When looking at the matchup between AFC rivals, there are players who can be viewed as ‘X-Factors’.
What is an ‘X-Factor’?
I would describe an ‘X-Factor’ as a player who can truly alter the outcome of the game, single-handedly. Not just a plug and play type player, but a player who always has to be accounted for, no matter what.
As a clear-cut example of what an ‘X-Factor’ player would look like, think Troy Polamalu. Polamalu’s skill set made him a force to be reckoned with on every play. So, who are the ‘X-Factors’ for the Steelers Week 7 game vs. Tennessee?
Let’s take a look...
X-Factor: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Why: Many Steelers fans, myself included, were wondering where Minkah Fitzpatrick had been. After all, he wasn’t nearly the difference maker fans had gotten accustomed to seeing after the trade with the Miami Dolphins before Week 3 in 2019.
In Week 6 it didn’t take Fitzpatrick time to show up, and in a big way. On the Browns’ first third down attempt, the Steelers leading 3-0, Fitzpatrick picked off Baker Mayfield and took it back to the house for a pick-six.
It may not have looked like it at the time, but the game was over at that point. In case you forgot, here is the play:
And another view of the great break Fitzpatrick had on the Mayfield pass. He knew exactly where Mayfield wanted to go with the ball. This is an illustration of when preparation, intelligence and athletic prowess are combined.
Ryan Tannehill doesn’t throw many interceptions, only two through five games this season, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been had. If you look at the play below Tannehill will take shots, and when he does an active safety like Harrison Smith fools the former Dolphins quarterback and is able to take the ball away.
Watch the play:
This Ryan Tannehill interception is Tennessee's only turnover this year. They lead the league with a turnover differential of +8.— Matt Weston (@Matt__Weston) October 18, 2020
As Mike Vrabel loves to tell me during our long conversations together, that last deep into the night, the turnover differential remains undefeated. pic.twitter.com/aKIKGMuLv3
For the Steelers to win this game they will need to force the Titans into doing things they normally don’t. They did it last Sunday vs. the Browns when they shut down the run and forced Mayfield into mistakes. The recipe for a win is the same in Week 7, and Fitzpatrick will be the key in the back end to forcing Tannehill into taking risks he usually doesn’t, and taking advantage of them.
X-Factor: Ben Roethlisberger
Why: The Steelers have been successful in the 2020 season with a purely balanced attack. Not just an offensive balanced attack, but every part of their team. The defense has done their part. With the exception of net punting, the special teams have done their part. Of course, the offense is doing its part as well.
One of the best things the Steelers have been able to do is not ask Ben Roethlisberger to put this team on his surgically repaired elbow and carry them to victory. It’s not that Roethlisberger is not able to do this, he simply hasn’t had to as of yet.
With a balanced, well running offense in the Tennessee Titans, this may be a game where Roethlisberger could be called upon to carry this team. For Steelers fans now, this is something they are familiar with as Roethlisberger has been doing it since 2004. Hopefully it won’t come down to this against the Titans, but if it does look for Roethlisberger to show everyone why he chose to come back at the age of 38 from elbow surgery.
Who would be your X-Factor for the Week 7 game at Nissan Stadium? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!