The Titans blew out the Oakland Raiders in their opener, 38–13. Now, they get a much bigger test at home when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit LP Field.
The Steelers, too, should get a better idea of where they stand in the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when they take to the road for the first time this season. Pittsburgh needed overtime last Sunday to defeat Atlanta, 15–9, in a battle of field goals until Rashard Mendenhall reached the end zone in overtime.
Both teams have to hope that defense and the running game can carry them. The Titans got back to the type of defense they played before last year when their front four was able to get pressure, leaving the back seven to play their own assignments with very few blitzes. The Steelers have to be encouraged that they now have safety Troy Polamalu healthy again. He is the wild card for the Steelers because he is the type of playmaker that must be accounted for at all times by the opposing offense.
Offensively, the Titans want the ball in Chris Johnson’s hands as much as possible. Johnson ran for 142 yards last week against Oakland and is working on a streak of 12 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, just two shy of tying Barry Sanders’ NFL record of 14 in a row.
The Steelers need to utilize their own rushing game with Mendenhall to alleviate any pressure on young quarterback Dennis Dixon, who got the start last week in place of the suspended Roethlisberger. If there is a consolation, the Steelers may have veteran Byron Leftwich available this week, if Dixon falters.
Keys for the Titans
• Vince Young was exceptional as a complement to Johnson last Sunday, completing 13-of-17 passes for 154 yards and two TDs. More important, Young had no interceptions, and his one fumble didn’t cost the Titans as the defense bailed him out. He has to continue to throw the ball effectively to make teams pay for stacking the box against CJ. It is his first start against Pittsburgh’s defense, and he cannot afford mistakes.
• The defense did a good job of pressuring Jason Campbell and the Raiders last week, but the fact of the matter is the Oakland offensive line played terribly. The Steelers’ line, even though it is banged up and starts a rookie in Maurkice Pouncey at center, is better, and that will provide a much more accurate measuring stick for the Titans’ front four. Defensive tackle Jason Jones has 4.5 sacks against Pittsburgh in two games, and he is probably the key to that pressure up front for Tennessee.
Keys for the Steelers
• The Steelers wound up swapping field goals with the Falcons last week until the overtime. Dixon probably isn’t going to provide many big plays in the passing game, and the Titans should load up against the run to force him to throw the football. Like his counterpart Young, Dixon may have to make a play or two scrambling, and has to direct touchdown drives against the team like the Titans that has big-play potential on offense.
• Since Young has never seen the Steelers defense except for two games from the sidelines, Pittsburgh would be wise to throw some complex things at him, even at the expense of occasionally not loading up to stop Johnson. An unexpected blitz or a correct guess by Polamalu might be just the type of game-changing play that could turn the game in the Steelers’ favor on the road.
The Titans need to hold serve for the second straight week at home before they hit the road next week, especially with the Steelers minus Roethlisberger. If Young can play mostly mistake-free football, the Titans can hold off the Steelers. Titans 20–17