Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in Tennessee Titans' Week 1 Action
Drawing the Pittsburgh Steelers for a Week 1 matchup used to spell doom for most teams in the NFL, but the days of the Steelers having a feared defense are gone, and the Tennessee Titans have an opportunity to take advantage.
Both teams finished third in their respective divisions in 2012, but the Steelers finished with a .500 record, while the Titans went 6-10. Pittsburgh is generally favored heading into the contest, according to Vegas Insider.
Here are the matchups to keep your eyes on during the game.
C Rob Turner vs. NT Steve McLendon
The Steelers have lost two big names in their front seven: James Harrison and Casey Hampton. While Harrison has managed to get some attention playing for the Cincinnati Bengals on HBO's Hard Knocks, Casey Hampton may be the bigger loss.
The five-time Pro Bowler is replaced in the starting lineup by Steve McLendon. In his first season as Pittsburgh's nose tackle, he will face the Titans' revamped offensive line. The main guy at the point of attack will be new Titans starter Rob Turner.
Last season McLendon managed to rack up two sacks, three assists, three hurries and four solo tackles on only 139 snaps. He's proven that he's capable of being a handful, but taking starters snaps is a different story.
If the Titans plan to be a more run-oriented team, they will need their offensive line to beat out Pittsburgh's front seven, and it starts with Turner.
If Turner is able to control his man, Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene should be able to find plenty of room to run.
CB Jason McCourty vs. WR Antonio Brown
So much of the talk at corner has been focused on Alterraun Verner and Tommie Campbell this offseason that you might have forgotten McCourty is the No. 1 corner on the team. While Antonio Brown doesn't present the receiving threat that Mike Wallace was, he is one of the league's top wideouts.
While Brown's receiving yards and receptions went down in offensive coordinator Todd Haley's first year with the team, he is sure to play a bigger role this season as a much shiftier mid- to short-range receiver, compared to the speed of Wallace.
McCourty has quietly become one of the league's top 10 corners, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but he will be facing a bit of learning curve in a new defensive scheme that requires more man coverage. Ben Roethlisberger has the ability to buy time with his legs, so McCourty may have his work cut out for him.
If the Titans can shut Brown down, the Steelers will be forced to rely on their stable of underwhelming running backs.
DE Derrick Morgan vs. OT Marcus Gilbert
Last season was Morgan's coming-out party, even with only nine sacks on the year. Toward the end of the season, when the Titans defense began to take a more aggressive approach, Morgan became the disruptive force the team had envisioned when they drafted him.
Gilbert was active in only five games last season, and isn't a particularly strong tackle in the league. He is serviceable in pass protection and poor in run blocking.
The Titans would be wise to overload Gilbert's side of the field often and put some pressure on Roethlisberger early.
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