Steelers fans, the time is finally here! We get our first look at our 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers against another colored jersey. There has been a lot of intrigue in training camp and things have looked good but we all know none of that matters until you line up against another team. Pittsburgh will face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night for their first preseason game. The Buccaneers are coming off a disappointing 2018 season in which they finished dead last in the NFC South with a 5-11 record. However, there's a new head coach in town, former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. If you know anything about Arians, this is a huge improvement for Tampa Bay and this team could look a lot different this year. With that being said, let's take a deeper look at our first preseason opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Arians Looks to Improve Tampa Bay's Offense
The past couple seasons have been rough for the Buccaneers. However, they surprisingly finished third in the NFL in total offense last year and first in passing offense. Unfortunately, stats don't always tell the story. After a hot 2-0 start behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Buccaneers season seemed to fall apart after a week after their loss to the Steelers. Following that loss, Jameis Winston was given back the starting job and things went downhill from there. He finished 22nd in the league in passing yards and was tied for third in interceptions with 14.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, they have brought in an offensive-minded head coach. With Fitzpatrick no longer on the roster for a fallback option, Arians must help former first overall pick Winston improve tremendously this season. It helps that Winston has three reliable targets in wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and tight end O.J. Howard. However, they still need to find out who their third, fourth, and fifth wide receivers are going to be. Some names to watch during the preseason are former Ravens and Browns receiver Breshard Perriman, along with rookies DeMarkus Lodge and Anthony Johnson.
The Buccaneers must also figure out the run game. They are expected to have a shared backfield between Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II. It will be interesting to see if one of those running backs separates from the other and secures the RB1 spot during the preseason. They also signed Andre Ellington, who played for Arians in Arizona (Cardinals), so he could get some carries throughout the season as well.
Tampa Bay's Defense Will Feature Some New Faces
The Buccaneers used to be known for being a great defensive-minded football team. Unfortunately, that has not been the case lately. This defense struggled as whole last season, finishing 20th in total defense. They allowed 358.8 yards per game with 259.4 through the air and 123.9 against the run.
They lost a key piece of their defense during the offseason with linebacker Kwon Alexander leaving for the San Francisco 49ers. Luckily, they were able to use the fifth overall pick in the draft to select his replacement, Devin White, who was the best linebacker in this class and is arguably one of the best linebacker prospects I've seen in several years. He should be an immediate star on this defense. Unfortunately, Lavonte David is out with an injury so Deone Bucannon will be filling in for him for now. Carl Nassib and Noah Spence will be the starting outside linebackers.
The Buccaneers lost another key piece of their defense as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy signed with the Carolina Panthers. However, they shouldn't miss him too much as they were able to sign Ndamukong Suh. Suh will be joined on the defensive line by William Gholston and Vita Vea, with Beau Allen rotating in as a key piece as well.
Tampa Bay will feature a young secondary this season. Vernon Hargreaves II and Carlton Davis will be the starting corners. I would also look out for rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean to bey key rotation pieces. Bunting could find himself a role at the nickel. At safety, Jordan Whitehead will return as a starter. With Jordan Evans currently on the PUP list, rookie Mike Edwards is listed as the other starter at safety. Edwards was a stud at Kentucky and I truly believe he can thrive in this defense and make a case for the starting job when the regular season comes around.
I believe this Buccaneers team will see some improvements under Arians this season. They have a good mixture of already established talent and some young players with potential behind them. However, I like our team better. I think we get a good look from Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph in the passing game, throwing to a crowded receiver group trying to make the roster. I'm also very excited to see Benny Snell Jr. in his first game as a Steeler. Snell should be able to run all over this Buccaneers defense. My prediction is that the Steelers will win by at least two scores in this one.