This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans in a matchup that will be a large step for both teams in securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Anyone who has followed the NFL this year can tell you this game will be a defensive slugfest. In fact, it won't be surprising if there isn't an offensive touchdown scored in the game.
The Titans defense has been able to dominate this season by holding opponents to only 187.6 YPG through the air and 93.4 YPG on the ground. Both of these stats are good enough to rank in the top ten in the league. Most of the publicity this year has gone to Defensive MVP candidate Albert Haynesworth. The monster in the middle of the defensive line has been almost immovable and at times has taken over games.
However, it’s easy to overlook their complete shutdown corner, Cortland Finnegan. He’s one of the league’s best and can eliminate the top receiver of almost any team. With five interceptions on the season, he trails only Troy Polamalu for the league lead. The good news for the Steelers is that Tennessee will be without Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch this week.
The one offensive difference maker for the Steelers this year has been Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers fifth-year quarterback has made his living off of coming through in the clutch and making the unorthodox play look routine. The offensive line had taken some heat for not creating a steady rushing game and failing to keep Roethlisberger upright, but the blame doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the big men.
Ben has a habit of holding the ball for an eternity, trying to extend each play and make something out of nothing. He does seem to have a knack for making these plays this year, just like in 2005 when he led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.
Throughout this season, Ben has battled injuries that have limited his passing accuracy and strength. At times, it seemed as though the play calling was affected by his limitations and probably cost the team the game against the Colts. There was not a pass attempt over 10 yards in the entire second half of the game and the Colts crept up their coverage to force key interceptions. However, when healthy, Ben looks to have that little bit of moxie that helps him make the big play when needed.
The Titans come into the game struggling slightly. It’s hard to fault a team that started the season with ten straight wins, but going 2-2 in their last four has left people questioning if they can rediscover that magic. Even with Pittsburgh’s staunch run defense, Tennessee should find its best success running LenDale White inside. This seems to be the one area that teams have found a little running room against the vaunted 3-4 scheme.
Look for Collins to look to his safety valves with Dick LeBeau throwing every blitz at him. Chris Johnson could excel in this role similarly to the way the Cowboys used Tashard Choice a few weeks back.
On the other side of the ball, look for the Steelers to push the run and the underneath passing to control the clock and not make any mistakes. The depleted defensive line of the Titans may have trouble keeping pressure on Big Ben the whole game as his scrambling and large frame could wear down the pass rush over four quarters.
Look for the Steelers to take a fourth quarter lead on a Roethlisberger to Heath Miller touchdown and let their defense close it out on the road to take a huge step toward the home field advantage that looked unattainable a few weeks ago.
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