Steelers vs Titans: How Chris Johnson and Tennessee Can Pull off Key Upset

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Steelers vs Titans: How Chris Johnson and Tennessee Can Pull off Key Upset
Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans face a colossal challenge in the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

After all, the Titans sit at 1-4 and have allowed an average of 36.2 points per game. Turnovers are an issue and the lack of a consistent ground game clearly hurts overall production. Still, Tennessee has also played a rugged schedule through five games.

The four losses have come to the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings, all of which combine for a 15-5 record. So, the Titans haven't really caught a break in 2012.

Well, Week 6 may just be that break because according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

The Steelers ruled out safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley for Thursday night's game against the Titans.

That's two key defensive players missing for Pittsburgh, which ultimately helps Johnson and Mike Munchak's offense. Therefore, here's a breakdown of how Tennessee can get the upset win over Pittsburgh and shake up the AFC.

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Run-Balanced Philosophy

Although the Steelers are still well-versed against the run, defending it has not been their most dominant aspect thus far in 2012. Currently, Pittsburgh ranks No. 11 against the run but has uncharacteristically allowed an average of 4.1 yards per carry (ranked No. 16).

Last week was an impressive showing versus LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles, however, Michael Vick's turnovers played a big factor. Matt Hasselbeck isn't as turnover-prone as Vick—although he's not consistently reliable either—and Johnson is still one of the NFL's better and more complete running backs.

After all, Johnson did rush for 141 yards against the Texans. Now count both Polamalu and Woodley out and that simply helps Tennessee up front. The more the Titans can hit downhill and not abandon the ground game, no matter what the numbers are, it will take significant pressure off the passing game.

Not to mention the display of refusing to give up on the ground helps set up a play-action pass. The Steelers were exploited by that against the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, so expect the Titans to bring a similar approach.

Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE


Bring the Pain Early and Often

Because of how vulnerable the Titans have been when defending the run or pass, Pittsburgh can have a field day with its offensive playmakers.

Ben Roethlisberger has a solid receiving corps and Rashard Mendenhall was impressive last week against a strong Eagles front seven. Considering that Tennessee has given up an average of nearly 424 total yards per game, the Steelers can easily control the tempo with a balanced attack.

Big Ben still possesses the mobility to extend plays and make throws, so the Titans must negate those opportunities. And the best way to do that is by blitzing...constantly. Tennessee doesn't have anything to lose because it's already a susceptible defense up front and in coverage.

That said, forcing Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball sooner than expected must happen. It reduces Mike Wallace's chances to make plays downfield and will keep Pittsburgh's ground game in check. The vulnerability here comes from tight end Heath Miller and other underneath receiving targets.

So playing more Cover 1 and Cover 3 with linebackers spies, who aren't blitzing, can shell the intermediate level. Any time a defense blitzes, it must give up something in coverage. However, the Steelers' pass protection still remains the offense's weakest link and exposing that is a competitive advantage.

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

 

Physical Pass Defense

Behind the stampede of blitzes must be an extremely physical pass defense for Tennessee.

In short, the Titans cannot be afraid to risk giving up the big play because the pressure will force an early release on passes.

Also, having the cornerbacks utilizing press coverage with inside leverage is needed. This will prevent any receiver from a free release in trying to go over the middle and the boundary can be used as an extra defender.

Plus, any time a target goes downfield the Cover 1/3 safety will help over the top. The potential success of this scheme lies within its simplicity. Blitz to limit Big Ben's pocket protection and jam/reroute the receivers at the line of scrimmage.

That allows a bit more time for any blitzer to apply pressure and the safety to dissect the developing patterns of the receivers. Another area this helps Tennessee is by not giving up yards after the catch.

Regardless of the play call, Roethlisberger will complete some passes. Provided that the Titans keep putting the pressure on his protection and remaining physical on the outside, though, big plays will come at a minimum.

That in turn limits Pittsburgh's overall offensive production and gives Tennessee's offense increased odds at controlling the game tempo.

 

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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