John Madden
John Madden
This should be a good one
By John Madden

The Outback Steakhouse Madden Cruiser heads back to Florida, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night (ABC, 9:00 p.m. ET).

Brad Johnson
Bucs QB Brad Johnson among the NFL's top-rated quarterbacks.

For years, Tampa Bay has been about defense, and not much offense. Every time I thought about them, I would think that the score would be like, 13-9. They would just score a few more points than the other team to win the game, but they couldn't really move the ball up and down the field and pass it well.

But then Jon Gruden came in from Oakland to be the Bucs' head coach, and quarterback Brad Johnson started playing well -- he's had a heckuva season for Tampa Bay. He seems to be really comfortable in Gruden's offense and has been very good over the last six games or so.

Early in the season, the Bucs weren't protecting Johnson and I thought he was taking way too many hits and he wouldn't last the season. But then they got the pass protection calmed down and he really went to work. He does have an injured thumb on his throwing hand and a back injury, so there's some question about how he's going to be this week and if he'll be able to practice at all. However, after watching Tennessee's Steve McNair on Monday night, I don't think it's that big of a deal if the starting quarterback misses a few days of practice in his team's 15th week of the season.

Now, that's assuming that the hand and the thumb and the back are okay on Monday for this game. When you injure a hand or a thumb, the big thing with that is the grip on the football. If you can't grip it then you can't put any velocity on your throws. And if you can't put any velocity on your throws, the ball floats and if it floats, it gets intercepted and those types of things. So, between now and when this game starts, the important thing is that Johnson gets the strength back in that right hand and that his back starts feeling better.

You know Tampa Bay's defense is going to play well. They have big, ol' Warren Sapp in the middle and he's the best defensive tackle in football. The guy next to him is normally Anthony "Booger" McFarland, and he's pretty doggone good, too. He's out for the season, though, with a foot injury, and that's a big loss for their defense. He and Sapp were a pretty good combination on the defensive line.

That defense isn't the biggest defense, though, and you can kind of get on 'em and get some running going, and that's what Pittsburgh's going to need to do. To do that, however, it has to be in the second half and you have to be ahead. Now, if you're behind and you're playing uphill against the Bucs, then the little running that you can get going isn't going to be enough and you can't stick with it.

So, to me, that's the combination for the Steelers. That is, to be able to have a meaningful third and fourth quarter, where the score is close enough that they can continue to pound at Tampa Bay's defense. And then, when they pound at it; to be successful.

Maddox on Monday night
I saw Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in Week 7 against Indianapolis, and Steelers' quarterback Tommy Maddox played very well in that game. He was really calm and confident and he was doing a lot of good things for his team.

But then he got hurt against Tennessee about four weeks later and that was a tough thing to see. He did come back, though, and he had a bad game against Houston in Week 14. He did play a little better on Sunday against Carolina, and he'll need to play well against a very good Tampa Bay defense on Monday night.

Once Maddox replaced Kordell Stewart early in the season, wide receiver Plaxico Burress became a bigger factor for Pittsburgh. He had a very good game against the Panthers, and the Steelers can throw to him and Hines Ward, and they have Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue running the ball.

That's a pretty good combination they have there with Bettis and Zereoue. Both of those backs, however, have been bothered by injuries and that will be something to watch this week. Zereoue ran the ball 14 times on Sunday against Carolina, and he had a couple of 100-yard rushing games last month. He's a guy that I really like, and I was really impressed with him when I saw him against the Colts. He leads Pittsburgh in rushing and they'll need him for this game.
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