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Pregame Zone Blitz: Harrison Holds Counter Active, Starks, Hampton Are Not

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Excitement can only begin to describe the win in Week 1. With Lawrence Timmons and Bryant McFadden (welcome back) each notching career-highs in tackles, the Steelers defense dominated the run, and did not fold against the uber-talented Roddy White, and the maybe-not-so-talented Matt Ryan.

Shifting ahead to Week 2, one of the hottest and least likeable players looks to accomplish something he hasn't done before; rush for 100 yards against Pittsburgh, and notch his 13th straight trip to the Century Club. Will 13 be lucky for Chris Johnson? It typically is when Vince Young starts at quarterback. Johnson averages 140 yards a carry when he's in there. It's going to be a hot, humid and physical game in Nashville Sunday. If nothing else, PZB can give you an idea of how the humidity affected the officials line of sight on James Harrison next week. But we do have some stats surrounding his quality performance against Atlanta.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Defensive tackle Javon Haye was fined $5,000 for tackling RB Michael Bennet by his facemask in the Titans win over Oakland in Week 1.

David Climer of The Tennesseean reminds us why Keith Bulluck, LenDale White and Jevon Kearse are no longer with the Titans.

Music City Miracles points out Chris Johnson rushes for an average of 140 yards a game when Vince Young is the Titans QB.

"Roos Field" currently under construction...and it's red.

Last Game

It was déjà vu all over again. Defense on its last gasp, looking tired and trying desperately to back up an offense that failed to capitalize in the fourth quarter.

But, it wasn't. There was a certain confidence level that seemed to be in play. I said to SteelerBro, there's one big play left in this game, and you cannot dink and dunk this defense all game.

Hat nod to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, he played a pretty good game - just not an outstanding one. He took what he was given, and he was patient. Roddy White made some sick catches, and did a great job moving the chains. But I never felt like they had enough to march the field for a game-winner.

Surely enough, Matty Ice made a critical mistake. He floated a pass again to White, and Troy Polamalu read it like a magazine.

There was a collective dip back into resignation land when Jeff Reed missed a 40-yarder with 30 seconds to go, but then, and even when Atlanta won the toss, it felt like the defense was there to stay, and while they may give a first down or two, they were not letting their opponents close to the end zone again.

Pittsburgh made it simple, letting backup TE/FB David Johnson destroy two Falcons defenders while PZB Week 1 Spotlight player Rashard Mendenhall bust out the biggest run the Steelers have had in what seems like forever.

Game over. Mendenhall's cathartic toss of the ball into the back wall of the stadium after scoring symbolized the team chucking its past 16 games, and horrendous offseason, as far from their persons as they could.

The Steelers are back.

Yes, that last comment deserves skepticism, but it's difficult to argue against this: Pittsburgh lost that game last year. Whether it was the presence of Polamalu in this game, or the offensive line's ability to continue chugging through 4+ quarters, or the full return of Big Nasty D, this game was lost seven times last season.

It wasn't pretty, but the most recent Super Bowl champions in Pittsburgh didn't win pretty either. It was a different hero each game, from each phase of the game.

Starting perhaps the most daunting four-game stretch in the last decade, the Steelers overcame some in-game set-backs and beat a quality opponent. Anyone can be optimistic after a game like that. It starts again at Tennessee in Week 2.

Harrison Holds: Four - 1 called

Named by Hombre De Acero in last week's PZB, here's the first installment of our weekly tracker of how much officials held back Steelers OLB James Harrison by allowing overmatched offensive linemen to hold Harrison every time he rushes.

PZB tallied four holds on Harrison, with one being called.

Not Called:

  • 1. 46 seconds remaining in second quarter, LT Sam Baker
  • 2. 14:27 remaining in third quarter, TE Tony Gonzalez
  • 3. 4:59 remaining in fourth quarter, LT Sam Baker


  • 1. 13:35 remaining in OT, LT Sam Baker (Called)

Of Note:

Scrutiny isn't merited due to the obscure angle officials had, but Harrison stripped Turner of the ball on a play, and would have recovered it if the officials were on the scene. Harrison jarred it loose just enough so Turner wasn't by definition in possession of the ball. Harrison wrestled it to his body when it was loose.

Harrison shoved Matt Ryan about five yards down field on a swing pass. Not sure how many times that will go uncalled, but it was damn funny to watch.

Opponent Spotlight: RB Chris Johnson

Superlatives are placed on Johnson often. Best game-breaking running back, fastest player in the league, unquestioned MVP (in his estimation). Johnson ran for a ridiculous 2,006 yards last season, and despite wheels falling off the following season for about every back who lugs the rock that far, Johnson started his 2010 campaign with 142 yards, half of which on a 76 yard scamper that put a 17-3 game out of Oakland's reach.

Johnson's big-play potential is well-noted, but Tennessee was able to harness the threat of Johnson quickly against the Raiders. On a play-fake, the Raiders secondary bit and hesitated, leaving WR Nate Washington his selection of lanes to take deep down the field. QB Vince Young hit him, and gave the Titans the last lead they'd need in the game.

