On Tuesday, the weather in Pittsburgh was a very comfortable 57 degrees. But by week’s end, however, temperatures are expected to drop into the low 30s with the forecast calling for a chance of snow.
It’s no secret, as a franchise, the Buccaneers have been notorious for their cold weather ineptitude over the years. And the fact that the game was recently moved from a 1:00 p.m. start to a 4:15 p.m. kickoff should push the temperature back 10-15 degrees. But is all the fuss over the weather warranted?
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood should be a good judge. He grew up playing high school football in Indiana before going on to play at Boston College.
“The only difference I would say is, basically, that your muscles can get tight while sitting on the sidelines in a cold game,” Trueblood said. “If you’re playing, it’s not that big of deal. It’s when you’re not on the field where it might be a difference.”
The rookie said both sides of the ball could be impacted if there is snow on the ground. It all depends on who is trying to make a push. As an offensive lineman trying to run block, if you can’t get proper footing, it could be a long day. But on the flip side, pass blocking may be to the advantage of the offensive linemen in those types of conditions.
“If your spikes don’t stick and your feet slip it’s hard to get push on a defensive lineman, and that’s a problem,” Trueblood said. “But then again, if [the defensive linemen] don’t have proper footing and they slip and fall, it makes it easier on you.
“So it’s a give-give situation. If you lose some ground running the ball, you make it up pass blocking.”
While Trueblood is from a part of the country accustomed to snow, his blocking mate, right guard Davin Joseph, hails from a place where people can still enjoy a day at the beach in December.
Hallandale Beach is a 10-minute drive from Hallandale Senior High School in South Florida, where Joseph was awarded Broward County’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
But from flip-flops to snow shoes?
“I did play college ball at Oklahoma, so I know what it’s like to play in some cold games,” Joseph said. “I say if it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be cold. It’s just a little different, the numbing of the hands, the feet are numb. It really shouldn’t affect you too much.”
Joseph is more worried about the conditions of the playing surface and facing the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Proper cleats should take care of the first issue, and film study addresses the second.
“We showed we could play it well last week against Dallas,” Joseph said. “We got the run game going early. I think we can handle it. We have seen it a little bit early in the season, but since Baltimore we hadn’t seen it much at all.”
It’s more of a mental thing, he says. In a normal 4-3 defense, a guard is used to having a defensive tackle or end to either side. But in a 3-4 defense, the guards are uncovered, which makes for a more difficult read.
Bucs running back Cadillac Williams ran for 67 yards in the first half against the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense, a unit ranked fourth in the NFL against the rush. The Steelers do a good job stopping the run themselves, ranking 10th in the league against the rush. More impressively, Pittsburgh has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
If the offensive line hopes to impose their will on the Steel Curtain defense, they must block out the elements and match that tough-nosed style of football Pittsburgh has been noted for over the years.
According to Trueblood, playing cold football games in the winter is about being tough and getting in the right mindset.
“I don’t wear sleeves. It’s a mental thing, you just can’t wear long sleeves,” he said. “I’ve never worn sleeves in any game and I’ve been in some pretty cold ones with sleet and snow.”
Joseph has a bit more of a warm-blooded opinion.
“Oh, I don’t know, I get cold,” he said. “I know you’re not supposed to [wear long sleeves], but if it’s below a certain temperature, I’m sorry, I have to do something to help myself. We’ll see.”
Adjusting to the elements is something the Bucs need to get used to this week because after a home game against Atlanta next week, it’s right back up North with consecutive road games at Chicago and Cleveland.
While the linemen concern themselves with footing, the cold presents a different dilemma for receivers.
“I always go the same route, I have my hand warmer with a few heat packs inside because your hands can get numb sometimes, which makes it difficult to catch. And then sometimes you have to body catch it if you can,” said wide receiver Ike Hilliard.
A native of Louisiana, Hilliard played collegiately under the warm sun in Gainesville, but he had to acclimate himself to the cold after being drafted by the New York Giants.
He played eight seasons in some of the most extreme weather conditions imaginable and says every player is different when it comes to dealing with the elements.
In New York, before field turf was installed, Hilliard said there were areas of the field, outside the hash marks, in which the ground would be frozen. That made for tough sledding, which would sometimes work to the receivers’ advantage because they knew when they were going to make a cut, opposed to the defensive back who was forced to react.
