Finally! The season is upon us with the opening game featuring the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and reigning AFC Season Champions, the Tennessee Titans, in a rematch from Week 16 of last season.
In what I hope to be a reoccurring column, I will be listing the Steelers' five keys to victory each week for each opponent all season long.
So let's get to it then.
The Steelers Five Keys To Victory
1. Stopping the run
It's imperative for the Steelers to stop the run and force the Titans to become one-dimensional. The Titans have a two-headed rushing monster in Chris Johnson (251 carries for 1,228 yards and 9 touchdowns) and LenDale White (200 carries for 773 yards and 15 touchdowns). The success of this game will come down to stopping Johnson and White from doing any major damage.
2. Getting pressure on Kerry Collins
With the two outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, 16 and 11.5 sacks last season respectively, this shouldn't be a huge problem. I'm foreseeing a big season from both of these men again.
If they can get to Collins, the Steelers' secondary will have a field day. Word of caution: be prepared for some early deep balls to new Titans wide receiver and former Steelers player Nate Washington. This speedster could pose a problem. All will be mute if the Steelers' pressure gets to Collins.
3. Steelers' Offensive Line must protect Ben Roethlisberger
As all Steelers fans know, this line is not what we have come to expect from the Steelers. Alas, the Steelers must make do with the men on their roster. The line needs to perform well in both pass blocking and run blocking. If Ben is kept on his feet for most of the game and has any time to go through his progressions, he will lead successful drives for points.
4. Willie Parker needs to regain Pro Bowl form
Over the past several years, there has been a trend of Willie Parker starting out the season hot. He has rushed for over 100 yards in every opening day game since he became the starter.
If this trend continues, this game won't be close. Willie needs to show he's the same Willie of old. He seems to have his speed and burst back, which will bode well for the Steelers.
5. Special Teams
This season the Steelers are sporting a new return game and their 2007 fourth round draft pick punter.
Last season, punter Daniel Sepulveda tore his ACL and was lost for the season, leading the Steelers to poor field position all season long.
Along with the return of Sepulveda, is the addition of Stefan Logan. The quick and small returner was a former RB in the Canadian Football League. The Steelers brought him in as a WR shortly after the Super Bowl to return kicks and punts. He has impressed the coaching staff so much that he was kept on the roster as a specialty guy.
The addition of these two men will greatly better the field position of the Steelers. Gone are the days of FBs and big RBs returning kickoffs.
If the Steelers can come out and nail all five of these "Keys to Victory," well, look for this game to be over before halftime.
The Titans are a good team, even a great team, but don't think for one minute that the Steelers have forgotten about the Terrible Towel stomping last season.
The Steelers wish to come out and open the season with a statement. I think they will do just that.