Random Steelers-Titans Postgame Musings

Many art aficionados find the Mona Lisa breathtaking and argue it is da Vinci’s finest work. To me, it’s a simple mugshot drawing of a homely looking French gal.

Many football fans probably thought the Steelers’ 19-11 win at Tennessee today was ugly football. To me, that was a work of art, painted by the master known as Dick LeBeau, whose defense forced seven Titan turnovers, probably sent Vince Young back into a depression (if not the bench), and held Chris Johnson, the best running back in the NFL, to a measly 34 yards rushing on 16 carries, which tied for Johnson’s second lowest rushing total of his stellar career.

All any rational Steelers fan could ask for in the first two games without superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a split against playoff-caliber opponents Atlanta and Tennessee. But now the Steelers sit alone atop the AFC North standings at 2-0, primarily thanks to LeBeau and a defense that looks as dominating as it did throughout the 2008 Super Bowl championship season.

Some more random postgame thoughts by position and without the benefit of breaking down the gametape:

Secondary: As long as Troy Polamalu stays healthy, this team can compete with anyone. Bryant McFadden did not play well in his one season at Arizona, but he is a nice fit for LeBeau’s scheme and his return provides a major upgrade over William Gay as the Steelers’ No. 2 CB. The Titans had neither the quarterback or receivers to exploit the Pittsburgh corners. The cerebral and steady Ryan Clark remains underappreciated at free safety.

Linebackers: I have never been a big Lawrence Timmons fan. I still say his best position is as a 4-3 coverage outside linebacker and that the Steelers should never spend a top-half of the first-round pick on a 3-4 ILB. But Timmons has rivaled Polamalu as the team’s best defensive player over the first two games. If he continues to play like this, Timmons could be the team MVP, selected to his first Pro Bowl, and will shut up all critics of his selection, including me. He is as fast in pursuit as any linebacker in the NFL.

It was also nice to see the Steelers finally utilize their considerable depth at inside linebacker, as both Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox saw action on defense. Foote, who plays no special teams and signed a $9.3 million, 3-year contract to return to Pittsburgh in the offseason, saw no playing time in week No. 1. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have surpassed Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene as the best 3-4 OLB due in Steelers history and rival Jack Ham and Andy Russell as the best OLB duo in team history. They are simply superb every week.

Defensive Line:
The Steelers are now 16-2 when super-sub Chris Hoke starts for an injured Casey Hampton, and the Steelers did not miss their Pro Bowl nose tackle today. The team’s ability to bottle up Johnson would not have been possible without another stout performance by a rotation of six defensive linemen.

Special Teams: Head coach Mike Tomlin and new special teams coach Al Everest won the game with the reverse on the opening kickoff that resulted in an 89-yard TD by rookie Antonio Brown. But almost as pleasing has been the increase in both distance and hang time of kickoffs by Jeff Reed, which has helped the suspect special-teams coverage units.

Will Allen made the correct decision in stepping forward in trying to catch the final onside kick, which he somehow then dropped. Still, the Titans had the element of surprise based on the late shift and numbers on their side, so it was the prudent move. He just has to catch the kick. Antonio Brown should return all kicks and punts unless the Steelers are backed up near their goal line and need to fair catch. Antwaan Randle El’s days as punt returner should be over, with Mewelde Moore serving as the fair-catch specialist.

Quarterback: Charlie Batch is a better passer than Dennis Dixon. I am not sure who I want to start next week, assuming Dixon is available and healthy. I would rather have Dixon starting against a team with a great pass rush so long as Max Starks remains sidelined. However, the Steelers may be better off with Batch if the line is healthy and he should be in the game if the Steelers need to drive 80 yards through the air in 90 seconds.

Running Backs: Stats can be misleading. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman both ran very well and hard today. I love all that Moore brings to the team, but he should only be a third-down back at this point.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: There were probably many Pop Warner offenses in the 1950s that used their wide outs more than the Steelers did today.

Offensive Line: Lord help us. Jonathan Scott was a part-time starter at tackle for the Bills last year. However, any Steelers fans wondering how they were able to ink Scott to a 1-year, veteran-minimum contract found out today. That was the worst performance by a Steelers tackle since Todd Fordham suited up for Pittsburgh in 2003, and I have seen many bad offensive tackle performances since.

What’s worse is that Tony Hills was not any better. I could not understand why the Steelers did not have Heath Miller or Hines Ward chip whoever Scott faced if not just outright double-team his opponent. But when Scott and Hills were in the game together at tackle, the Steelers were best served to run three straight times for little/no yardage, which is exactly what they did in compiling a measly 127 yards of total offense. Who cares?

When Trai Essex left the game with what looked like possibly a serious injury, the Steelers offense became much worse. Doug Legursky can line up at guard in the NFL, but he cannot play the position. Ramon Foster, who started four games for the Steelers in 2009, would replace Essex if he is out next week but was not on the active roster for today.

