THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL PREVIEW
Fans have waited more than seven months, but it’s finally here—“The NFL season” kicks off Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers host the Tennessee Titans. And how appropriate is it that the Steelers participated in last season’s final game and now they will participate in this year’s opener.
Deservedly so, the Steelers will be in the spotlight Thursday night when the 2009 season kicks off. With one of the league's premiere elite quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger (two Super Bowl rings), there’s no question that the house will be rocking as the Steelers will look to repeat their impressive run of a year ago.
The Titans on the other side of the field will be filled with emotion, but they will also enter the 2009 schedule with a heavy heart. The team will be mourning the loss of former Titan quarterback Steve McNair, who passed away during the offseason, by wearing the No. 9 on the back of their helmets in his memory. Nonetheless, head coach Jeff Fischer will undoubtedly have his team prepared for what should be an epic battle.
With an offseason of preparation the Steelers did not do much to change last season’s winning formula, except get healthy. Big Ben has looked in form this preseason in limited action. Although some may worry about his off-the-field distractions, it doesn’t seem to be affecting Big Ben.
At the ripe age of 27 and entering his sixth season, Big Ben already has two rings on his resume and has proved time and time again that he is clutch. The healthy return of Fast Willie Parker will be a huge upgrade to the Steelers offense that likes to control the clock and move the ground on the ball. If FWP can stay healthy, expect to see the Steelers offense to get back to doing what it does best, run the ball and stretch the field with Big Ben’s arm in the vertical game.
The Titans are coming off a season that was filled with great high hopes following their impressive start, but one that came crashing down when all the air was let out in their only post season appearance against Ravens last season. The most notable changes the team made this offseason came on the offense. The team signed former Steeler receiver Nate Washington (questionable) and free agent tight end Algee Crumpler (named starter).
The additions should help boost a lethargic passing game (ranked 27th last season), but there is no questions like the Steelers, the Titans prefer the ground game. Last season the Titans punched it in 24 times with the run and Thursday night they will face a Steeler defense that allowed a meager seven touchdowns (tied for second fewest). Still the Titans will try to establish ground superiority, but at some point expect to see Collins test drive his new aerial attack.
Thursday night should be a classic matchup of two teams that like to get dirty in the trenches and pound the ball inside. With two throw back quarterbacks that have big-arms, the season opener promises to be a good one. Expect to see both quarterbacks take plenty of shots downfield as each offense will try to loosen up the defense.
The Titans will try to run early to set up some play action, but Steelers have a lot of playmakers on defense and plenty of speed up front. Expect the Steel Curtain to put a lot of pressure on Collins early and get the crowd going. With designed pressure and a suffocating run defense, turnovers will come into play here. I like the Steelers to take the early lead, apply the pressure and put this one to bed by the early part of the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Steelers 28, Titans 17
Willie Parker won’t see too many holes, but without big Albert Haynesworth in the middle, he’ll be able to squeeze through a few times. Expect 20-plus carries and at least one big run (possibly to the house)!
Hines Ward is the steady play in the pass game. Roethlisberger is going to look downfield to Holmes quite often, but he’ll find Ward underneath more. Ward won’t rack up big yards, but he’ll get some catches (6-7 recepts) and could find the end-zone.
The Steelers defense will play big in front of the home crowd. Expect a couple of turnovers, a few sacks, and possibly a score!
White and Johnson are going to split carries (10-12 each), but against a stingy defense playing at home, neither is going to find much luck.
The Titan’s will likely see Collins throw more than he likes and with lots of pressure and no time, the short routes will be most popular. Expect Crumpler and Johnson to see their numbers called quite often, in a take what the defense gives you (not much) result.
Notable must plays
Steelers: Harrison and Woodley have a nose for the ball and Polamalu is always a playmaker.
Titans: Bulloch will be tracking FWP all night, while Finnegan is going to be busy with Ward. Expect Vanden Bosch to say hello to Big Ben.
Check back this Monday for our “Monday Night Preview”