Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Much has changed since the Steelers defensive annihilation of the Titans in Week 2 of the 2010 season, but these two teams are still engaged in a rivalry that spans five decades and three different cities.
For every dominant piece of Philadelphia's win in 2008, it paled in comparison to the annihilation of the Titans' offense in 2010. The Steelers forced seven turnovers to go along with four sacks and eliminated TItans' running back Chris Johnson from matter in a 19-11 win that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Much has changed since then. The Steelers seem to need half a season to get seven takeaways, and a defensive unit that used to allow big rushes as often as it allows nose tackle Casey Hampton to play half back has been gashed on the ground multiple times.
The toughness is still there, though, and it's what the Steelers will lean on Thursday in a short-week game against two long-standing rivals; the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) and the bitter road.
The Steelers have lost four of their last five road games dating back to last season, and face a Titans team returning home after a brutal two-game stretch on the road in which they surrendered 68 points in losses to Houston (38-14) and Minnesota (30-7).
Add in the fact home teams are 13-3 in prime time games (Thursday Night, Sunday Night and Monday Night), this has all the makings of a competitive game.
When the Titans have the ball:
Johnson and his offensive line are struggling with trust. The line hasn't been strong through five games , allowing Johnson to face defenders in the backfield frequently, but even if a hole is there, he's hesitant; as if he's always expecting to be met by a would-be tackler upon receiving the handoff.
It won't get any easier against a Steelers defensive line that maintained gap integrity in shutting down Eagles' RB LeSean McCoy to just 53 yards on 16 carries.
One advantage they may have is a healthy Kenny Britt. The big play-making receiver has been hobbled by an ankle injury that held him to just 29 snaps in the Titans' loss at Minnesota. Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck averaged an abysmal 4.7 yards per attempt in the Week 5 loss, and much of that was due to the lack of Britt.
Expect the Titans to pull out all the stops in this game, and particularly when Britt is covered by penalty-prone cornerback Ike Taylor, they'll try to get him the ball deep down the field, and high in the air. At 6-foot-4 and possessing great leaping ability, Britt is one of the game's best receivers in the air.
When the Steelers have the ball:
It's likely the Steelers continue to ride their hot hand on the ground. Their offensive line is just four days removed from its best performance of the season, racking up 125 rushing yards against Philadelphia. It was the manner in which they earned those yards more than the gains themselves. They were physical up front and finished off blocks with a sense of "nasty" they haven't had in some time.
Expect that nasty to be at the center of the Steelers game plan. It's one of the match-ups the Steelers' offensive line can be expected to own, particularly center Maurkice Pouncey and left guard Willie Colon.
Ball control is the heart of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's game plan, and they will establish the run. But it has breakout written all over slumping receiver Antonio Brown, who has four drops and two fumbles in the Steelers' last two games. He and batterymate Mike Wallace have failed to make the plays they're both used to making, and while the Titans' cornerback tandem of Jason McCourty and Aterran Verner is one of the strengths of the Titans team, both Wallace and Brown can win their 1-on-1s, and get points on the board.
Titans special teams
Return man Darius Reynaud was the AFC Special Teams Player of the month through September, having returned a kick 105 yards for a touchdown and boasting a 27.6 yard average on 16 returns. The Titans are only getting 6.5 yards per punt return from him, though.
Punter Brett Kern leads the NFL with an impressive 44.5 yard net average with six fair catches in 25 return opportunities. It highlights a coverage unit only allowing 6.5 yards per return.
Kickoff on NFL Network is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. ET.