But Hilliard says he’s seen too many instances where a receiver fell down, leaving the defensive back in prime position for an easy interception.
“You know cold weather is always tough, offensively, defensively, and special teams,” Hilliard said. “We’re one of the few sports that deals with all the elements.
“Some teams are built for the cold and that style of play, going into cold weather games in November and December. Some are more built for speed down South. But you still have to go out and play the game and you don’t want to get caught in that trap, and psychologically not give yourself a chance to go and play good football.
“It’s going to be cold and everybody knows it. The other team is going to be cold too. It’s not like they’re immune to it.”
PITTSBURGH’S BEST SAFETY OUT One thing the Bucs receiving corps will have to their advantage Sunday is the fact they don’t have to worry about Troy Polamalu. Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl safety will miss the first game of his career on Sunday, forced to sit out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Surgery is not required, but he is expected to miss at least two games.
On Wednesday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spoke highly of Polamalu.
“He might be the best football player I’ve ever seen,” said Gruden. “He’s a pleasure to watch. I find myself going down the hall and saying, ‘Did you see that guy, number 43?’ He makes some of the damdest plays I’ve ever seen. He is a superstar player, but I’m sure [Tyrone] Carter is an excellent safety and I’m sure they will be ready to go.”
Wide receiver Hines Ward is also a scratch for the game after aggravating an existing knee injury.
NOT SO MAC-NIFICANT Anyone who looked at the Pittsburgh game on the schedule at the beginning of the season undoubtedly circled it as a “must see.”
But with the third quarter of the season about to come to a close, nobody could’ve predicted the Bucs and Steelers, a playoff team and a Super Bowl Champion, would have just seven wins between them.
It’s evident the two teams have more in common than quarterbacks with last names, which are difficult to spell. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski have been taking their lumps this season and need this game to resurrect their confidence heading into the season’s final quarter.
Roethlisberger (72.3) and Gradkowski (70.1) are ranked 24th and 28th respectively in passer ratings. Seeing as they are both are from Mid-American Conference schools, they share a desire to see the other succeed, but that can wait a week.
“Yeah, I’ve watched him,” Roethlisberger said of Gradkowski in Wednesday’s conference call with the media. “Any time a MAC quarterback can step in and win football games, I’m proud of him. I’m glad he’s doing good. It’s great when I finally get to call someone ‘kid’ when I get to talk to him. I just hope he doesn’t do good this week.”
Gradkowski grew up in Pennsylvania as a Steelers fan. He even thought the Steelers might draft him at one point, but instead they took another MAC quarterback, selecting Omar Jacobs out of Bowling Green in the fifth round. Looking back, Gradkowski says he was a little shocked, but believes he ended up in the right situation.
“I was definitely surprised [they didn’t draft me],” Gradkowski told the Pittsburgh media in his conference call.
“I was a little shocked at the time, I know my family was, too. But what are you going to do about it? I ended up in a great situation here in Tampa.
“If I would have went to Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is their guy. I would have been sitting behind him for a while.”
Gradkowski said some of his family members swore never to be Steelers fans again after he was passed over for Jacobs. But he holds no grudges against the organization, at least not publicly. If there were any internal animosity, this week would be a perfect time to exact revenge.
NO WORD ON SIMMS CONTRACT A report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Monday said that the Bucs made injured quarterback Chris Simms a “substantial two-year offer”. Apparently, that was not a topic Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wanted to discuss on Wednesday.
Gruden said he really didn’t want to get into the situation until the end of the year.
“There are a lot of reports going on around here,” Gruden said. “I’ll be certainly happy to let everybody know if there is somebody that signs, but that is speculation right now and I don’t have any news to report other than that were looking into his situation. There is no contract that has been signed, though.”
When asked if it was important to him to keep Simms around, Gruden responded by saying, “Obviously we’ve spent four years together. I think a lot of him. We do everything we can to keep good players on this team. But the speculation in the newspapers now is not appropriate.
“These are conversations we’ll have a the end of the year. I like to invest in guys who can help us win a championship. Chris Simms is a young guy that’s worked hard, but I don’t want to sit here and talk about his situation right now. I’m more interested in what we have to do to win a football game.”
INJURY REPORT Running back Michael Pittman (hamstring/shoulder) and tight end Alex Smith (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday and are listed as questionable.
CB Will Allen (ankle), CB Juran Bolden (shin) LB Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle) and DT Ellis Wyms (ankle) are also listed as questionable.
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