The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans have had a storied battle ever since the their battles back in the old AFC North days. Well, both teams may be headed in different directions, but the passion in this battle still exists. On this Thursday, these two teams pick up where they left off as the Steelers make a visit to LP Field.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been known to make big plays in the passing game all of his career. But along with his big plays comes the risk of him trying to make a play outside the pocket, where he risks taking big hits. This year, the Steelers offense has been more about crisp passing instead of adlibs by Ben. The results have been great because the Steelers have been dangerous through the air with weapons like wide receiver Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.
Headed into this game, Big Ben’s eyes should be wide open because he is going up against a team that has had trouble producing a pass rush. As a result of the lack of a pass rush, expect the Steelers to have a field day against the Titans secondary. If the Titans are to stop this party in the endzone, they must have defensive end Kameron Wimbley step up and be the pass rusher they thought they were getting. If he is able to get to Ben, then the tide could turn for the Titans.
But as far as the Steelers offense, you don’t just have to worry about them passing anymore. Running back Rashard Mendenhall returned last week to provide a jolt to the anemic Steelers running game. If he can continue to run tough like he did last weekend, then expect the Steelers to mix up their pass/run ratio even more than they have so far this season. Titan linebacker Colin McCarthy must be big in the running game. He is by far the Titans best linebacker and he must make plays along with Wimbley to give the Titans defense a shot to hang in the game.
The Tennessee Titans have been an ugly offensive team to start the season. They have had trouble running the ball and have been inconsistent passing the ball as well. Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be stepping in for an injured Jake Locker again this week due to the Locker’s seperated shoulder.
In order for Hasselbeck to be as effective as he can be, his offensive line must be able to pick up the many different schemes and blitzes of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If they are able to identify their schemes, then expect Hasselbeck to be able to take advantage of a secondary that will be missing safety Troy Polamalu. Guys like wide receiver Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook could be big issues for the Steelers if they are able to get open and if Hasselbeck has time to throw.
Another big factor in this game will be the running game of the Titans, or lack thereof. The fate of the running game falls on running back Chris Johnson and the offensive line. Chris Johnson has not been as effective this year, but that responsibility does not fall solely on him. Sure, sometimes he does not hit the hole with verocity, but the offensive line is not an innocent bystander at all. Chris Johnson is averaging .5 yards before he is contacted by a defender.
In the NFL, the average yards before a running back is touched by a defender is three yards. In this game, the Titans must get to the next level and create creases for Johnson. And in turn, Johnson must hit the hole when it’s there. If the running game shows up, then the Titans could slow the pace of this game down. If they are able to do that, they then keep Big Ben on the bench and limit his time on the field.
As far as how the game goes, expect the Steelers to come out and try to jump on the Titans early and often. The big question will be if the Titans will respond. I suspect that the Titans will come out with a little more fire this game. But unfortunately, there are just too many holes in this team. And as far as the running game, Chris Johnson’s rough season will continue. He has never had success against the Steelers through his whole career and this game will not be any different. Expect Big Ben to have his way with the Titans defense as this one could get ugly. And it more than likely will.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Tennessee 13