Steelers try to stop throwing Fitz, Buccaneers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are off to a rough start -- on and off the field -- and it doesn't figure to get any easier when they visit the suddenly potent Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.
Pittsburgh first-team All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell is holding out and first-team All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown didn't report for work Monday, and implied on Twitter that he wanted to be traded. But the Steelers' biggest problem could be Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick became the first player to record back-to-back 400-yard, four-touchdown games to start a season, and could be licking his chops after Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes tossed six touchdown passes in the visiting Chiefs' 42-37 victory over the Steelers last week.
Brown showed up for work Wednesday, and Roethlisberger said he's not concerned about Brown's role in the offense.
The Chiefs doubled Brown for much of the game, which allowed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jesse James to each get more than 100 receiving yards.
"He's been garnering a lot of attention for a long time now," Roethlisberger said of Brown. "I think it's early in the season. In the first game, we had some elements that didn't let me get him the ball to him as much as I should have. Last week they put a lot of guys on him. But other guys were open too. I'm not worried about A.B. He'll be just fine."
Brown's production isn't up to his usual standards, but he still has 18 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown. Rather than use social media to voice his frustrations, or have sideline confrontations with his coaches, Roethlisberger would rather Brown come to him with any grievances.
"He's not the only guy who gets frustrated in games," Roethlisberger said. "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."
Buccaneers fans have embraced Fitzpatrick, who has completed 78.7 percent of his passes, in a big way, with some wearing faux beards to the game.
"His numbers are off the charts," Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said of Fitzpatrick, who is playing because Jameis Winston is suspended for the first four weeks. "So how would you expect everybody to respond? Of course, our team is playing well. They're doing something not many thought they could. We have a good locker room of guys believing each other right now. So any player that's playing well and backing it up with his play."
Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been the biggest beneficiary of Fitzpatrick's play, leading the NFL in receiving yards with 275 yards. His three touchdowns matches his 2017 total.
Defensively, the Buccaneers face a huge challenge against Roethlisberger, who is second to Fitzpatrick with 787 yards. Tampa Bay (2-0) was without both starting cornerbacks last week. Brent Grimes has missed two games with a groin injury and Vernon Hargreaves is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener.
That puts some pressure on rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. The Buccaneers could also be without safety Chris Conte (knee), which would force rookie Jordan Whitehead in the lineup.
The Steelers' secondary could receive a boost from cornerback Joe Haden, who missed the Chiefs game because of a hamstring injury but returned to practice and is expected to play Monday. He will draw the assignment on Jackson.
Pittsburgh (0-1-1) appears to have the advantage in the rushing game with James Conner filling in admirably for Bell. Conner had 135 yards in the opener against the Browns, but was held to 17 yards on eight carries against the Chiefs because the Steelers fell behind early.
Pittsburgh leads the series 8-2 but the Buccaneers won the last encounter 27-24 at Heinz Field in 2014 on a last-second TD pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson.
Updated September 20, 2018