Welcome to the latest edition of the Steelers Stock Report of the 2020 NFL season: Tennessee Titans edition. I have been granted the distinguished opportunity to attempt to determine which direction individual players, or units, are trending after each weekly matchup, to the best of my ability.
I will attempt to make each determination without the use of my Black-and-Gold glasses, but admittedly I can make no promises.
Let’s get started...
Stock trending up: Steelers run defense
The Tennessee Titans are a Super Bowl contender blessed with a powerful offense, opportunistic defense, and are extremely well coached. However, for all but the final few seconds of the first half, the Steelers waltzed into Nashville and made those contenders look very much like pretenders in a dominating first half performance. Problem with that is, every game is made up of two halves. More on that to come later in this article.
For what it's worth, the dramatic outcome of the game left me feeling exhausted and strangely unsatisfied. Winning the game to stay undefeated at 6-0, and emerging from a extremely hard hitting affair without sustaining any serious injuries, should have left every member of Steelers Nation on Cloud Nine, because winning the game by any means possible against another conference contender on their home turf should be all that matters. Right? Apparently not.
The stock up part of this article was almost a easy decision, but then I struggled attempting to bring recognition to a single entity, so I decided to mention the entire unit. Please bear with me as I try to explain my rationale.
This matchup with the Titans brought back some painful memories for this here Steelers fan. My mind keep going back to the 2017 playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field where the Steelers were helpless to stop a power rushing attack lead by a game manager of a QB that was backed by a opportunistic defense. Notice any similarities, but wait, it gets worse.
The Steelers had struggled to replace Ryan Shazier, who's elite speed had covered up for some of his teammates deficiencies. There is no more sickening feeling as a fan to know exactly what the opponent is going to do but realize your team is helpless to stop it.
The Steelers have a dominating defense this season, but two questions remained heading into Sunday's game. Could Robert Spillane and Ulysses Gilbert lll adequately fill in for Devin Bush, out with a season ending knee injury? Also, could the Steelers run defense, built as much on speed as power, slow down the best power rushing attack currently in the NFL. I am happy to report, the answer is yes on both regards.
Right from the start of the game, it was apparent that the 2020 Steelers defense bares little resemblance to the aforementioned 2017 version. The Steelers starting defensive linemen are all superior run stoppers, regularly destroying blockers and defeating double teams. Tyson Alualu not only anchors, but sheds blockers often to secure tackles. Stephon Tuitt likes to take up residency in the opponents backfield, and Cameron Heyward does the best Minister of Defense impression in the league. On Sunday, he engaged a Titans offensive lineman and drove him all the way back into Titans QB Ryan Tannehill's lap. The level of dominance displayed by Heyward on the play was almost comical.
Cameron Heyward is the second lineman from the bottom.
Edge backers TJ Watt and Bud Dupree both set a mean edge and make numerous backside tackles flying down the line when offenses make the mistake of leaving them unblocked. They are simply too fast for that strategy, and both men are blessed with non-stop motors. Vince Williams and newly anointed starter Robert Spillane are both physical and arrive at the ball carrier with the sole intention to inflict damage. Just ask Titans RB Derrick Henry for confirmation.
Throw in SS Terrell Edmunds, the most fundamentally sound tackler in the Steelers secondary, and you can see why the Steelers run defense is the best unit in the league. Just think, they were without their pocket sized Mighty Mouse Mike Hilton, who excels near the line of scrimmage.
Stock trending down: Steelers situational awareness
The Steelers won the game, which is all that really matters in the end, but they made the victory much harder than it needed to be. I am not going to spend much time harping on everything the Steelers did wrong, because that has already been discussed thoroughly on basically every comment thread from here to Timbuktu. As I was emphatically telling anybody who would listen on Sunday as the Titans continued their methodical comeback attempt, the only way the Titans get back in this game is if the Steelers turn the ball over and allow a big play for a quick score. That's the perfect scenario to lose momentum and find yourself in a nail biter. The Steelers players and coaches have to be aware and proceed accordingly. I will leave it at that.
Stock in need of a reality check: Fan expectations
If history has taught us anything, it's the undeniable reality that even the greatest teams will lose a game eventually. Even Hall of Fame players turn the ball over or drop a pass from time to time. Human beings are fallible, therefore nobody is perfect, in spite of our best efforts. The key word in that statement is effort.
While mistakes are not optimal obviously, they are inevitably part of the game. What isn't acceptable is a lack of effort from any player, whether that be physical effort or mental focus. The Steelers have yet to put together a complete game this season, and that's ok. It definitely hasn't been because of a lack of effort. Honestly, it makes their perfect record at this point of the season that much more impressive.
The goal for any championship contending team is to have the good fortune to remain reasonably healthy, all while showing gradual improvement each week of the season so you are starting to peak as a team just as the playoffs roll around. Nobody wants to peak in week five or six of the season.
That's great news for the Steelers, because they haven't come close to firing on all cylinders yet this season, but the talent is definitely there to do just that. All Steelers Nation needs to do at the moment is have a little faith and show some patience. Easier said than done.