By Christopher DiMarino
The Tennessee Titans are having an awful start to the season. The issues involved in getting their once superstar running back Chris Johnson going have not been solved, and to make matters worse, their franchise quarterback has been battling injury. In a normal world, this would be an easy game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that phrase doesn’t exist in the Steel City. The Steelers have a history of struggling and sometimes even losing to teams they should beat. Particularly, I’ve noted that the Steelers struggle on the road against teams with veteran quarterbacks, which the Titans certainly have in Matt Hasselbeck.
The Steelers are coming off of a close win against a competitive team. This game against the Titans is important because Pittsburgh is in the beginning stages of stacking wins that could spark some confidence. It is not that foreign of a concept that teams come out of the bye week with a new outlook and severely outperform their initial output. The addition of Rashard Mendenhall has brought life to to the running game and it should be ready to pick up where it left off last week. The defense is more of a work in progress with Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley out for this game. Both Woodley and Polamalu will have long weeks after this game to try and get healthy before week 7, but as with Oakland, you can’t overlook the task at hand.
You can reference my competition analysis to learn a little more about the competition below:
The Steelers haven’t really been a liability on offense yet this season. Even when the running game struggled early, they offense was able to possess the ball, move the chains and score points. With a red hot kicker and a running game that looks ready to parallel this strong passing game, I think this could be a big week collectively for this unit. Looking at the competition does nothing to stifle this impression. Tennessee is ranked 29th in the league in defensive yards allowed, breaking down to 25th against the pass and 28th against the run. Football Outsiders agrees with this ranking for the most part, ranking them 29th overall, 32nd against the pass and 21st against the run. These rankings make sense when you look at their depth chart. There is a lot of young talent, but few big names in the secondary as this team is missing the benefits of a shutdown corner like Cortland Finnegan.
The Titans have played in games against the Patriots, Chargers, Lions, Texans and Vikings on their way to a 1-4 record. It is easy to underestimate those defensive numbers as each one of those teams, maybe with the slight exception of the Vikings, are strong offensively. If you want more proof, the Titans have surrendered an average of 36 points per game. So while I feel confident in the Steelers offense when matched up against this Titans defense, I don’t think it is as stark of a comparison as the numbers would have you believe.
To break it down by position, the Titans rank 25th against the #1 receiver, 7th against the #2 and 24th against the rest. They are a paltry 29th against the tight end, but 18th against running backs. I think Mike Wallace will have a bounce back week and might even haul in his first deep ball against the Titans, who may eventually start stacking the box to stop the run. Antonio Brown should be consistent as always and I think Emmanuel Sanders will see a decreased role as the running game is put on display. Heath Miller will get his touches and is a good guess to re-enter the end zone.
Mendenhall is tough to gauge with such a small sample size, but he looked good against the Eagles. This game is even harder to guess based fantasy wise on the Titans ability to stop the run. This defense held Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson under 100 yards and they each had a good deal of carries. There is no noticeable trend for bigger versus smaller backs, so I think Mendenhall will have a good day, but I don’t think the Steelers are ready to ramp up his carries to the 25 range so he will likely be held under the century mark, unless of course he breaks a long one.
The Titans have been very hard to predict on offense. The run game has been the more discernable of the two as Johnson has only had one good game. He’s been held to under 24 yards in 4 of the 5 games this season. The Titans have played a few good defensive teams, but I don’t think any of them are much better at stopping than the Steelers. I’d expect his issue to continue, but with his speed, there could be cause for concern of him breaking one.
One of the bigger deterrents for the Titans running game could be the Titans passing game with Matt Hasselbeck. While he is accurate and somewhat elusive in the pocket, he is not known for stretching the field. I would point out the 7.4 yard average per pass of Jake Locker over the 5.5 average of Hasselbeck as evidence. The Titans have a few interesting receivers, but none are stars. Kenny Britt looked like one early last season before he got injured, but hasn’t returned to form yet. Nate Washington is quick and can make big plays, but only has 14 receptions in 5 games. The reception leaders for the team are tight end Jared Cook and rookie 1st round pick Kendall Wright. I’ll admit that Wright was a confusing looking pick at the time for the Titans, but the Baylor Bear has been the underneath route specialist and has 27 receptions. He has an insanely low average per catch of 7.9, compared to 19.6 of Washington, but he has been a reliable target.
I think that the Steelers will stop the run, but won’t be as successful against the pass as some might think. The Titans have a decent offensive line and the Steelers might struggle to apply enough pressure. If that happens, Hasselbeck will have time to pick apart this pass coverage which has been a little soft this season. The biggest fault of the pass defense is the amount of completions they are allowing opposing teams. This will be exacerbated by Hasselbeck, who wants to play a short yardage, low risk type of game. However, as the Steelers offense starts putting points on the board, and the Titans get more desperate, you will start to see the Steelers secondary attack Hasselbeck\'s passes.
I think this game will start slow, but the Steelers will be consistent overall. They will put up points, close to a 7 per quarter, while the Titans will fall behind at the half and not be able to dig themselves out. I can see Wallace getting a big catch for the first time this season, maybe even an 80 yarder. Mendenhall has the chance of breaking one against a poor tackling Titans secondary, but he probably won’t cross 100 yards unless he does. The only chance the Titans have is if one of their receivers establishes himself and has a monster day. I think Britt is the only one capable of doing it and he doesn’t look ready for it yet.
|QB||Matt Hasselbeck||200||1||0||1 FUM||10|
The fantasy points projected below are educated guesses meant to be used with other inputs to influence your decision of who to start and what each player might be capable of. Unlike the statistical sites, I rounded each stat to clean up the numbers and avoided unrealistic divisions (like 0.2 TDs). There are players that will contribute in the game that I didn\'t cover, but these players aren\'t typically expected to do much.
The above point totals are based on the following scoring convention:
Quarterback - Yards: 25 = 1 pt TDs = 4pts Fumbles = -2pts INTs: 1 = -2pts
Rushing - Yards: 10 = 1 pt TDs = 6pts Fumbles = -2pts
Receiving - Yards: 10 = 1 pt TDs = 6pts Receptions = 0.5pts
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