The Steelers, who survived their first game without Ben Roethlisberger 15-9 over the Atlanta Falcons, now must face their toughest foe of the four game suspension in the Tennessee Titans who ran all over the Oakland Raiders, 38-13.
|VICTORY CELEBRATION—James Harrison jumps on Rashard Mendenhall to celebrate Mendenhall’s 50 yard touchdown run in overtime that gave the Steelers a 15-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the season opener at Heinz Field.
Dennis Dixon started off slow but as the game progressed he was given more freedom which led to more confidence as he put the ball in the air more for a very solid first game. He was 18 of 26 for 236 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He quietly outplayed his much more noted opponent Matt Ryan, who many believe is going to be an NFL star. Ryan was 27 of 44 for 252 yards but was not able to get the ball in the end zone.
The defense showed why they were the best in the business in 2008, the Super Bowl year, as they bent but didn’t break, and held an outstanding offense to three field goals. As usual, they shut down the running game, holding Michael Turner to just 42 yards on 19 carries.
With Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith missing 11 games each last season, the defense dropped to fifth, but still was number one against the run. However, both Smith and Polamalu are back, along with cornerback Bryant McFadden and all played major roles in the Steelers victory, with Polamalu picking up a key interception that led to the overtime. They also did something very rare in the NFL. They stopped a team from scoring in overtime which set up Rashard Mendenhall’s winning 50-yard touchdown run.
The secondary was the Steelers weakness last season but with the exception of Roddy White’s 13 catches for 111 yards, they pretty much controlled the air attack.
The challenge will be much greater against the Titans and Chris Johnson who led the league in rushing last season. He opened the season with 142 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries as the Titans slaughtered the Raiders. Johnson, the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2010, extended his streak at 12 consecutive 100-yard games to break a tie with Marcus Allen. He trails only Barry Sanders, who had an NFL-best 14. This will be the ultimate test for the Steelers defense to stop or contain Johnson.
But Johnson is not the Titans only offensive threat. Vince Young came off the bench last season to lift an 0-6 team into the playoffs. The young Dixon has been compared much to Young because of his ability to run the ball. Young doesn’t pass a lot but is very effective when he does. He was 13 of 17 for 154 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders.
Former Steeler Nate Washington was his leading receiver with just three catches but picked up 88 yards and one touchdown. Expect Young to put the ball in the air far more against the Steelers because it’s not likely Johnson will be able to run as freely as he did against the Raiders. With no true outside threat the Titans must depend on the run for victory, which means the Steelers will gear their defense to stopping the run.
Speaking of running, the Steelers looked good with Mendenhall picking up 120 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown, the biggest being the 50-yard run in overtime to win the game.
Isaac Redman gained 19 yards on six carries, but was most impressive on short yardage situations when the Steelers needed one or two yards for the first down.
Hines Ward once again demonstrated why he’s one of the best wide receivers in the game as he picked up the team in the second half with 108 yards on six catches. Heath Miller had four catches for 40 yards and Mike Wallace was held to just two catches for 62 yards.
“It’s like Forrest Gump, I can’t explain it,” said Ward, who is from the Atlanta area and went to the University of Georgia. “I’m 34 years old, and every year regardless of what people say it’s my mindset that I have to go in and prove everybody wrong. That’s my motivation.”
Look for a much more aggressive game in the air against the Titans, mostly because Tennessee has probably the third best defensive team in the league behind the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. It will be much tougher to run against this team than the Falcons.
Of the four games without Roethlisberger, this is the game most pick the Steelers to lose, including myself, but this is not written in stone. If the defense can contain Johnson they can beat the Titans which means they could go 4-0 instead of 3-1. The other two games are at Tampa Bay and at home against the Ravens.
The only low point was the kick returns by Antwaan Randle El with just three yards on two returns. Also missing were the two outstanding rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Look for more of them in the next three games because Randle El really didn’t look that impressive as the third wide receiver.