Steelers vs. Titans: A Thursday Night Football Preview

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

Cook is a key for the Titans.
Cook is a key for the Titans.Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

America is clamoring to see the Tennessee Titans.

Well, maybe not, but they are going to anyway. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit Nashville for the Week 6 edition of Thursday Night Football.

Here's everything you need to know to get ready for the game.


What's at Stake

For Tennessee, this game is the difference between a fighting chance and oblivion.

With a win, they can look ahead to a manageable stretch of games and hope to pull something good from the burning pile of rubble that has been 2012.

With a loss, they can start talking about building for 2013.

Pittsburgh is a team at the crossroads. They are coming off a hard-fought home win over the Eagles, but their record stands at just 2-2.

Their schedule is brutal, and there are only a few lightweights on it. If they drop a game to the Titans, it will be an uphill climb to the playoffs.


Matchup to Watch: Larry Foote vs. Jared Cook

Both Jared Cook and Craig Stevens have been effective catching the ball. In fact, Cook is probably the most reliable offensive weapon the Titans have right now.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have been completely incapable of defending tight ends. Larry Foote has struggled in coverage, as plays like the one below show.

Brandon Myers of the Oakland Raiders had several big catches over the middle against the Steelers, and Foote was victimized more than once. On this play, Foote does a credible job recognizing the route but is completely incapable of staying with Myers:

The result of the play was a first down.

Tennessee has nothing going offensively right now, and Hasselbeck needs to get the ball to his tight ends regularly.

The Steelers are 31st in the NFL in defending the tight end, so if the Titans can take advantage of the matchup, they may be able to extend drives. They don't give up many yards, but the plays they do give up tend to be nice gains and first downs.


The Stat that Matters

Completion percentage can be overrated, but there are times when it tells the story.

The Titans are 32nd in the NFL in defensive completion percentage, allowing a stunning 74.6 percent of passes to be completed against them.

Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers is hooking up with receivers at a 65.6-percent clip.

Unless something changes, that means the Titans defense is going to have a difficult time creating long-yardage situations.

The Titans have to find a way to hold Roethlisberger under 60 percent in the game, or it's going to be a long night in Nashville.


Biggest Advantage for the Steelers

According to the Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics, the Titans have the worst red-zone rushing attack in the NFL.

Then again, the Titans have the worst overall run offense in football all the time, so why should the red zone be any different?

Meanwhile, the Steelers buck up in close—they are a top-10 defense against the run inside the 20-yard line.

This means that if the Titans do manage to sustain drives, they are going to have to cash in through the air, because Pittsburgh is stingy on the ground.


Biggest Advantage for the Titans

The kick-return game has been a major bright spot for Tennessee all year, and Darius Reynaud should give them a boost against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh is below average in covering kicks, and the Titans excel at running them back.

It's going to take multiple big plays on special teams to give the Titans the yards and points they need to stay close in this game.


Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game

Pittsburgh can't win everything.


The Steelers Will Win If...

Pittsburgh isn't a great team, and that makes this a difficult matchup to discuss. Frankly, they are capable of epic collapses on both offense and defense, but the Titans have been so terrible, it gives the Steelers the edge in the majority of categories.

Pittsburgh hasn't done anything well in 2012, but when they've won, it's been because the defense stepped up.  They have allowed 12 points a game in two wins and 32.5 points a game in two losses.

If the Pittsburgh defense keeps pressure on Hasselbeck and continues the league-wide trend of holding Chris Johnson down, there's every reason to expect them to pull away.


The Titans Will Win If...

We know the Titans can score on a soft defense, and they'll need to ring up big plays to beat the Steelers.

Tennessee struggles to sustain drives in part because the run game has been a non-starter. Hasselbeck is going to have find big pass plays in order to put points up quickly.

If this becomes a high-scoring affair, Tennessee has the offensive weapons to take a shootout.

If the game is won and lost in the trenches in a slug-it-out affair, the Titans' line deficiencies will show.



Is there any reason to think this defense has improved in the last four days? Pittsburgh is a better passing team than the Vikings, and everyone saw what they did to the Titans.

It's hard to win on the road on a short week, but until the Titans prove they can hold an opponent under 30 points, it's impossible to favor them.

Pittsburgh 38, Tennessee 20


    Small-Town Hero Is Draft's Biggest Sleeper

    NFL logo

    Small-Town Hero Is Draft's Biggest Sleeper

    Mike Tanier
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Jackson Expected to Go in Top 20

    NFL logo

    Report: Jackson Expected to Go in Top 20

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report

    Gronk Says He'll 'Maybe' Return in 2018 🤔

    NFL logo

    Gronk Says He'll 'Maybe' Return in 2018 🤔

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report

    How to Avoid Biggest NFL Draft Mistakes

    Tennessee Titans logo
    Tennessee Titans

    How to Avoid Biggest NFL Draft Mistakes

    Brad Gagnon
    via Bleacher Report