Just as it sounds, here are five aspects of the game I've been thinking about and will be keeping an eye on when the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the 2009 season tonight at Heinz Field.
How will the defensive line look against a Titans offensive line that is one of the league's better units. Tennessee manhandled the Steelers front-7 last year for the most part and I'll be curious to see what happens this time around. We'd like to all think that Pittsburgh's defense will once again be extraordinarily stout in 2009, but lots of that depends on the play of Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith. They're all great players but they're also a year older. After last year's dominating performance by all three, it's been tempting to assume they'll be able to do it once more. We'll see. I'm concerned about the Titans being able to run the ball in between the tackles this evening.
Who wants to properly introduce and ingratiate themselves to Steeler Nation tonight? Which of the rookies or young players are going to make that big 3rd down play on offense, nasty tackle on special teams or momentum-changing play on defense? There's lots and lots of candidates out there and it's hard to see the Steelers winning without someone like Limas Sweed, Mike Wallace, Stefan Logan, Ziggy Hood, etc. making a play or two.
All eyes on Bruce. If there's one game each year where an offensive coordinator should absolutely have his best possible game plan ready, it's got to be opening week. Teams have kept it very close to the vest this preseason - on both sides of the ball admittedly. But perfect offense always beats great defense and I'm hoping Bruce Arians has an outstanding, balanced game plan ready to go.
If the offense isn't clicking, let's hope punter Daniel Sepulveda returns to action with a monster game. I think the Steelers learned just how valuable special teams play was last year; and how a big play on special teams can electrify a crowd and the whole team just like any other play. I'm eager to see if Sepulveda is capable of adding another dimension to that facet of the game. While we're on the subject though, I was pretty surprised by the decision to cut Anthony Madison, the team's special teams ace the past couple of years. It's up to a bunch of untested guys to now fill his place and not allow any drop off particularly on coverage units.
- Finally, what does Willie Parker have in store as he begins what appears to be his last season in Pittsburgh. FWP has always proved his doubters wrong and it appears that the organization no longer believes he fits in to their future plans. It's not clear just how healthy or dinged up he is, but if he does get 12-16 carries and is feeling well physically, I'd expect him to try to flash some of his old self and break off one of those patented 25+ yard runs to the outside when it looks as if there's nothing there at all. I'd also expect him to be more animated than usual if he is able to break off some nice runs. Regardless of what transpires, I'll be cheering for him bigtime.