The Pittsburgh Steelers will battle Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans this weekend as they look to build upon their opening week win.
Johnson will be one of the most dynamic players that the Steelers face all season.
The bigger challenge, though, will be traveling to Tennessee where the Titans have won seven of eight against the Steelers.
If Pittsburgh is to reverse this trend, they will need to get more than 15 points from their offense.
While the Titans do not have an elite offense, they do have an elite running back, maybe the best in the league and will be expected to present more of a challenge than Atlanta did last week.
This will be a physical matchup and the Steelers will really have to play to their strengths if they expect to come out with a win.
Mike Wallace only had two receptions last week, but one of them was a 52-yard catch that may have been a touchdown if hit in stride.
Pittsburgh can open up the ground game as they match up with a physical Titans defense if they can pose the threat of the long ball.
As the game progressed, Dennis Dixon became more comfortable with the medium and long passes and Pittsburgh should use this to their advantage this week.
It will be critical that they take several shots downfield to Wallace. He has the speed to get behind any defender, particularly when covered one-on-one.
Throwing long to Wallace, in addition backing the defense from the line, could free the middle of the field for Hines Ward and Heath Miller to work.
Dixon has the arm strength for the deep ball; he just needs an opportunity and the confidence to make the play.
Rather than go conservative early this week, the Steelers can get the Titans off-balance and get the crowd out of the game by connecting on a big play in the passing game.
One of Dennis Dixon’s strengths is his ability to create big plays on the run.
How did the Steelers use this last week? Not at all. Dixon only had four yards on two carries and that number needs to increase this week.
The Steelers can use Dixon in a variety of ways to create plays on the ground with the obvious being rolling him out and providing him with a run/pass option.
This could be successful in most weeks, but with Max Starks out and Jonathan Scott in at left tackle, the Steelers may be experiencing a big pass rush from the outside.
To combat this, Pittsburgh can use designed draws, particularly when working out of the shotgun. Not only would this pick up positive yardage for the Steelers, but it can slow the rush providing Dixon more time to throw.
They key is to provide Dixon with a set of plays that he is comfortable with. He has been a quarterback who has been successful when running and to use him exclusively as a pocket passer is not taking full advantage of his skill set.
Considering the Steelers were unable to score a touchdown until overtime, they need to go a little deeper in the playbook against Tennessee and if they are not going to run Dixon, then maybe it is time to put in Charlie Batch.
After suffering an ankle sprain in week one, Max Starks is yet another Steelers tackle to suffer an injury. This leaves Jonathan Scott as next in line.
Scott performed well after entering the game last Sunday, but made one critical error, failing to block his man which nearly led to an interception.
The Steelers will have to focus their ground game and run Rashard Mendenhall behind the right side if they want to succeed in this facet of the game.
Though he has struggled in pass blocking, Flozell Adams has done a solid job run blocking and the Steelers right his way more often than not week one.
This trend should continue this week as well as up the middle where Maurkice Pouncey is continuing to play at a high level.
If Pittsburgh can establish an effective running attack, they will significantly reduce the pressure on Dixon to make plays with his arm. More importantly, they can control the clock to keep the ball out of Chris Johnson’s hands.
Chris Johnson has 12 straight 100-yard rushing games and he will look to extend that streak against the Steelers.
If Pittsburgh’s defense has anything to do with it, Johnson will be held under the century mark, just as backs have been held under that mark in 34 of the past 35 games.
Johnson has twice been held under 100-yards against the Steelers, including last year’s season opener.
One of the main keys to the Steelers domination against the run is Aaron Smith.
Smith missed much of last season and the defense struggled, but he is back at full strength and Pittsburgh looked dominant once again.
Troy Polamalu’s ability to stop the play at the line will also be key as his speed will be able to match up with Johnson.
These two players will be counted on to help shut down Johnson, especially considering that run stuffer Casey Hampton is out with a hamstring injury.
Vince Young is not a quarterback who will beat you with his arm, but he does have a knack for winning close games.
If Pittsburgh can shut down Johnson, they will have to force Young into making mistakes.
Last week, Pittsburgh’s pass rush force Matt Ryan to make high throws and one interception. William Gay also dropped an interception.
The Steelers will expect similar results this week, but will greatly benefit from creating turnovers.
As the offense showed last week, it had trouble scoring points and was often times backed up deep in its own zone. By creating a turnover, the Steelers’ defense can position the offense in good field position giving them a better opportunity to score.
Putting the game in the hands of Young and getting him unsettled early will put to the Steelers in a good situation.
Lawrence Timmons finally looked the part of a first round draft pick last week.
Besides Polamalu, there may not be a more athletic player on the Steelers roster and he will be key come Sunday in defending both Johnson and Young, two very fast, athletic players.
They key will be for Timmons to stay very disciplined and not get caught flat-footed.
His presence in the middle of the field will be especially important without Hampton. Timmons will be expected to have a greater impact in stopping the run game and may have to fight off more blocks.
However, his speed can be used to blow up plays by penetrating the middle of the line and he has the speed to get to the outside if Johnson or Young go in that direction.
Mike Wallace will be one of the focal points on offense this week.
The Steelers really need to open up their passing game and Wallace is the player who will help them do that. He needs to touch the ball more than twice offensively, so the Steelers will have to find ways to get him the ball.
An obvious solution is to throw deep, but wide receiver screens right off the line and a reverse or two may be in order.
Pittsburgh has one of the fastest receivers in the league and they need to use this threat to jump start a struggling offense.
While Timmons will be important, Chris Hoke will be a key Sunday.
Hoke is stepping in for a Pro Bowl nose tackle and will be expected to play at a high level.
Luckily for the Steelers, Hoke does just that. Throughout his career, the Steelers have seen little to no drop off when he is in the game.
Given the strength of the Titans running game, priority number one will be to shut that down and it all starts with the defensive line. As long as Hoke can occupy blockers, everything else should take care of itself.
- The Steelers have lost three straight games at Tennessee with the last loss being in 2008 when they were defeated 31-14.
- Pittsburgh last won in Tennessee in 2001.
- The Steelers defeated the Titans 13-10 in overtime in last season’s opener.
- With one touchdown, Hines Ward will move into a second-place time on the Steelers all-time touchdowns list with Jerome Bettis.
- With 39.5 sacks, James Harrison is one sack away from ninth place on the Steelers all-time sack list.
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