Titans vs. Steelers: Takeaways from Pittsburgh's 16-9 Loss to Tennessee
This was supposed to be a bounce-back season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a chance to get the bad taste of 2012 out of their mouths. But the bounce is going to be delayed for at least one more week.
The Steelers came out completely flat on offense and lost to the Tennessee Titans in their first loss in a home opener in a decade. The final score was 16-9, but as the sports cliche goes, "the game wasn't as close as the score."
Let's take a look at a few of the takeaways from this opening week loss.
Unless noted otherwise, all the statistics referenced are provided by NFL.com.
The Offensive Backfield Is in Trouble
The Steelers were only able to muster 32 rushing yards on 15 attempts. With rookie running back Le'Veon Bell sidelined with injury, the rest of the running backs on the roster were expected to step up.
Instead, the Steelers got two fumbles in only eight carries from Isaac Redman, 19 yards and an injury from LaRod Stephens-Howling, and the newest Steelers running back, Felix Jones never got a touch.
Moving forward, if the Steelers aren't going to have confidence in the run game, it will be a big paradigm shift for the Steelers offense.
Steelers Wide Receivers Lost Individual Battles
If the Steelers are going to struggle to run the football, it is going to be up to the wide receivers to carry this offense.
What happened this week was, without the threat of the run, the Steelers receivers were one-on-one with Titans cornerbacks.
But too many times, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put the ball where it had to be, and the wide receivers just couldn't haul it in.
This is a group that takes some heat for not being big and overly physical already, but the Titans defensive secondary really roughed them up, and they had no answer.
Injuries Are Everywhere
At this point there is nothing definitive to report, but it looked as if some of the multitude of Steelers' injuries were quite significant.
Center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote both went down with serious injuries, and both could possibly be lost for the year.
But even beyond those, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, and cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown were all lost at least for the game.
This team was already thin at multiple spots and just cannot afford to lose this many players this early in the season.
The Defense Looks a Lot Like Last Year
When a defense only allows 229 yards of offense, you expect the result to be something good for your team.
The Steelers defense held up as well as it could against a physical Titans team, who were content just to pound the football right at them.
But the problem again was an almost total lack of pressure on quarterback Jake Locker and a complete inability to force turnovers. This is the same story as last year all over again.
Keeping yards low is all well and good, but it won't win games. Getting timely turnovers and sacks is just as important.
Troy Polamalu Is Still Great
For all the problems this team had, the play of safety Troy Polamalu was not one of them. Polamalu was all over the field today, even on plays that he didn't make, and was disrupting the Titans offense to allow others to make the play.
If you get a chance, check out the video of Polamalu diving through the line at the snap to bring down Titans quarterback Jake Locker. But it was more than just six total tackles, it was the energy and intensity he played with.
The rest of this defense needs to take a cue from Polamalu on how to play hard all game if they want to get this season on track.
This Team Misses Heath Miller
It was a mystery as to how the Steelers would try and replace the production of tight end Heath Miller. And what was discovered today is it is still a mystery.
It was clear quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanted to work the middle of the field but was unable to do so in the way he wanted. In fact, in 33 pass attempts tight ends were targeted once for a single catch for 11 yards.
The Steelers are going to have to go back to the drawing board this week to either find a way to get some tight end production or to replace it in the scheme with the wide receivers. Hurry back, Heath!
Ben Roethlisberger Is Still Great
Other than Troy Polamalu, the other real positive takeaway from this game was how Ben Roethlisberger played. In the face of tremendous pressure all game long, Big Ben just kept making throws.
Roethlisberger finished the game going 21-of-33 for 191 yards and one touchdown. But it is important to understand just how much duress he was under, which makes these modest statistics more impressive.
Even for as poorly as this team played, Roethlisberger marched this team down the field late in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to cut the lead to seven.
A quarterback as talented as Roethlisberger doesn't need a ton of help but does need more than he got against the Titans.
The Sky Isn't Falling
It's fair to have a strong emotional reaction to today's loss. But the fact is, as of right now all four teams in the AFC North are now tied for first place at 0-1.
Fans forget that the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, and at times being able to make it to the playoffs is more about attrition than anything else.
That's not to say this team is going to finish 15-1, because they probably won't. But for all the problems made evident today, this is still a team very much capable of winning 10 or 11 games and making the playoffs.
So, please Steelers Nation, do not lose faith yet. The Steelers lost what was, in essence, a fifth preseason game. It's back to the drawing board this week to prepare for a huge division game against the Cincinnati Bengals next Monday night.