Throw a blindfold on him, tie his right arm behind his back and Ryan Fitzpatrick would still be able to pick out an open receiver. That's the kind of season the veteran quarterback is having for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fitz torched the Saints on opening day before returning home and putting the reigning Super Bowl champs the Philadelphia Eagles to the sword, throwing for a combined 819 yards on 8 touchdowns and just 1 interception.
Fitzmagic will be expected to produce similar numbers against a Steelers defense still licking their wounds from their home defeat to Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City.
The problem for Pittsburgh has been opening quarter production. Dating back to last season's playoffs, the Steelers haven't scored in three consecutive first quarters; a problem quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels they need to address sooner rather than later.
"It’s always one of our goals to come out and start fast and put points on the board quick,” Roethlisberger explained, “but the other team is trying not to let us start fast. A lot of times, whether you’re playing a common opponent or someone new, you’re kind of feeling each other out early.
“It doesn’t mean you’re not trying to score. You might be throwing different personnel groups out there to see what the defense is going to do, to see how they are going to line up.”
After struggling initially against the Kansas defense, Roethlisberger caught fire in the second quarter and will be expected to have a field day against a Tampa Bay defense giving up a whopping 439 passing yards per game. Without both their starting cornerbacks, Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, as well as safety Chris Conte who has been ruled out with a knee injury, Tampa Bay might struggle to keep Big Ben and the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jesse James quiet.
Alarm 'Bell's a ringing
A major part of Steelers' preparations have been marred by off-field issues. Running back Le'Veon Bell is holding out for a trade away from Heinz Field while wide receiver Antonio Brown failed to report to training on Monday, with the 30-year-old reportedly seeking a move away as well. Brown's production has dropped alarmingly this season, with teams willing to double-team the All-Pro wide receiver. Roethlisberger though has remained unfazed regarding Brown's role in his offence and has advised him to voice his concerns to the quarterback rather than airing dirty laundry on social media.
"He's not the only guy who gets frustrated in games," Roethlisberger conceded. "We all get frustrated. When you're the best in the world, you might get a little more frustrated than others. A.B. is a very passionate football player. We all know that. Fans know that. That's what makes him special -- the passion for this game and the passion to be great. So we're not going to take that away from him.
"When he's getting frustrated in games, I just want him to stay with me and talk to me, communicate with me and let me know. If I missed you on something, or if you're getting open and I didn't see it, let's just talk and communicate," he added.
Steelers will be boosted by the return of cornerback Joe Haden, who returned to practice this past week and has been given the all-clear.
One area in which Pittsburgh do have the significant upper hand is the rushing game, with Bell's stand-in James Connor doing an admirable job in the opening game with 135 yards. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, are ranked 30th in rushing yards, with a paltry 2.7 yards/carry.
Fitzpatrick is 0 of 5 as a starter against the Steelers but this will be his best ever chance to rewrite that record and lead his Bucs to a 3-0 start to the season for the first time since 2005. Whichever way this one pans out, expect death by passing.Published 25 Sep 2018, 04:00 IST