Last October, the Steelers went into Nashville and left with a 26-23 defeat to the Titans as Rob Bironas kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Pittsburgh had a 23-16 lead with about eight minutes to go but gave up 10 points over the final seven minutes.
While the defense can certainly bear the brunt of the blame for the collapse, the running game did nothing to help as they totaled just 56 yards rushing for the entire game. That is one of three keys heading into Sunday’s game against Tennessee.
1. The Offense Must Run the Ball Better Than Last Year – The Steelers cannot expect Ben Roethlisberger to throw for another 363 yards as he did last year. Whether it’s Isaac Redman, Felix Jones or LaRod Stephens-Howling, these guys need to find yards to take pressure off of Roethlisberger.
Obviously this falls on the offensive line who cannot be bullied by the four-man front of the Titans. Being able to run the ball successfully early on will pay dividends later, but should the Steelers get out early behind the passing game, the offense still needs to move the ball on the ground.
2. The O-Line Must Protect Roethlisberger – OK, I know… Could there be any more of an obvious point? For sure this young, unproven unit has to come together and keep Ben Roethlisberger clean, but there’s a very key reason I mention this and Tomlin eluded to it yesterday.
Former New Orleans’ Saints Defensive Coordinator and supposed ‘BountyGate’ ringleader Gregg Williams is consulting with current Titans’ D-coordinator Jerry Gray. This cannot go unmentioned and Tomlin felt strongly enough about it to bring it up.
Tomlin said the team has reviewed some tape from their game against New Orleans a couple years ago. Roethlisberger was under heavy pressure that game and they were especially good against the Steelers on third down.
Obviously the offense has changed and the personnel are different on both sides of the ball, but Williams’ influence cannot be overlooked and the offensive line must respond.
3. Someone Has to Get Heath’s Catches – Last season against the Titans, Heath Miller had six receptions for 67 yards. Who is going to grab those passes on Sunday? I don’t see David Paulson being targeted six times let alone catching six balls.
So who is the guy that will step up? Look for a couple of possibilities…. I can see Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton and LaRod Stephens-Howling being involved in the passing game to varying degrees. Cotchery has been relatively quiet through the preseason as he has been overshadowed by Wheaton, but don’t count out the wily veteran being a major target, especially on third downs.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.