clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) @ Tennessee Titans (1-0) - Five Keys To The Early-Season AFC Showdown

New, comments

Quite the early-season matchup between two AFC teams that still don't like each other all that much. You don't make or break your season in Week 2, but whichever squad leaves the field Sunday victorious will not only be 2-0, but will also have an early leg up in potential playoff positioning come December. Should be a good one. 

I have a more thorough preview in store, but to get things started, five things I'll be keeping a close eye on when the Steelers and Titans clash in Nashville.


  1. Dennis Dixon - obviously the Steelers' starting quarterback will need to play better and do more this coming Sunday than he did against the Falcons at home. I actually could see this game being either a defensive slugfest or a somewhat high-scoring affair (27-24 ish??). Either way, Dixon will have to do better sustaining drives on 3rd down, particularly in those areas of the field that lead to 3 or 7 points. It happened all too frequently last year and in 2008, but on Sunday, the Steelers again strung together several nice plays only to then get bogged down past midfield, when another first down or two might have netted a FG, or perhaps even a TD. The Steelers can survive on Sunday with one or two Dixon turnovers, but only if he couples those mistakes with a few big plays down the field, and better drive-sustaining accuracy on his manageable 3rd and medium throws. 

  2. Steelers Inside Linebackers - Tough test for James Farrior/Lawrence Timmons/Larry Foote/Keyaron Fox. No team in the league sports a more dynamic rushing attack than do the Titans. Can the veteran Farrior keep up with the explosive Chris Johnson? Can Lawrence Timmons hunt down Vince Young if he breaks contain? The Steelers LBs in the middle of the field must also account for Titans tight end, Bo Scaife, who doesn't receive much publicity, but quietly has made himself into one of the better tight ends in the AFC.

  3. Jeff Reed - I thought Reed kicked the ball very well last Sunday, despite missing two of his five field goal attempts. Obviously his miss from 40 yards out with just seconds left in regulation was disappointing, but a gust of wind seemed to catch his kick and push it right. And of course, his miss from 55 yards was almost good. It certainly had plenty of leg (would have been good from 60), it just caremed off the post and didn't fall over the crossbar. Still, even though both of his misses were hardly shanks, I'm curious how Reed will respond this weekend. You know Reed is still thinking about his contract situation, and how he'd like to prove to the organization that he's worth investing in for a few more years. Will he bounce back and be his usual reliable self? Or might we see Reed fall into a little bit of a slump and feel the pressure for the first time in his career? 

  4. Offensive Line vs. Titans D-Line - Of all the things that ailed the Titans last year defensively, the inability to create pressure with their defensive line has to rank right up there. Of course, when you don't get after the quarterback, there's a domino effect on the play of the rest of the defense. And vice versa. So it must have been a welcomed site for Titans fans last week when four different Titans recorded a sack of Raiders' QB Jason Campbell, including their first-round draft pick, Derrick Morgan. Can the Steelers keep the Titans front-four out of Dixon's face? And can they pick up whatever blitzes Cecil Cooper may dial up? With Max Starks likely sidelined, how will Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams fare? After Starks' injury, the Falcons were able to get to Dennis Dixon more frequently and aggressively than they had all afternoon. 

  5. Mike Wallace vs. Titans secondary - It's not clear yet who will lineup opposite Mike Wallace on Sunday. It could be Cortland Finnegan, who the Steelers have seen plenty of in years past. Or it could be Jason McCourty, a 2009 sixth-rounder out of Rutgers that Tennessee has high hopes for. Regardless, Wallace will have the upper-hand in the speed department. Can Bruce Arians and Dixon target Wallace more often than they did against the Falcons? If so, it would sure help loosen up the Titans' rush defense, as well as give Hines Ward and Heath Miller more room to operate over the middle of the football field.

That's a start. More from me soon previewing this intriguing Week 2 matchup between two teams that don't like each other all that much.