Considered a Super Bowl caliber team last year, the Tennessee Titans instead lost their first six games. They made a change at QB and proceeded to win eight of their last ten. Finishing strong should not be surprising for a team led by one of the best coaches in football. Jeff Fisher, entering his 16th season, is the NFL’s longest serving head coach having began the job when the team was still the Houston Oilers.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. TITANS OFFENSE
Vince Young, the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, reclaimed the starting QB job last season. Former Steeler great Merril Hoge has long been a vocal critic of VY, saying he did not believe he was an NFL caliber QB before the draft and questioning his throwing and leadership skills ever since. Young has struggled with the mental and physical rigors of the game, losing the starting job to Kerry Collins in 2008. Now entrenched as starter, Young luckily avoided a league suspension for slapping a man in the face at a strip club. Who gets into a fight at a strip club? Those are the happiest places on earth!
And way to be consistent when doling out suspensions, Ginger Dictator.
With apologies to the fella out in Minnesota, Chris Johnson is the best RB in the NFL. Last season, he exploded for 2,006 yards. This year, he has his sights set on a 2,500 yard season. Johnson is great but giving him the ball 358 times like they did last year is asking for trouble. The human body can only get slammed into by 320 pound behemoths so many times before it begins breaking down. Ask Willie Parker.
Without CJ, the Titans would be in a lot of trouble because they don’t have much by way of receiving threats. Former Steeler Nate Washington led the team in TDs last season and is off to a good start this year. Kenny Britt had a good rookie season but found himself in Fisher’s doghouse during the preseason. Justin Gage and TE Bo Scaife are solid but unspectacular. The success of the passing game is greatly dependent on Johnson’s running and not much of a asset taken by itself.
I guess it goes without saying containing CJ will be paramount for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. They’ll have to do it without one of their prime run-stoppers as NT Casey Hampton missed most of last week with a hamstring injury and hasn’t practiced this week. Barring a last second miracle, Chris Hoke will take his place in the middle. Hoke’s always been a capable back-up but he doesn’t command the double-teams that Big Snack does.
Our run defense looked spectacular last week, primarily thanks to Lawrence Timmons. The defense is designed for the big guys up front to occupy space while the LBs shoot gaps and make tackles. Last season, Aaron Smith wasn’t there to create gaps and James Farrior and Timmons failed to make plays. Last week, it was a different story as Atlanta pretty much abandoned the running game the entire second half.
Under no circumstance will Tennessee give up on CJ. Even if they got behind by two scores, they’d still run him because he’s that rare RB big play threat. He’s going to get his carries and get his big runs. The key will be putting the Titans in situations where the passing game has to make plays and then not letting that aspect beat you.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. TITANS DEFENSE
Last season, the Titans ranked 10th against the run but only 28th overall because they came in second to last against the pass. In an effort to bolster the defense, Tennessee used four of their first five draft picks on that area. Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is counting on either Jason McCourty or rookie Alterraun Verner to replace CB Nick Harper opposite Cortland Finnegan. Looking to fill the void left by Fat Albert Haynesworth, Raheem Brock was brought in to add experience to a DL led by underrated Tony Brown.
Despite these stats, last week against the Raiders, the run defense surrendered 95 yards to Darren McFadden while the secondary only allowed 180 yards through the air. Of course, this is the Raiders we’re talking about so I’m not sure you can learn much from playing them. The Titans also sacked Jason Campbell four times but that usually happens when one team gets way ahead and you know the other team has to throw.
LT Max Starks, nursing an ankle sprain, is probably not going to play on Sunday. The Steelers lucked out with it being a regular sprain rather than a high ankle sprain which tends to linger for an entire year. Still, your tackles have to move and I can’t see a hobbled Starks being effective. He’ll be replaced by Jonathan Scott, who came here from the Buffalo Bills where he has experience starting at LT.
Dennis Dixon must play better. Bottom line. He was extremely lucky last week as he had several INTs dropped by the Falcons while misfiring on a bunch of easy completions. Hines Ward said on the radio that Dix was overcome by nerves last week, probably due to a combination of the home crowd and not getting many reps with the first team offense. Now that he has a full game under his belt, I expect a more relaxed Dixon to justify all the faith we’ve put in him.
I hope Bruce Arians takes the clamps off Dix’s game. It was clear last week that Arians told him under no circumstances was he to run with the ball. That type of idiotic thinking is par for the course with one of the dumbest O-coordinators in football. But with the line situation as it is, I would think more roll-outs would be in order where you both get Dixon away from pressure and give him the option to pass or take off.
Beyond Dixon, there isn’t much more I’d like to see from the Steeler offense. They only scored one TD last week but there isn’t much to criticize overall. Rashard Mendenhall churned out steady yardage and Hines, Heath, and Randle-El were open all over the field. If the quarterbacking was even slightly better, they would’ve scored two or three TDs easy.
Byron Leftwich is progressing quickly in his rehab. He may even dress as the emergency QB for Sunday’s game. While I still question the wisdom of starting an immobile QB, especially one hobbled with a gimpy knee, I have to think Mike Tomlin will strongly consider making that switch unless he sees improved play from his quarterback. Let’s hope Dixon performs well enough to remove all doubts from his mind.
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