NFL Week 5: 4 Keys to Titans-Steelers Game
Max Starks has been re-signed by Pittsburgh, a move that sums up the teams' offensive line issues. Tennessee's strength on their defensive line is in the middle, a fact that may hurt the already-injured Rashard Mendenhall.
The game looks to be a defensive affair. The matchup boasts the No. 1 defense in the league—and I'm talking about the Titans. It may not matter if Roethlisberger makes plays, but it remains to be seen.
Here are the four crucial points for Sunday's 4 p.m. game.
4. Pittsburgh's Protection vs. Tennessee's Pass Rush
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Pittsburgh's front five hasn't been protecting Ben Roethlisberger nearly enough, allowing the quarterback to get sacked 14 times already.
Enough pressure provided by the front seven of Tennessee could help add to their five interceptions in four games, which is ninth best in the NFL.
The Titans are first in the league in points allowed, giving up only 14 per game. Scoring only 16 points in this game—what the Steelers are averaging—will have Roethlisberger and the offense coming away with a loss.
3. Troy Polamalu
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Troy Polamalu has been one of the few defensive players for Pittsburgh that has played well in the four games.
The safety may have to make plays like he did last year against the Titans, when he timed Kerry Collins' snap count and sacked him by jumping over the offensive line.
Matt Hasselbeck must be aware of Polamalu, because he could not only being gunning down his former teammate Nate Washington, but he'll also shadow tight end Jared Cook.
Polamalu will need to be even better in run support than in coverage as the middle of the Steelers' defense will be vulnerable with lineup changes.
It's nothing new for the Hall of Fame safety, so expect No. 43 to be himself.
2. Titans' Secondary vs. Steelers' Receivers
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Cortland Finnegan has looked like his 2008 Pro Bowl form through four games, but the Titans will also need Alterraun Verner to have a good performance in addition to others down on the depth chart.
The running game for Pittsburgh has been grounded, but Ben Roethlisberger has depth in his receiving options like Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown and Emanuel Sanders to look for. Ward will have trouble finding openings in the middle of the field with Tennessee's improved line-backing core, which includes rookie Akeem Ayers and former Buccaneer Barrett Ruud.
The Titans' coverage shouldn't have to last too long, and the defensive coordinator has been changing up his calls, blitzing Finnegan and other unexpected players to catch offenses off guard.
It will be interesting to see, because Roethlisberger shrugs off poor wrap up attempts.
1. Chris Johnson vs. Pittsburgh's Defense
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Chris Johnson finally broke through last week, rushing for just over 100 yards against the Cleveland Browns.
This AFC North opponent will be much more difficult, but the Steelers did surrender 150 yards on the ground to Arian Foster, another runner who had difficulties to start off 2011.
Fullback Ahmard Hall is back from his four-game substance abuse suspension and he'll look to clear the way for Johnson. Lawrence Timmons is moving to the outside because of James Harrison's absence, and Larry Foote will need to be ready for Tennessee's underrated offensive line.
Matt Hasselbeck has been playing well, but Pittsburgh's defense will still crush any team when that offense becomes one dimensional.
With Kenny Britt done for the season, Tennessee will win this game on the ground or they'll lose.