The rock has been pushed down the hill, is quickly gaining momentum and is ready to mow down the Steelers’ offensive line about as quickly as the their opponents have been able to. A loss last week to the Texans has fed the little demons of doubt in Steelers Nation. The offensive line is in taters desperately seeking to stop the bleeding. Perhaps Max Starks is the tourniquet… although you usually need to cut something off after applying a tourniquet. The defense is also looking for some divine inspiration after losing James Harrison and Aaron Smith to injury last week. A huge turnaround is needed on both sides of the ball, or the Steelers will be staring at 2-3 and moving further down the food chain in the AFC North. The final reports are in from practice this week.
The injury list has ballooned since last Sunday, and what is usually a list filled with ‘probables’ and ‘questionables’ is now littered with ‘outs.’ Here is a list of who is out for the Steelers:
Casey Hampton – Shoulder
James Harrison – Eye
Aaron Smith – Foot
Jason Worlids – Quadricep
Chris Kemoeatu – Knee
Mewelde Moore – Ankle
Rashard Mendenhall is listed as ‘questionable’ with his hamstring. He did not practice Tuesday and Wednesday and had limited practice on Friday. The feel from most is that Redman will start in place of Mendy – much to my enjoyment and relief. CB Cortez Allen is listed as ‘questionable’ and did not practice all week. Ben Roethlisberger was listed as ‘probable’ and will play unless they have to saw off his foot… and maybe even then he’ll find a way to play.
Harrison is obviously a big loss for this week, but so is Mewelde Moore. The Steelers’ best (and only) third down back will hurt the team on their frequented third downs as well as late in the game – Moore for the past three games has helped to spell Mendenhall as the 2nd half progressed. It is not clear if rookie RB Jonathan Dwyer (practice squad) was signed to be a back up back to Redman if Mendenhall does not play. Even if Mendenhall is in the lineup, I don’t see him starting the game. Hampton is also a big loss. Kiesel returning will help but we must now rely on Chris Hoke to stuff up the middle – he might be a bit more effective than a sluggish Hampton this season.
S Chris Hope (forearm) is the only Titan listed as ‘out.’ G Leroy Harris (knee) and TE Craig Stevens (ribs) are listed as ‘questionable.’ WR Marc Mariani (hip) and LB Gerald McRath (knee) are listed as ‘probable.’ Not injury related, FB Ahmard Hall did not practice all week as he was finishing up his suspension for substance abuse. He is expected to return with no issues on Sunday. The Titans have stayed somewhat healthy for the first four weeks and show no signs of being overly banged up. Their next week is the bye week – so they will look to stay unscathed for four quarters.
Mike Tomlin is beginning to walk down a risky path of denial after the loss to the Texans last week. He felt like the Steelers were actually ‘in the game.’ He felt he saw some promising things and that the team just did not execute well enough – the theme so far this season coming out of his mouth. Tomlin is still assured of his confidence in this team (good thing) and that there is no need to panic (also good thing). There have been no significant personel moves aside from injury replacements because of his assuredness (bad thing?). Tomlin talked about Gay/Lewis/B-Mac early in the week and said practice will dictate playing time. Looks like B-Mac didn’t practice well yet again because according to tweets from the Trib, he’s riding the pine again.
Tomlin acknowledges the ‘hotness’ of the Titans (playing’wise not J-Lo’wise) with their three game winning streak. He did his usual biographical rundown of the Titans’ key positions to the press. He noted that former Steeler WR Nate Washington is the best 3rd down receiver in the AFC. For some reason I see our ILB’s getting eaten up all day with slants from this guy. He says that Tennessee has a good blocking front line which will post a challenge for an already struggling Steelers run defense. He expects DE Jason Jones to be problematic for the Steelers offensive line. He expects CB Finnegan to cause problems underneath. With Mendy and Me-Mo hurt, Redman took the majority of snaps this week, and Tomlin eluded to Jonathan Dwyer needing to be ready to go this week.
