The Steelers can still be very dangerous, but age, injuries and a 34-31 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 has many questioning if this team can keep up in the AFC.
If Pittsburgh can get—and stay—somewhat healthy as the season progresses, there may not be a more battle-tested team in the entire NFL. Ben Roethlisberger and Co. are no easy out for any team with lofty aspirations in 2012.
The Titans, however, appear to pose no threat to any of their opponents. With franchise quarterback Jake Locker nursing a separated shoulder—likely out until Week 7—and running back Chris Johnson rapidly deteriorating from his 2009 form, the end of the 2012 season can’t get here soon enough for Tennessee.
Their schedule eases up after beginning the season with the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings. But the Titans are staring at another four contests, following this week’s game with the Steelers, before a much-needed bye in Week 11.
Here is one bold prediction for each team in Thursday night’s matchup:
Rashard Mendenhall Rushes for 125 Yards and 2 Touchdowns
After missing the first three games of the season after tearing his ACL on Jan. 1, running back Rashard Mendenhall returned to the Steelers backfield. While no one knew what to expect upon his return, his 81 yards on 14 carries were a huge boost to a struggling Pittsburgh rushing attack.
With weapons like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller at Roethlisberger’s disposal, Pittsburgh seems to be shying away from the smash-mouth brand of football associated with the team.
However, this coaching staff is smart and game situations should indicate that the Steelers will run often this week.
The Titans are giving up 144.2 rushing yards per game and have allowed a total of six touchdowns on the ground so far this season.
Pittsburgh should be playing with a lead for most of the night. Though the Steelers might want to ease Mendenhall back into a heavier workload, it might not take many carries to produce staggering totals against this Tennessee defense.
Chris Johnson Scores on 50-Plus Yard Touchdown Run
Take out Johnson’s 25-carry, 141-yard performance in Week 4’s 38-14 loss to the Texans and the running back would only have just 69 yards on 48 carries.
The Steelers defense has been solid against the run this season, allowing only 95.3 yards game. But in Week 3’s loss to the Raiders, Darren McFadden was able to gash this unit for a 64-yard run and score.
Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t what it once was. Teams that utilize speed should be able to exploit the edge for big plays. Though the Philadelphia Eagles were unable to capitalize last week, Johnson needs something to jumpstart his 2012 season.
With Locker out, the Steelers will probably sell out against the run on Thursday night. But if Johnson can hit the edge, the second and third levels could be wide open for a huge play.