Even if Essex returns, the Steelers may want to let Foster get some work at center in practice, because he needs to be on the game-day roster. Moreover, the Steelers are probably better off playing Max Starks in a walking boot next Sunday against Tampa than starting Scott again at left tackle, especially if the fragile, aged Charlie Batch starts at QB.

Overall, though, enjoy this win and the fact that Pittsburgh sits alone atop the AFC North standings despite having its franchise quarterback on the sideline and mostly playing a veteran QB Sunday against the Titans, who most Steelers insiders did not even think would be on the team’s roster just three weeks ago.

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  • Bigswa

    A win is a win is a win. If combine sacks ans hits per pass play, the Steelers QB’s were hit or sacked every 2.1 pass plays. 4 sacks and QB hits in 21 Pass Plays – Note a pass play includes the plays which resulted in a sack.

  • Cols714

    Eh. The Steelers OL gets mandhandled every game vs Tenn. I’m not going to worry.

  • Irishfire504

    I don’t know if anyone recognizes the old steelers scheme we fell back into (With Ben out) but this run, run, pass posession is taking our offense away. The titans were able to key in on defense, knowing the first two plays would be a run. They were sending their linebackers straight into the gaps at the snap of the ball and not even worrying about 1sr or 2nd down passsing plays. At least when Ben is here they allow him to mix it up. Come on Mr. offensive co-ordinator are you trying to get our players hurt? It’s a wonder that Mendenhall got 60+ yds. this game. Maybe you should try running the ball when you have two thirds of a team rushing the line. We better get a better game plan before we play Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

    • Cols714

      What would you have them do? They are down to their 4th QB and are missing both starting tackles and a starting guard. It’s not exactly easy to move the ball when you have those kinds of injuries.

      Can we please not have any Bruce Arians bashing this early in the season?

      • RoB D

        I agree completely. This was a survival game. The O-line changed after every snap seemingly. Heat and injuries played havoc. Hills was in at LG for a series (as JJ noted in the podcast). Yes. Tony Hills at LG. Starks out. Essex went down. Kemo dehydrated. Scott in and showing himself to be completely awful.

        DDixon is a nice kid, pretty smart but he’s not even remotely ready to start slinging the ball around against a very good to excellent Titans D. He can’t throw an out. He doesn’t read defenses very well. I think its boring but we needed to run the clock as much as possible with a running game, let the D do its awesome thing, hope ST’s contribute (and they did) and try to eke out a win.

        I couldn’t be happier with the win. WE get the O-line together and it approaches mediocrity even at full strength with BB back in the fold and we are going places.

    • Anonymous

      I think that the behavior you describe was more pronounced late in the game than early, and at the time, I think the easiest way for the Steelers to lose would have been to turn over or tkae no time off the clock. Last season, playing like that caused a lot of problems. But in this game in the specific situation with the personnel who were there, I have a hard time condemning the plan.

  • steeler junky

    I disagree with you about Moore!? The only things I see him do well any more is block and catch the ball. And when he does catch the ball he better be on the other side of the line of scrimmage because he isn’t fast or elusive enough any more to gain any yards after the catch.

    • Ted

      No, I think we do agree on Moore. He catches the ball, blocks okay, and is an asset on special teams,. But my point was that I have no idea why he was getting caries on first- and second-down against the Titans. Mendenhall and Redman should be getting 100% of those carries.

      The only time Moore should get a rushing carry is on a delayed draw on passing downs.

      • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

        To be fair, Mendenhall had 23 carries and it was nearly 100 degrees on the field. Given all the upheaval at every position due to the heat, I think it’s hard to complain about who got playing time and when.

        • Cols714

          This is it exactly. It’s not like any of the RBs were going anywhere after the 1st quarter anyways. Might as well use them all so they have something left for the next two weeks.

          I know it’s an early bye week, but I’m glad they have it early. This game was extremely physical and they still play the Ravens in two weeks which is going to be crazy. They are really going to need that week off after that game.

      • steeler junky

        Point taken

  • Anonymous

    What do you think of that last touchdown drive by the Titans? When the drive started I thought to myself “In this situation I think they’d happily trade a touchdown for two and a half minutes off the clock.” Well, they took three minutes, so I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want them to stiffen at least at the end and force the field goal, but that’s a low percentage stop. I found myself in the bazarre position of cheering Titans first downs because they had only gained 10 yards and didn’t stop the clock.

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan


      I completely agree — time off the clock vs. a late score was fine by me. I could just do without Butterfingers Will Allen botching the onside kick.

    • Ted

      I agree. I could care less. We played the percentages. Let them score by picking up 6-10 yards per play, often tackling them inbounds. The only reason we are even thinking about it is because we did not recover the onside kick.