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I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like I have seen the 2018 Steelers yet. I expected a 2-0 start, not an 0-1-1 start. I certainly didn’t expect a must-win game in week three on the road against a 2-0 Tampa Bay team who’s starting quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

I expected the team to be staring at 3-0 square in the face with games against the Browns, who hadn’t won in 17 tries, the Chiefs at home, whom the Steelers typically own, and any team led by Fitzpatrick.

But the first two games went awry and now they face the hottest quarterback in the NFL in Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for over 800 yards already.

The Steelers won’t win this game Monday night, Sept. 24, if the secondary doesn’t show up. We’ll see if Joe Haden will play but even if he had this past week, Pat Mahomes, the Chiefs’ young quarterback,would have torched them. Artie Burns has regressed, and I’ve gone from thinking he’s a top corner in the making to becoming concerned that he just may end up as a bust.

Burns is not reliable, he’s hot headed and in my opinion he’s turning into William Gay, we know him because we see the back of his jersey all the time. If Burns can’t step up this week, with or without Haden in the lineup, Fitzpatrick may lead the Bucs to a 3-0 start and the Steelers may find themselves on a sinking ship.

But more than the secondary, the blame for this team’s defensive woes must fall on Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin. If they can’t find a way to coach these guys up, there needs to be changes made. Those changes should have been made last offseason with Butler. They weren’t, and that falls on Tomlin.

There are still no adjustments made in-game and again, if this team wants to pick up their first win of 2018 this coming Monday night, Butler, Tomlin and their positional coaches better find a way to adjust to the game and even more so, not underestimate the opposition.

After the Chiefs game, Bud Dupree said the team underestimated Mahomes, they didn’t think he was as good as he turned out to be. Where do you think that thought came from? They didn’t come up with it on their own, the coaches made the players think that way.

If they think that way about Fitzpatrick, which may be easy to do, given his history of being a backup who throws tons of interceptions, they will again be on the losing end of things against the Buccaneers.

But here’s the real news flash…the Steelers constantly get out-schemed and out-coached on a weekly basis, specifically by the opposing offense. The reason they have won so many games over the past few seasons has been due to the extensive amount of talent their own offense has and they’ve been able to score points in droves.  Well, it appears that they’ll need to do it again this week in Tampa and beyond because this defense shows no reason to trust them.

When you have talents like Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and TJ Watt, there is absolutely no reason this team should be allowing the chunks of yards and the amount of points they are.

But here we sit. 0-1-1 with a must-win game.

But the Steelers can’t look squarely at the defense and throw blame on them the entire time. The offense isn’t without its problems and, ahem, drama.  Antonio Brown has certainly had a rough month or so with some on-field displays and more off field antics.

Le’Veon Bell is just missing entirely and nobody knows when he’ll return. Even when he does come back, will it be too late, will he just bring trouble with him?

Chris Boswell better make his kicks this week in Tampa because at the moment, it seems he’s forgotten that the ball is supposed to go THROUGH the uprights, not around them. Get paid and then forget how to make kicks? Interesting.

Even Ben Roethlisberger has had his share of dud plays through the first two weeks, all in Cleveland but without them, the team sits 1-1 right now.  Roethlisberger can still lead this team to victory but he’s really going to need to show the locker room what kind of a leader he is, starting this week. If he can’t lead by example and get this mess turned around, all hell may break loose this Monday night as the Steelers might find themselves 0-2-1.

It’s hard to imagine that’s a real possibility but at this point, what have we seen to steer us away from at least admitting there is a chance at that?

Are the Steelers turning into a last-place team in one offseason? No, but are they making the next step to the Super Bowl, either? Absolutely not.

But should I even be talking about Super Bowl right now? Not really. Playoffs? Nope. Winning just a single game at this point? Yes.

They must play a smooth, turnover-free, mistake-free, motivated game in Tampa or this season will be on the verge of over before it ever began.

I think they will do that though, on Monday night.  I think it can be good that Brown is now motivated. I think it could be a turning point, it sure needs to be, in this season.

I think James Conner will have another 100-yard game. He couldn’t this past week because the game plan was thrown out the window in the first quarter. The team needs to ride Conner more in Tampa and not rely so much on Roethlisberger’s arm.  The Steelers are far more successful when Roethlisberger throws less than 35 times, not the 60 attempts he had against the Chiefs.

Conner will be running behind a banged up offensive line, which won’t be beneficial. David Decastro will play if he can. Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster are hurt, too. Who’s in, who’s out, will determine a lot on Monday night. Either way, BJ Finney and Matt Feiler will be pertinent to the success of Conner and the ground game.

A ball control offense will be the best defense this team can implement.

When they are on the field; I believe the defense will get after Fitzpatrick and force him into bad throws and gain sacks. They have to. If they don’t, with the secondary the way it is, he’ll make them pay.

“Fitzmagic,” as they are calling him, will be licking his chops to face this depleted and weak secondary that the Steelers feature.  DeSean Jackson is a home run threat on every play, as if we are back in 2012 again and he is a real threat to a Steelers secondary who lets everyone behind them.  The safeties must provide help to the corners.

Butler may even need to consider playing nickel defense more often because he’ll need the extra guy in the secondary to provide help.

I’m looking for Terrell Edmunds to step up this week and show the talent that he has. It’s a lot to put on a rookie, but the team desperately needs him to make big plays.

It won’t be easy. Tampa is a hot team right now with a quarterback who is on fire but the Steelers will come out with a victory on Monday night. They have to. If they don’t, this season will go from bad to worse in a flash and the wheels may come flying off the train.

Steelers 35, Bucs 27

MIKE PELAIA
COURIER STEELERS CENTRAL

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