The key to stopping Tennessee is stopping Johnson. The key to stopping Johnson is discipline. Gap discipline, play recognition. If any defense can be defined by those traits, it's Pittsburgh's.

ILB James Farrior said it in an interview with Pat Kirwin of, "Everybody's going to have to play 'hustle defense.' Everybody's going to have to run to the football in order to contain this guy."

Keep in mind, too, Tennessee isn't afraid to disguise their desire to use Johnson. Of their first six plays against Oakland, four were passes - none to Johnson - and one was a designed run with Young. Johnson had five yards on three carries when Young hit Washington for the touchdown.

It doesn't seem likely Titans coach Jeff Fisher or offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will want to run into the teeth of the Steelers stout run defense at all costs to start the game - not when they got Oakland to bite so hard on a play-fake, and Young's ability to make plays down the field.

Whatever the Titans do, rest assured, Johnson will be watched at all times. It's hard not to. He's like a train wreck, especially when he talks. It's almost like he's on "Cops," or he's Steve, the guy selling magazines to Peter Gibbons in Office Space.

Steelers Spotlight: LT Jonathan Scott

Scott will get the start in place of Max Starks, who's nursing an ankle sprain that looked a lot worse when it happened.

Some speculation floated that Tony Hills would get his first career start, but the veteran will protect the young guy Dennis Dixon's blindside.

Scott did not look overly impressive with Buffalo last season, but offensive line coach Sean Kugler brought him to Pittsburgh when he joined ranks, specifically to provide depth at what's now become the thinnest unit on the roster.

The Steelers were in enough trouble after a concerning performance by RT Flozell Adams last week, and with their off-season declaration of returning to a power-running team hanging in the balance, Scott will have to fit quickly in with a starting group that barely has any experience together. C Maurkice Pouncey has started one game, Dixon has started two. Starks was the anchor of the line since RT Willie Colon went down in OTAs. With him out, there are two linemen making their second starts with the team Sunday, and Scott is making his first.

Through chaos comes order, perhaps? No doubt, Dixon and RB Rashard Mendenhall hope so. Scott, though, is athletic, and that's the main weapon of the Titans defensive linemen. All are lightning quick, and gave Oakland QB Jason Campbell fits last week.

I See You

I see you, Hines Ward. That captain's "C" on your jersey shines brighter than everyone else's. Whether it's the calm, even-headed conversations you appear to be having with QB Dennis Dixon, encouraging him, or it's the fully extended, second-effort catches to make sure a third-down is converted despite the poor pass, or how you knew right after the catch it was time to show some emotion.

The team shifted into a different gear after juggling catch. The offense was down its quarterback, both the left and right tackles and a rookie starting at center and a second-year man starting at split end.

But they knew they still had the best receiver in team history.

You caught your 900th pass, racking up your 11,000th receiving yard with far less in-game attention than Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez got after he (finally) notched his 1,000th career reception. It's better that way. The team knows your value even when your stats aren't slathered all over the TV screen. You may have gotten your 900th catch, but it was at least the 120th time you kickstarted a sputtering offense to provide enough juice to win a game.

Key Stats

  • Titans RB Chris Johnson has rushed for at least 100 yards in his last 12 games (140 yards per game). The NFL record is 14 games (Barry Sanders).
  • Pittsburgh held Johnson to 57 yards on 15 carries in Week 1 of 2009, his second-lowest total of the year, and 69 yards on 16 carries in Week 16 of 2008.
  • NT Chris Hoke is 15-2 as a starter overall (Hoke will replace Casey Hampton in Week 2), and Pittsburgh's opposing running backs have never rushed for 100 yards with him starting.


Timmons Arrival: Congratulations to the Steelers first-round pick in 2007, Lawrence Timmons, who notched a career-high nine tackles (11 total) in Week 1. PZB has been pimping Timmons as its Arrival Player this season, and he looked like it against Atlanta. He's got a big challenge, just his positional teammates do Sunday, but we feel great about his ability to win that challenge.

On the same token, CB Bryant McFadden announced his return with authority, notching a career-high 12 tackles. He kept a fantastic game by Roddy White to just a chain-stretching effort instead of a Fantasy Football Hall of Fame level game. White made some sick catches, but McFadden played him tight and aggressive.

You Saw This Coming: Upon taking a first-half whipping of biblical proportions at New England, Cincinnati's self-labeled "Dynamic Duo" of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens were both in the locker room when the Bengals offense took the field, 54 yards from the end zone, time for one play. Neither "Batman" (Owens) nor "Robin" (Ochocinco) were anywhere to be found. Apparently, Ochocinco was in the locker room getting an IV, and Owens was "getting looked at," leading to Palmer's pass to Jordan Shipley.

Not the heroes Cincinnati wants, but the heroes it deserves.