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Both teams enter Thursday Night Football with banged-up defenses.
Two AFC teams hungry for a victory will clash in Nashville tonight, when the Tennessee Titans host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network. Pittsburgh got back to .500 last week with a hard-fought 16-14 win against the Eagles. Tennessee was blown out on the road for the second consecutive week, dropping to 1-4 on the year after losing a 30-7 decision to the Vikings.
When the Tennessee Titans have the ball:
The Titans have a highly-paid running back in Chris Johnson and two solid tackles, but they rank 30th in the league in rushing with only 65.4 yards per game. The blame has ranged from Chris Palmer’s scheme to weak interior line play to Johnson himself, but Tennessee must find a way to start getting some production on the ground. Matt Hasselbeck started in place of the injured Jake Locker last week in Minnesota, and the veteran signal caller went 26-for-43 for 200 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
The Steelers defense has battled constant injuries this season, and stud safety Troy Polamalu (calf) will miss this game while linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) is doubtful. Pittsburgh has only allowed 280 yards per game through four games, but Dick LeBeau’s group has been torched in both road losses at Denver and Oakland. The Steelers only have one interception and eight sacks on the year, and they cannot afford to let Hasselbeck get into a rhythm tonight.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers have the ball:
The Pittsburgh offense received a huge boost last week with the return of top running back Rashard Mendenhall, who totaled 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the victory over the Eagles. The improved rushing attack will be a big help to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been solid in compiling 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns against only one pick this season. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are big-time threats on the outside, and Heath Miller could play a huge role tonight as the Titans have been repeatedly burned by opposing tight ends this year.
The Tennessee defense has simply been awful in 2012, allowing an NFL-high 36.2 points per game. The Titans have battled injuries as well, and they will need big efforts from banged-up defenders like middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, safety Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Alterraun Verner to beat the Steelers. Jerry Gray’s group must contain Mendenhall and the Pittsburgh run game, while trying to force Roethlisberger into some bad decisions.
The Titans offense must win the time of possession battle and take advantage of the Steelers defensive injuries and the short week of preparation. If Hasselbeck can get some help from the run game, he can lead the team to first downs and keep Tennessee in the game. If not, the Titans defensive woes will be exposed with too much time on the field. The Titans should play inspired ball at home, but look for the Steelers firepower to take over in the end.
Steelers 27 Titans 20