Tale Of The Tape: Tennessee Titans At Pittsburgh Steelers
- QuarterbackJake Locker is a quarterback with a lot to prove. While he has the tools needed to succeed – arm strength, decent accuracy, physical strength and ability to evade the rush – he needs a lot of work in blitz recognition and it seems unlikely he can stay in the lineup for a full season. He will have issues against Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense.Ben Roethlisberger has seen it all in his career and he is a two-time Super Bowl winner. Roethlisberger’s size and strength give him a linebacker’s presence at quarterback, but he is not just a brute. He can evade the rush, make subtle moves and then throw the ball accurately. He takes a pounding, but keeps on delivering.
- OffenseWhen the Titans are healthy, they present some very scary options on offense. Chris Johnson is still the fastest running back in the league, but he is a boom-or-bust player who can’t create his own holes. Former Steeler Nate Washington (ankle) has game-changing ability, but he’s questionable for this game. If Kenny Britt (knee) can stay in the lineup, he is a game changer.The Steelers probably will not be at their best this year until rookie running Le’Veon Bell is back in the lineup after suffering a foot injury this summer. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are good but not great receivers. Heath Miller (knee) may not be ready to go in this game. The offensive line is just average outside of center Maurkice Pouncey.
- DefenseThe Titans are going to have to find a way to put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and that means defensive end Kamerion Wimbley is going to have to have a big year. Wimbley had 6.0 sacks last year and needs to hit double figures in 2013. The safety combination of Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard is hard hitting and nasty.The Steelers have relished their identity as one of the NFL’s best defensive teams for decades. This does not appear to be one of their vintage editions because their front line lacks game-changing players and the loss of linebacker James Harrison to the division rival Bengals through free agency. Troy Polamalu is healthy this year and look for a return to Pro Bowl form.
- Special TeamsThe Titans know that Brett Kern is a reliable weapon when it comes to punting the ball. He gets height and distance on his kicks. Rob Bironas returns at the PK position and while he has a big leg, he did not have a great year (25-of-31) in 2013.Sanders should be able to give the Steelers’ return game a lift with his speed and quickness. Shaun Suisham had a remarkable season kicking in windy Heinz Field, making 28-of-31 FG attempts. Drew Butler is an ordinary punter who averaged 43.8 yards last year.
Both the Steelers and the Titans are in transitional years and it may be difficult to assess these teams until midseason. Give the Steelers the edge because Roethlisberger and Polamalu appear healthy at the start of the year, and both are clutch players who know what it takes to win. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor