It was a great showcase for NFL fans who love defense. The Titans and Steelers offenses were effective, but the defenses made critical plays at critical moments. Tennessee had chances to take and keep the lead, but special teams mistakes and the steady play of Ben Roethlisberger helped the Steelers prevail.
Story of the Game: Not-so-special teams play hurt Titans
The game was scoreless until very late in the second quarter. Pittsburgh and Tennessee ran its two-minute offense to perfection against soft coverage and each team scored a touchdown.
Otherwise, the game was a boxing match. Defensive contests are often decided by the team that makes the fewest mistakes. Unfortunately, the Titans made their share, and the most obvious ones were committed on special teams. Kicker Rob Bironas missed two relatively short field goals (one was a bad kick, the other was blocked). Cortland Finnegan, who hasn’t returned punts since college, fumbled (and recovered) a punt and signalled fair catch too soon on another. Punter Craig Hentrich performed well for most of the game but shanked a 28-yarder with 1:57 left in regulation (where’s preseason rookie sensation A.J. Trapasso? On the Buccanneer’s practice squad).
The Other Story of the Game: Steelers D survives loss of Polamalu
Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu did his best Superman impression in the first half. He tackled Chris Johnson in the backfield on the Titans’ first possession, and later made a leaping, one-handed interception of a Kerry Collins deep ball. Despite Polamalu’s heroics, Tennessee had success moving the ball in the air and on the ground in the first half.
Later, Polamalu suffered an awful-looking knee injury (he could be out up to six weeks). The Steelers looked shaky in the third quarter, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau began calling blitzes, and his players delivered. Tennessee’s linemen, backs and tight ends did not give Collins enough time to get into a rhythm in the second half.
Did the Titans miss Haynesworth?
(Note: I believe Tennessee’s response to Albert Haynesworth departure will define the Titans 2009 season, and I will discuss this every week.)
Pittsburgh, like Tennessee, wants to establish the run. Fast Willie Parker was ineffective all night and only gained 19 yards on 13 carries. The Titans defensive line held its own against the run.
Tennessee put some pressure on Roethlisberger, sacking him four times and forcing two interceptions. But at the end of the game, Tennessee failed when they tried to force pressure with a four-man pass rush. Roethlisberger stood tall in the pocket and made the plays to help his team win.
The Titans missed Haynesworth’s presence against the Steelers.
Odds and Ends
Kenny Britt surprised me. He missed time in training camp due to injury, and I wondered how much he, as a rookie receiver, could contribute in 2009. Britt led Tennessee in reception yardage with 85 and had four receptions.
Jason Jones, Haynesworth’s “replacement,” looked good in flashes, but he could not repeat the performance he had against the Steelers in 2008. Jones did sack Roethlisberger once and made two tackles.
Bo Scaife was a valuable target underneath and it would have been nice if he was available for Collins as an outlet receiver. He had five catches for 48 yards before suffering a knee sprain.
Next Week: Houston Texans
The Titans’ first home game features many observers’ choice to have a breakout season, the Houston Texans. It’s more important than ever that Tennessee handles this upstart division opponent. If the defensive line can generate a little more pressure, I expect the offense to rack up lots of yards and points against the Texans’ porous defense.