Once again the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves beginning the NFL season on a Thursday night. The stakes this time are a bit higher however. The visiting Tennessee Titans embarrassed the Steelers last season sacking Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times in a 34-14 victory.
Directly after that beat down, they also gave them what is essentially a motivational poster—LenDale White and Keith Bullock proceeded to stomp on the Terrible Towel in a harmless, yet childish antic. This will only serve as locker room fodder if you will, a way to light a little extra fire under the Steelers squad.
Also on the Steelers side is their history in team openers—they currently hold the NFL record for consecutive season openers won with six. They’ll look to extend that streak to seven against last year’s number one seed in the AFC and we’ll take a look at the keys to the game for each team.
1.Use The Personnel At Their Disposal
With Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers backfield behind the powerful Frank Summers this year the Steelers will employ the popular running back by committee tactic, using Parker’s speed and Mendenhall’s strength to wear down opposing defenses.
Along with the two-headed beast in the backfield, the Steelers also have two tight ends that have shown their ability to not only catch the ball, but to block as well. Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are both very athletic and have the ability to stretch the field from the tight end position. Maybe not as much as freaks of nature like Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow Jr., but they do a very good job at sliding underneath zone coverage.
Defensively, everyone in the league knows that the Steelers are coming after you using defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzing scheme. They just don’t know where the pressure is coming from. It’s all about giving the offense one read, and coming at them from an unexpected angle. You’ll see this whenever an outside linebacker is in a three point stance, because you never know if one will drop back into hook zone coverage, or if they’ll come off the edge for the attempted sack.
If the Steelers can keep the Titans guessing, they’ll have no problem using their offensive and defensive play makers to gain yards and shut down the Titans offense.
2.Make The Titans Throw The Ball To Win
Chris Johnson and LenDale White are the perfect complement to each other. With Johnson being one of, if not the, fastest players in the NFL and LenDale White building a career on being a bruising power back they can easily wear down any defense in the NFL without breaking a sweat.
Johnson had nine touchdowns on the season, with almost five yards per carry throughout. White found the end zone 15 times at nearly four yards per carry. Shutting this dynamic duo is a key for the Steelers defense this week.
On the other hand the Titans wide receivers don’t strike fear into the hearts of any defense in the NFL, or rather any respectable defense in the NFL. With the Steelers more than adequate secondary they’ll have no problems containing the Titans aerial attack that averaged less than 180 yards per game.
3.Quick Passes And Play Action
Perhaps the biggest question on the Super Bowl Champions mind is once again the offensive line. Just recently starting guard Darnell Stapleton was lost for the season to an injury. The line was nothing spectacular with him, but losing him still hurts and it will take time for the unit to gel once again.
Taking advantage of Tennessee’s aggressiveness will save Roethlisberger multiple headaches because even without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth plugging up the middle the Titans still have a very formidable defensive front.
Three step drops and Roethlisberger’s quick and powerful release will need to be utilized for at least the first quarter. If the running game can get going, this will also open up the play action pass, something Roethlisberger can do almost flawlessly.
The Steelers will also need to get Roethlisberger on the run, as that is when he excels. When his feet are moving he is without a doubt the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL. Getting him out of the pocket will force the defense to play up and give him time to throw.
1.Bring The Heat
As previously stated, the Steelers offensive line is perhaps the weakest spot on their team at the moment. Bringing pressure up the middle will be a key to knocking Ben Roethlisberger off of his rhythm and stuffing the run.
Looking at the Week 16 match-up last year is evidence of this fact. The Steelers allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked five times and the Steelers were demolished by a Titans team that held the best record in the NFL last season.
Stuffing the inside run will hurt the Steelers more than one would like to imagine. Running back Willie Parker isn’t as fast as he used to be and that’s evident when watching him in the open field. His injuries have caught up to him. He’s still a very good back, but nothing like he was.
This will allow the talented secondary of the Titans (including former Steelers safety Chris Hope) to back off and better cover Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and could very well spell trouble for the Steelers.
2.Attack The Middle
Bet no one’s ever told a team to attack the middle of the Steelers defense, right?
Well, this time it’s different. Tennessee has the offensive line and running backs to do it. That’s coupled with the likelihood that Lawrence Timmons will not play and it’s a very good possibility that they will catch backup Keyaron Fox out of position a time or two.
The same holds true for the passing game. Timmons is leaps and bounds a better athlete than Fox and would have better success covering running backs and tight ends out of the backfield. Utilizing the short passes will be something we see out of the Titans if they want to win this game.
Even if the Titans find themselves ahead with less than two minutes in the fourth quarter, they have to keep employing the same strategy they used the entire game.
Roethlisberger has 17 regular season come from behind wins, and showed everyone that the post-season doesn’t phase him either as he orchestrated a 78-yard game winning drive in Super Bowl XLIII.
All in all, this game is going to be another great one in Steelers history. Roethlisberger will look to stay perfect on Thursday nights and with a win will sit at 4-0.
Four preseason games and training camps have come and gone, and now it’s time for the players to prove themselves when it counts. It’s time for rookies to take their knocks, sophomores to avoid the slump, and veterans to continue to do what they do best. The NFL season is finally here and there’s no better way to start it off than with a Steelers game.
The Steelers jump out to an early lead and hang onto it throughout the game with their defense just as dominate as it was a year ago. This game won’t be decided by a large margin, but rather a very small one. My best guess would be Steelers win 24-13.