Steelers vs Titans: The time to send a message is now

USA TODAY Sports

After Thursday's Debacle in Denver as the reigning Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens were humiliated by the Denver Broncos 49-27 in a nationally televised game, it became quite clear to me what the Steelers need to do in their season opener against the Titans; they need to deliver a message.

I don't mean by a score comparable to Thursday night's game after all, for all the success Ben Roethlisberger has achieved and the respect he deserves (but rarely gets outside of Steeler Nation), he is no Peyton Manning. No, by delivering a message I mean the Steelers need to produce a statement game of their own against the Tennessee Titans.

For the past several years, the Steelers have had a bad habit of playing down to its competition; whether it be Oakland, Cleveland, Kansas City or even Tennessee last year, the Steelers rarely ever put their foot on the neck of their competition as a show of total domination. And while they would often rise to the occasion by defeating comparable (or superior) teams and thus inspire the media talking heads to pontificate knowledgeably that opponents "...should never take the Steelers for granted" is that the kind of message we believe should be associated with our Steelers? I sure don't. I want teams to be concerned about their upcoming game against the Steelers; I want fear in their minds over the toll every yard they try to gain or defend will inflict on them.

When I picture the Pittsburgh Steelers, naturally the first thing that leaps to mind is the display case exhibiting the six Lombardi's sitting in the South Side facility. After that though, my mind tends to picture the physicality and intractableness of the Steelers persona. Whether it's a still-life image of the Steel Curtain players of the First Dynasty, or a montage of images of more recent players accompanied by "Renegade", domination and intimidation are two of the character traits for which the Steelers are best known.

Probably the greatest Steelers team assembled was the 1976 squad, and they didn't win a Super Bowl. They started the season off going 1-4 and then lost QB Terry Bradshaw for the next six games but made it all the way to the AFCCG against the Oakland Raiders. How you may ask did they accomplish this with rookie QB Mike Kruczek at the helm? The defense simply overwhelmed the competition by allowing only 28 points over the last nine games while the offense scored 234 points. Let that sink in...that averages 3.1 points a game the defense allowed while the offense scored 26, but it wasn't even that close. The '76 Steelers recorded five (5) shutouts over nine (9) games including three in a row, allowing only the Houston Oilers (note the possible synchronicity here?) to score in double digits - 16 points, but scored 32 of their own.

Just imagine what was going through the minds of the Steelers' upcoming opponents as that streak lengthened, the sense of futility that must have pervaded their locker rooms as they awaited kickoff.

Sure, that was back in the days of real football, before the league became enamored in the fantasy world of the dink-n-dunk West Coast offense and opposing quarterbacks each could throw for 500 yards in the same game.

But times have changed and prolific offenses are here to stay, but that doesn't mean the Steelers can't recapture the same intensity and domineering personality as its 1976 forbearers had. If ever a team was equipped coaching-wise to find a way to short-circuit the pass-happy offensive schemes now in place around the NFL, the Steelers with Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau on the staff are the ones to do it. And in light of the team's apparent weaknesses in terms of offensive line depth, injuries to its tight ends and presumed star running back, the Steelers need LeBeau to prepare his troops and provide them with his most devious game plan yet. And that game plan should call for an unrelenting frontal assault on the Titans' young Jake Locker and his supporting cast of running back Chris Johnson and receiver Kenny Britt.

That message should be made very clear from the very start; right at the coin flip when the Steelers should defer and let the defense take the field for the first series. Let Steve McLendon exhibit his side-to-side speed as he smashes closed any hole Johnson attempts to run through; let Woodley and Worilds pincer off the edges as Timmons slashes through a gap and introduces Locker to the painful underside of Heinz' green turf. Let Troy Polamalu do what he does best and seed confusion over where he's going to attack from while Ryan Clark or Cortez Allen drill any Titan unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a harried or errant Locker pass.

And what better time to send such a loud and unambiguous message to not just their Week One opponent the Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers, get it now?) but also to the rest of the AFC North and in particular a nationally embarrassed and humiliated Ravens team, and to the league in general than Sunday afternoon before a hyped-up and energized home crowd at Heinz Field?

The Titans may gain some yards, but make them pay; they may score some points, but make them pay. The Steelers need to contest every down, every inch of home turf while on defense; on offense they need to hammer away at the Titans' front line, grinding forward on down after down until Roethlisberger spots a weakness down field and launches a bomb to Emmanuel Sanders, or introduces rookie WR Markus Wheaton to what it feels like to bring 65,000 screaming fans to their feet in an undulating wave of sound and twirling gold Terrible Towels. And when the Titans look to prevent such bombs from happening again, Roethlisberger needs to utilize the scalpels Todd Haley has provided him and slice their linebackers up with his precision strikes to Antonio Brown across the middle, or deftly lead Felix Jones or David Paulson down the sidelines for a first down.

The Steelers need as much for themselves as for their future opponents, to make every series, every play count. There is no better way to dispel the notion that the Steelers are aging, that they're old and slow, than to have both the offense and the defense inflict pain on every play; the domineering mystique of the Steelers defense needs to be reintroduced this season, this game, and in each and every series of this game. The whole point of the re-emphasis on the Steelers running game was to make it a physical and psychological drain on the will of the opposing defense; let Isaac Redman ram himself through holes opened by David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster, while Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert deny the Titans access to the backfield; let LaRod Stephens-Howling slash through defenders like an assassin's dagger wielded by Roethlisberger, delivered by hand or air.

Forget about flying under the radar, the Steelers need to launch a barrage of artillery shells wearing black and gold against the opposition in the trenches, inducing shell shock and demoralization. There would be no better time than now to make such a statement and in doing so introduce doubt and trepidation into the minds the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens or the Cleveland Browns, all rivals for the division crown; doubt over reports of the Steelers aging demise, and trepidation over taking the field against an opponent who shows no regard for time left on the clock or points on the board but instead drives unmercifully forward leaving nothing but pain and shattered illusions in its wake.

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