Steelers vs. Titans: Tennessee's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 6
Yet another very close home game at L.P. Field ends in the Tennessee Titans' favor.
While the Thursday night matchup might not have been nearly as exciting as the barn burner against the Detroit Lions three weeks ago, it was still one heck of a game.
The Titans defense performed admirably for the first time in a long time, and Matt Hasselbeck looked like a completely different quarterback than the one who started last week against the Minnesota Vikings.
It wasn't pretty, but the Titans eked out a 26-23 win in the last few seconds to prevent a 1-5 start.
Here are the winners and losers of the matchup.
Winner: Rob Bironas
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When his first kick bounced off the uprights but managed to stay in, the announcers pondered aloud if that would be an omen of things to come, and I myself couldn't help but remember that moment when Bironas lined up for a game-winning field goal.
Of course, Bironas has been the definition of clutch for years, so my fears were totally unfounded, which Bironas then proved by nailing the field goal perfectly.
When games don't come down to game-winning field goals like this, the kickers rarely get the credit they deserve, but Bironas is one of the leading scorers in Titans/Oilers history, so he deserves every bit of praise he's going to get after this one.
Loser: Chris Palmer
Pop quiz: when you have a 1st-and-goal situation with two yards to go, do you?
(A) Run the ball
(B) Pass the ball
The answer is of course (A) Run the ball. For those of you who picked the correct answer, congratulations, you know more about football than Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
Now that may be a bit hyperbolic, but having Matt Hasselbeck drop back to pass when you have three chances to run the ball in from two yards away is inexcusable, and it cost the Titans four points.
Luckily, he seems to have learned from his mistakes. The next time the Titans were in that scenario they ran it in. Apparently, however, he's yet to learn when to use a speed back vs. a power back, but that's a lesson for another day.
Also, the under-utilization of Jared Cook in the red zone has been criminal.
Winner: Jerry Gray
Last week, I had both Gray and Palmer as losers in the postgame write up. Here, Jerry Gray seems to have at least partially figured out what he's doing wrong.
Last season, the Titans defense was one of the better groups in the league, despite starting three rookies with another getting regular play time. This season, now that Gray has installed his system, the same group of young players has been terrible.
However, he seems to be learning from his mistakes. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner gave the wide receivers for the Steelers less cushion space and the safeties didn't play as deep.
The result is the defense giving up 23 points instead of 36. Sounds like an improvement to me. Hopefully Gray will keep making adjustments and get the Titans defense up to where it needs to be as the season progresses.
Loser: Kenny Britt
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I say this with some reserve, because Britt's presence on the field creates big mismatches for Nate Washington and Jared Cook and, of course, Britt had a touchdown and 61 yards receiving.
However, Britt also had five drops and at least one miscommunication problem. The touchdown he did have bounced off his hands before he caught it. Had there been a defender there at all, Britt wouldn't have made the catch and the Titans would have lost.
Now I know Britt is still not at 100 percent, but the errors he's making are dropped passes and mental errors, which should not be affected by leg and ankle injuries.
Britt has to step up if he wants to keep getting the lion's share of the snaps at the X position. Kendall Wright might be catching up to him.
Winner: Alan Lowry
For those of you who don't know who Alan Lowry is off the top of your head (I don't think many would know), Lowry is the Titans' special teams coach. This man deserves a raise.
Brett Kern averaged over 52 yards per punt, Darius Reynaud averaged 26.2 yards per kick return and Bironas was perfect for the night.
There was also the blocked punt that the Titans recovered for what led to a touchdown. Also, there was the fact that all of this was done without Tommie Campbell, who has been one of the better Titans on special teams for the last year.
Then, of course, there was the great game against the Lions from a special teams perspective.
Seriously though, give this guy a raise.
Loser: Titans Tackling
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Despite an overall better outing by the defense, there were still way too many missed tackles.
Michael Griffin is a usual suspect, so he was no surprise. However, two players that shocked me in the missed tackle department were linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy. Both of them have been tackling machines up until recently.
Ayers had 16 tackles (10 solo) just a few weeks ago against the Lions, and yet in both the Vikings game and this one, he had way too many misses. I don't understand what's changed, but he needs to correct it. He's too good of a player to miss so often.
With McCarthy, I'm hoping it's due to his injury, which appears to be the case. He had several attempted tackles where he looked uncomfortable with the angle he had to take. Once he's back at 100 percent, I'm hoping the issues disappear.
Of course, even if McCarthy and Ayers return to form, there's still a big problem in the secondary that Gray will have to assess.
Winner: Mike Martin
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In the preseason, I wrote that I expected Mike Martin to perform much like "a poor man's Jurrell Casey." So far, he has exceeded my expectations.
Martin is a natural nose tackle, which is one reason I was a little surprised that the Titans took him in the third round. Casey had been playing the position well, and what the Titans needed was an every-down pass-rusher.
Martin has proven to be very effective at that as well. He leads the team with two sacks on the season, and against the Steelers he was in the backfield constantly. He picked up a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and what would have been a forced fumble and recovery if not for the tuck rule.
He's doing all of this while splitting time with Sen'Derrick Marks. Not bad, if I do say so myself.
Loser: Michael Griffin
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If these two players keep up what they're doing, the Titans can have their own Mike & Mike show, with Griffin explaining everything he did wrong and Martin describing what he did right. Griffin's half alone would cover a half hour.
Again, I'm overstating a bit, but Griffin has been a consistently bad tackler this season. That is something you really don't want from a safety. After all, they're supposed to be your last resort to prevent big plays.
Even Griffin's one blitz resulted in a missed tackle and a big run by the Steelers.
Now, no one questions Griffin's talent. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and a first-round pick. However, something is not clicking with him this season, and he needs to have a long talk with Jerry Gray about how to fix it if the safety play is going to improve this season.
Winner: Chris Johnson
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Chris Johnson had a good game. I'll give credit where credit is due.
His 19 rushes for 91 yards was his second best this season, and is definitely good enough, if repeated, to keep the Titans balanced on offense.
He did a better job at hitting the holes he was given, even though Mike Mayock himself couldn't help but point out a few places where if Johnson would simply take the ball and run, he would have done better.
However, given his miserable performances in the rest of this season, I'll take 91 yards all day long.
Loser: Chris Johnson
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The Titans finally got their first rushing touchdown of the season, and it was of course run in by...Jamie Harper?
Yeah, that's right. For all his big runs this game, Johnson is still without a touchdown, and even if he keeps playing at this level for the rest of the season, it looks like it may be too little too late.
The Titans will owe Chris Johnson $9 million by the time spring training rolls around. The fact that they put the ball in the hands of Harper when they needed a runner they could depend on to get that one yard doesn't bode well for Johnson's future.
I expect the Titans to either trade or cut Johnson at the season's end. Unless he starts turning in 100 yard games like clockwork for the rest of the season, I just can't see the Titans paying him elite money when he just gets what the offensive line gives him.