Thanks to Mechem for an excellent early preview that is full of great tidbits on what to expect for Thursday's season opener. Be sure to stop back this week as the content, analysis, and news will be flowing fast and furious in preperation for the Week One Match-Up versus the Tennesse Titans. (DYM)
The much anticipated beginning to the NFL season is almost upon us. Yes in just 3 days we will be watching the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tennessee Titans. The long offseason is over. Time for football. And really, could there be a better way to start the season than taking two very similar, very potent teams with some bad blood and sour grapes, and smashing them together on primetime? I think not.
The last game ended up being a 17 point loss, but in reality, it was not nearly so bad on the field. I believe this game showed us that there are plenty of things that work against the Titans, and it can give us some clues as to what to expect on Thursday.
We also face the EXACT same team as last year. The Titans also return 20/22 starters. One of those that is gone is Albert Haynesworth, who we didnt play anyway. The other is Ryan Fowler, who started every game up until ours, and was replaced by Stephen Tulloch. Fowler was released the other day. So we literally face an identical opponent. Even recent acquisition Nate Washington is not a lock to play due to injury.
Breaking down the last game a little closer:
The passing statistic was quite interesting. Ben Roethlisberger went off to the tune of 25/39 for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns. Quite a high set of numbers for him on all accounts. His counterpart Kerry Collins, kept the passing game low key. Mostly dink and dunk catches chewed up 215 yards, with just one pass over 20 yards.
The rushing of each team was relatively mild. The Titans averaged 3.8 per carry, and the dynamic duo of Smash and Dash got just 117 combined. 21 of which was a long break by Chris Johnson from a rare missed tackle by Ike Taylor. Our own Willie Parker was rendered mute by the Titans defense, as was rather expected. Interestingly though, Waltzing Mewelde Moore had a 9.3 yard per carry average, going 3 for 28 with a 17 yard long run in there.
Despite throwing for more yards, slowing the usually devastating Titans run game, rare GOOD punting by Berger (44 average, and 2 in the 20 on 5 attempts), and even winning the time of possession battle by just one minute, the Steelers lost handily. And this was due to several horribly timed turnovers. Mr Roethlisberger was harassed more or less all day, and this led to 4 fumbles. Two of his were lost.
In addition, Ben threw 2 interceptions. One was the game ending heave returned for a touchdown, further inflating the final score. But the other was costly, and gave the Titans much needed points.
Fast forward to Thursday. Where do I see this game heading:
I expect entirely to see us come right out with a lot of quick passing routes. Shortening the drops and keeping Ben upright should be a priority. While we did manage several passes deep, over 20 yards in the last game, Ben took way too many hits for that to continue. The short game worked then too, with Heath Miller getting 8 catches for 69 yards and only one over 15 yards.
This game will be an immense challenge for an offensive line, that will return 4/5 starters from last year. None of which stood out as being particularly great. But 3 of our starting linemen have new contracts, and hopefully they can form a core unit. This week will be a huge test, but if they pass, it should spell good things for the season to follow.
When the short passes are working, we can hopefully get the tight front 7 of the Titans to back off just a bit. This will open up the running game for "Finally Well Parker." In addition, I'm sure the coaching staff will be excited to mix in Mendenhall and perhaps Moore for some carries. As we saw, when Moore snuck in there, his change of pace resulted in big gains last time around. I expect the same with whoever we change up to.
Our offense should also be given the help of our new return man Stefan Logan. We had exactly a 1 yard per punt return average, and just 15 per kick return. Hopefully that changes.
Defensively, what worked last time will work again. I don't see much of a threat here. The one thing we will likely see is more attention towards Justin Gage. He quietly broke the 100 yard mark against us in the last game on just 5 receptions. He came up big on several 3rd downs, and every catch was a long one. He was the only one to break a long catch on us in that game, and so its important to isolate that and remove it. In addition, we need to bring the heat on the pass rush. Even man-beast James Harrison was held to our only sack, and nobody else got anywhere near Collins. With plenty of time, Collins will do his dink and dunk junk all day.
I foresee with a revised game plan, designed to prevent Ben taking a boof every other snap, we wont lose any fumbles to the Tennessee Titans. And in addition, Ben should have no problems with INTs. The one INT that mattered was from pressure. Ben chewed up their secondary otherwise.
Essentially this game comes down to our offensive line. Can they give Ben just a little more comfort room? Can Ben get rid of the ball if they cant? And can somebody on defense make a play when needed? Perhaps a Brett Keisel line tip that gets picked off, or a Polamalu INT out of nowhere? Kerry Collins is quite safe with the football, and therefore we need to elevate our game to win that Turnover battle.
Considering that the final score of the last one should have been 24-14, that is the score I predict for this game. Only the other way around. Were it not for that last desperate INT returned for a TD, that score would have happened. This last game felt worlds apart, but was very close. I think the Steelers close the gap, fix the only problem they had, and win this one in a tough fight.