There’s nothing like a short week after a tough game to really amp up the intensity for NFL football. We all love watching these early games, as long as our team isn’t involved. The short week can be a real problem for some teams. And that’s exactly where the Pittsburgh Steelers are, as they prepare for their mid-week tilt with the Tennessee Titans. Both teams have underperformed this year, and with only a few days to prepare, we’ll see which coaching staff has their team sharp and ready to play.
When the Steelers have the football-Last weekend, the Steelers got a real treat when injured running back Rashard Mendenhall returned to the starting lineup and finished the game with over 100 yards of offense and a touchdown last week. This week I expect more of the same as the Steelers attack the Titans defensive front, which has struggled to stop the run. Use the run to set up the deep pass and keep the Titans off balance and off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As poorly as the Titans have played, they still have a decent pass rush, and so making sure to protect Roethlisberger is key. I think the Steelers should consider trying to exploit their matchups on the outside with wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown and try and go vertical early and often.
When the Steelers are on defense-No matter how much he’s struggled this season, the Steelers defensive focus must be on containing running back Chris Johnson first and foremost. It seems once it’s established that he’s not going to get any traction in the run game, they abandon it altogether. The Steelers should stack the box, blitz on run and passing downs, and make sure he can’t get going. The status of linebacker LaMarr Woodley as of this writing is unknown. If he can go, he and fellow outside linebacker James Harrison should be able to feast on the less mobile Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. This week compared to last, I want to see the font 7 attack the line of scrimmage and force Hasselbeck to make plays.
When the Titans have the football-If the Titans ever needed Johnson to get going it’s this week. With Hasselbeck replacing the injured but athletic Jake Locker, he’s a sitting duck back there without a decent running game. But Hasselbeck is a must more polished passer so with wide receiver Nate Washington and tight end Jared Cook out there, I expect him to test the Steelers secondary. They have to, if they want to keep the Steelers safteys out of the box and open up some room for Johnson.
When the Titans are on defense-When your top 4 tacklers are also your 4 starting defensive backs, it means your front 7 isn’t doing their job. But this week, those front line players are going to need to step up. and keep the running game in front of them, or the Steelers are going to just pound it at them. In the back, the Titans don’t have the speed to matchup with the Steelers wide outs, so it will really depend on the front 7 creating pressure in the run game and on Roethlisberger and bailing out the dbacks.
Player to watch, Steelers-Rashard Mendenhall. After last week Steelers fans everywhere are excited about the run game with Mendenhall back in the mix. The Titans give up nearly 145 yards a game on the ground, so there’s a real chance Mendenhall goes off for a big one.
Player to watch, Titans-Kenny Britt, wide receiver. Britt is practicing and is expected to play. If he’s back on the field he’s going to stretch a thin secondary even thinner. Britt has big play ability and paired up with Washington and Cook could create some real matchup problems for the Steelers.
The x-factor-The Training Staffs. With a short week both teams have at least 2 starters that are questionable, that play vital roles for their teams. Could be the team that can get as many key starters on the field that will win.
Prediction-Short week, injuries, and travel. Sounds like a recipe for a trap game to me. But even with that, I have to think there is just too much talent on the Steelers roster to lose to a banged up Titans team. So give me the Steelers to win in a game that is closer than it should be.