Published: September 10th, 2009 | Tags: Chris Hope, Hines Ward, Jason Jones, Jeff Fisher, Jovan Haye, Justin Gage, Kenny Britt, Kerry Collins, Kickoff 2009, Michael Griffin, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rod Bironas, Ryan Clark, Santonio Holmes, Tennessee Titans, Troy Polamalu, William Hayes
This is every bit the defensive struggle I imagined. Neither team flashing much of a vertical component (okay, it changed a bit in the final two minutes, but this was a struggle); both teams relying on slip screens and sticking with the run, even though it’s tough sledding out there.
We’ve got ourselves a ball control, field position game.
A few crucial plays loom. First of all Jeff Fisher is going to blow a gasket about the kicking game. Rod Bironas is usually automatic. To miss from 37 and then have a low chip shot blocked. Man, I don’t want to be involved in Titans special teams right now in the locker room (that coverage on the opening kickoff was spotty).
Ben Roethlisberger has been the only player most involved with changing the field. His first quarter sack – when he tried to do too much for too long – erased a field-goal opportunity. His interception was critical as well. Then he did what he always does – runs a jaw-dropping two-minute drill, moves the ball when it matters most and delivers some huge throws from the shotgun.
If there is somebody who is more adept at using the pump fake as a weapon, show him to me. Ben used it expertly on consecutive big gains, first over the middle to Hines Ward and then to Santonio Holmes in the end zone. Both times he froze the defensive backs – and this is a stellar group the Titans have put together – with safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin a few steps behind after Roethlisberger looked them off to his left for the score.
Then the Steelers secondary got caught napping twice as the Titans rallied in the final minute of the half. Rookie Kenny Britt was ridiculously wide open to catch a lob from Kerry Collins and take it for a 57 yard gain – safety Ryan Clark was late getting to the sideline and then missed a tackle – and Collins exploited a soft zone by find a seam on a 14-yard touchdown strike to Justin Gage.
That was it for the scoring.
Troy Polamalu’s personal fouls accounted for 30 yards on a night when neither team looks like it’s going to amass 300 on offense. He got bailed out by a missed field goal after both penalties, but in a game as tight as this, you can’t give yardage away with face mask and late hit penalties. Of course, Polamalu’s series of huge defensive plays, including an acrobatic interception inside the red zone, have much to do with the low score as well. Polamalu left the game with a knee injury – no coincidence the Titans finally found plays downfield with him on the sidelines – and is questionable to return.
Otherwise, I thought Titans defensive line is looking stout, sans Haynesworth. The rotation of Jovan Haye and Jason Jones is helping out on the inside. I really like what I’ve seen out of William Hayes coming off the edge. The Steelers offensive line still looks a little iffy to me. That’s an area that’s going to have to improve in both pass protection and run blocking.