AFC North

Steelers Need A Quick Start Against Titans

steelers titans
Brandon Wade
Credit: AP

The Steelers host the Tennessee Titans in Week 15, over a week removed from their near-historic comeback against the Vikings.

Stating the Obvious

The Steelers are still very much in the AFC Wild Card picture but haven’t looked the part of a playoff team over the last handful of weeks. After their huge win against the Ravens, the Steelers’ encore performance was to come out completely flat against the Vikings. They allowed over 200 rushing yards to Dalvin Cook, and it somehow looked worse than the stat line.

The running lanes Cook had in that game were enormous, and the proud Pittsburgh D seemingly had no answer. The Steelers would prove resilient, however, and mount a comeback that, if completed, would have been the biggest regular-season comeback ever. Some would say the Steelers’ ability to produce this comeback was a result of the hurry-up offense and would urge the Steelers to run their offense in this fashion earlier in the game.

The No-Huddle Offense

The Steelers lead the NFL in fourth-quarter points, although it is only expected that a team must score more when they are losing late. This has been the case for the Steelers in this 2021 season. But it also is proof that this offense has plenty of firepower. So, can the Steelers be effective with the no-huddle earlier in the game?

We would have to see it more to answer that question thoroughly, but I know fans would be encouraged if Matt Canada were to use it earlier in the game to spark this offense. The Titans are an above-average defense, so a no-huddle offense could be a way to keep them guessing. The young Steelers’ offensive line has had its struggles – to say the least – but they also proved effective enough in the Steelers’ comeback last week. Regardless, when you have an experienced, hall-of-fame quarterback under center, you should be able to trust his judgment. I think the Steelers can use the no-huddle early on Sunday, and force the Titans to pass more. If they can make Ryan Tannehill be the one to beat them, the Steelers have a shot to pick up a win.

Personnel Reinforcements

The Steelers are 6-2 when T.J. Watt plays all four quarters, and he is expected to play against the Titans. Additionally, Alex Highsmith was also a full participant at practice, and will most likely play as well. Both players will be needed against the Titans rushing attack that has been solid even without Derrick Henry.

Another potential boost to the defense would be if CB Joe Haden were able to suit up. Haden has missed the last four games with a foot injury but has a chance to get back this week. The Steelers will also see the return of DL Isaiah Buggs, which is key timing since Montravius Adams entered COVID protocols on Dec. 15th, and may not be able to play Sunday.

Keys to the Game

  1. Stopping the run. Ok, so maybe stopping the run isn’t likely, but they need to salvage some pride after last week. Thankfully, slowing down D’Onta Foreman should be a slightly easier task than slowing down Dalvin Cook. Like I mentioned earlier, though, they want to make the Titans uncomfortable, and force Tannehill to throw them to victory.
  2. Pressure, pressure, pressure. This one is contingent upon their ability to slow the Titans’ run game. But if they can, they have a good chance to disrupt Ryan Tannehill and force him into sacks, turnovers, or at the very least some errant throws. Tannehill has been sacked 37 times this year, so he’s not exactly protected by the best. With Watt, Buggs, and Highsmith returning, the Steelers should be able to fluster Ryan Tannehill and shut this Titans’ offense down.
  3. Start quick! The Steelers need to get off to a good start. This may be obvious, but they need to establish themselves as players fighting for their playoff lives, instead of as the team that barely showed up on time to the game in Minneapolis.

What to Watch For

Keep an eye on that “no-huddle” idea early in this one. The Titans have the second-best run defense in the league, and the Steelers need to accept the fact that running up the gut with Najee Harris on their first two plays of the game is not such a good idea. I think Canada recognizes this and lets Ben air it out on their early drives. They should get the ball into Diontae Johnson’s hands early, and use Freiermuth to convert third downs.

We should also keep an eye on how Chase Claypool responds after the end of the game last week. Statistically, he played great, and he made an absurd catch in crunch time. But, he also was widely criticized on social media for his first down celebration that cost the Steelers valuable seconds late in the game. It will be interesting to see how Claypool follows up that performance. The Steelers need his talent on the field, so I am hoping he plays with a “strictly business” attitude.

Prediction

I think the Steelers take this one at home. They need it more than the Titans, for both playoff hopes and pride. I think they come out with an intensity that we didn’t see last week in Minnesota, and that the team realizes this may be their last run with Ben Roethlisberger.

The Titans are too solid of a team to get blown out, but I see the Steelers getting out to an early lead. I think Pittsburgh wins 27-19.

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  1. Pingback: Dolphins vs. Jets Recap - Championship Sports Media

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