It's been a fun last couple of days in Steelers Nation and understandably so. We wrapped up our second consecutive AFC North title and guaranteed ourselves no worse than the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs - not to mention a first round bye and home game in the Divisional Round.
To me, this is a matchup of teams heading in opposite directions. The Steelers have won 5 games in a row. The Tennessee Titans have lost 2 of their past 4 since improving to 10-0 in Jacksonville two Sundays before Thanksgiving. Sandwiched between losses against the Jets and at Houston last Sunday were wins over bottom feeders Detroit and Cleveland. Everybody looks good against them, but the reality is that both Kerry Collins and the Tennessee Titans defense have struggled this past month. Let's take a closer look:
As Collins has failed to prove he can make teams pay for playing single, man-to-man coverage, defenses are keeping 7 or sometimes even 8 guys in the box to stop Tennessee's vaunted two-headed running attack. Let's take a look at how the running game has fared in the past month.To Tennessee's credit, they've still ran the ball very well. They had monster games against Detroit and Cleveland (surprise, surprise), but despite averaging over 4 yards per carry in both the Houston and Jets games, the Titans ran the ball only 24 and 11 times respectively, while asking Collins to throw the ball 72 times in those contests. The national media are already writing that the Titans are going to have to take to the air to win this one. I wholeheartedly disagree. Tennessee's WRs are not good enough to beat our CBs 1-on-1. It's going to take amazing throws by Collins for them to make plays consistently in the passing game against us. My suggestion to the Titans offense would be to just pound, pound, pound away, 3 or 4 yards at a time if need be.
Anyway, as has been mentioned on several occasions here already, the Titans will be missing DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch has been slowed by injurys for a handful of games this year, but the lack of injuries to his teammates has masked his absence for the most part. His 4.5 sacks are well off his average of 10 over the past three years, but Jacob Ford, a 25 year old with no prior NFL experience, has picked up his slack in the sack department. He has played in 11 games, registering 6 sacks, 2 FFs, and 1 pass deflection.
In the Titans two losses, they gave up 409 yards to the Jets and 375 yards to the Texans, including over 200 through the air to Andre Johnson alone. I dismiss the Lions and Browns games for obvious reasons, but the bottom line is that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 defense has not turned in that type of performance all year, nor will they moving forward. And that was before Haynesworth got sent to the sideline for the first time this Sunday in 2008. The way I see it, Tennessee's best days defensively are behind them in 2008.
Haynesworth's absence will likely make a huge difference the next two weeks, and it's not clear at all how effective he'll be when he returns for the playoffs. Staying on the field has always been a bit of a challenge for the 340 pound monster in the middle. He hasn't played in all 16 games since 2002, his rookie year. Since then, he's played in 14 games just once (2005), with his second highest total being last year when he played in 13 games. Let's take a look at the difference in the Titans defense in games he has missed the past two years:
|Year||Season Rush Yards All.||Season Pts. Allowed||Rush Yards Allowed in Games Missed||Average Points Allowed in Games Missed||Record In Games Missed|
Even Fisher, who has complete control of his team, has a hard time controlling the intensity of AH.
As we can see, in 2006, Haynesworth's presence didn't make much of a difference. The Titans were miserable on defense, ranking 2nd to last in points allowed per game and nearly bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed. Last year however, as the Titans defense improved significantly, Haynesworth's absence was most definitely felt when he couldn't suit up. In his first two games he missed, the Titans gave up exactly 166 yards in both losses.
I've written here on BTSC on several occassions that the Titans had been very fortunate to have avoided significant injuries on both sides of the ball. On defense in particular, the Titans have been very fortunate. Even guys like Jevon Kearse, a perennial regular in the injury report, has played relatively unscathed, missing just two games to date.
Now they must move forward for the remainder of the regular season without their main man in the middle. Considering that they face Pittsburgh, and then travel to Indianapolis, this is not the ideal time for such a development. Of course, with a 1st round BYE already locked up, it certainly isn't catastrophic. But for a team that has lost two of their past three, the Titans would like to avoid heading into the playoffs having lost four of five. That's a very distincy possibility, all things considered.
Next up: a closer look at the Titans impressive 10-0 start, as well as a piece on the remarkable run Jeff Fisher has had leading the Houston Oilers and now the Tennesee Titans.