowing the run game to be opened up.

RG Doug Legursky vs. DT Gerald McCoy

Legursky gets his first career start, replacing the injured Trai Essex (ankle). A fan favorite, "The Big Legursky" is a compact and quick blocker, as evidenced by short-yardage situations in which he's entered the game as a fullback. He's not as polished as Essex, but the fact he's going up against the rookie McCoy may mask some of his inexperience. Pittsburgh needs to keep itself out of third-and-long, meaning they will have to run the ball effectively between the tackles.

McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 Draft, has helped a defense improve from 27th in overall defense to 15th, and is flanked by the Bucs second-round pick, Brian Price. Legursky will see a lot of the left defensive tackle McCoy, who is an excellent pass rusher. As a team, Tampa has been an average run-stopping team, and they should expect to see 25+ carries from Pittsburgh.


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