By Jeremy Hritz
The 2012 football season is buzzing by, and the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at 2-2 after the first quarter. With twelve games left to go before the six teams from the AFC are cemented for the NFL playoffs, the Steelers still have much work to do if they want to claim the one of those spots.
The bright spots thus far have been few, but if anything has been remarkable, it has been the play of ninth year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After four games, Roethlisberger has completed nearly 66% of his passes, accounting for nine touchdown passes and only one interception. While not getting overly outstanding pass protection, Roethlisberger has been sacked three times less than Tom Brady and once less than Peyton Manning. If the offensive line can continue to improve, especially once David DeCastro returns, Roethlisberger’s play will only get better.
However, for as good as Roethlisberger has been this year, there has not been a signature player who has stepped up on the defensive side of the ball. While the defense played a good first half against Denver and acceptably against the Jets and the Eagles, they were downright awful in the second half against the Broncos and the Raiders. While it can be argued that the turnovers from the Eagles game and the three sacks of Michael Vick are signs or improvement, not to mention the play of Lawrence Timmons, there still has not been the emergence of a defensive leader who can rally the troops with his play.
Quite possibly, however, four games deep into 2012, a comfort may have been achieved by the defense, and a star may be on the verge of exploding this Thursday against the Tennessee Titans.
So what to make of the game against the Titans? It should be a game that the Steelers win easily, but that was supposed to be the case against the Raiders as well. While there is blowout potential here for the Steelers, there is also the chance that the Steelers waste another lead and lose the game.
The Steelers Will Win This Game If…
They don’t turn over the ball and they don’t hurt themselves with careless penalties.
It’s really quite simple: the Steelers just need to play a clean game. The Titans defense has struggled this year on defense, giving up over 30 points in each of their five games, though they were against solid competition in New England, San Diego, Detroit, Houston, and Minnesota. Without much of a pass rush, only recording seven sacks in five games, and with a Steelers offensive line that is improving, though only slightly, Roethlisberger should have time to throw and work the ball down field with his army of wide receivers. Additionally, the Titans have not shown that they can stop the run, and with a game under the belt of Rashard Mendenhall, the running game should be productive. This also could be a game that the defensive unit can return to the form as the Titans’ offense has struggled. Ultimately, the only way the Steelers lose this game is if they hurt themselves through stupid mistakes.
The Titans Will Win This Game If…
The Steelers come out flat and turn over the football. Playing in Tennessee has not always been kind to the Steelers, and doing so on a national stage will provide for a challenging environment. That alone could keep this game close. If the Steelers do not continue to improve and make strides from their first four games, then this game will be closer than necessary, and the Steelers could end up dropping to 2-3 and facing a serious uphill climb to the playoffs. If all plays out the way it should, this should be a game that the Steelers elevate their performance.
While this game has red flags all over it, this will be the game that the Steelers make their first assertion as a team with the potential to challenge in the AFC. I am expecting another solid outing from Roethlisberger in prime time that will vault his name in the MVP discussion and another excellent output from Timmons to lead the defense in shutting down the Titans. Short week, so be it, the Steelers roll.
Steelers 38 Titans 17