A little bonus coverage on the Steelers coaches: Bruce Arians spoke with PPG’s Ron Cookabout the state of the offense. He squarely put the blame on himself and invites all criticism to go his way. He feels that it’s time to start backing up the claims from the offseason that this will be the most potent offense we’ve seen from the Steelers from…. well… ever. Cook presented many criticisms to Arians from fans with regards to his play calling. He deflected them all with excuses of ‘well if you do this then you set yourself up for this, which is bad.’ So does that mean you continue to march blindly towards the abyss? Some solutions that Cook presented to Arians are pretty valid as they address the major ‘holes’ in the efficiency of the offense – extra blocking TE’s, more slants and short passes, more Redman less Mendy, more rollouts. He dismissed them all. But I think there is validity with the more Red, less Mendy as well as more rollouts. Redman has been entirely more productive than Mendy and is hitting holes faster and with more abandon than Mendy. That’s good for the Steelers who need to be moving in a positive direction in the run game. Rollouts would give Big Ben more time to make a play by scrambling away from blitzing LB’s and CB’s. Arians says it shuts down half the field – that might be so, but if designed well enough (ahem ahem) a rollout will give you three to four levels of passing depth – short dump, 10 yard pickup, 25 yard sideline, and a 30+ yard deep threat. It might get a little crowded, but that extra time could at the very least free Wallace up deep down the field. We’ll see what is in store for the Titans defense this Sunday, but we’ll probably see much of the same from an uncreative Arians.
Titans head coach Mike Munchak is confident that most of his probable and questionable injured players will be ready to suit up this Sunday. When asked about how they would prepare for Redman replacing Mendenhall, Munchak felt that the Steelers would run the same plays as they would with Mendenhall so there should be no change in the preparation of that. Munchak does not feel the upcoming bye week for his team will effect their play one way or the other. He feels that since they are playing a team like Pittsburgh, then they will come in and play hard like they would against any other opponent. Munchak is not surprised to hear that Max Starks could be starting at LT for the Steelers. He says that Starks is a veteran enough player that mentally he should be ready to go, it’s just a matter of physical conditioning and how the Steelers account for that. It doesn’t appear like it will change their point of attack one way or the other. Impressive words and maturity from a first year head coach.
One interesting report coming out of Nashville is the success of the Titans short-yardage defense. The Titans are in the top 10 in the league for stopping offenses with 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 opportunities. They have had successful goal line stances, stuffing Denver’s Willis McGahee on a 3rd and goal from the one back in Week 3 at home – that ended up being a deciding factor in the win as the Titans pulled out a 17-14 victory over the Broncos. This statistic does not bode well for an already struggling running game from the Steelers. The push and hope from most is that the Steelers set themselves up with shorter passing routes (since Big Ben has about as much time to survive a pass blitz as a man has to survive by stepping on the surface of the sun) which would lead to third and short downs. This could cause trouble all day long for the Steelers. Scenarios of Roethlisberger going play action with a 5-7 step drop to get the receivers downfield on a third and short spells S A C K after sack after sack.
It should be a an interesting game to watch. Much is on the line early for both of these teams. The Steelers need to stop the bleeding and the Titans need to extend their streak into their bye week to put substantial pressure on their division rival Texans. The trench battle will be fierce and could be the tipping scale as to who wins this game. The team that dominates the line of scrimmage in the running game will more than likely win this game. I hope that the Steelers can make a showing of things and stick it to the Titans – if not resulting in a win but for at least to show Steelers Nation that this team has some life in it. I also will never forget that this is the team that stomped on the Terrible Towel back during a certain playoff win over the Steelers. For that reason alone, these guys need to be constantly punched in the mouth. When I answered questions for the Titans blog yesterday, I gave the prediction that the Titans would take this one. I’m sticking with that prediction for now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be pushing for our boys to pull out a momentum swinging win at Heinz Field. GO STEELERS!