The Tennessee Titans (9-4) travel to the Steel City this Sunday for a meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1) at Heinz Field.
This game has huge playoff implications for both sides. For Pittsburgh, it is pretty simple: they need the win to keep themselves in the hunt. As for the Titans, with Indianapolis and New England playing each other Saturday night, a win could have a huge impact on the division or even the top of the AFC standings.
Now let’s push the implications aside and focus on the game itself.
It has been a tough stretch for Pittsburgh. After starting the season 5-3, the Steelers are 1-3-1 in their last five games.
Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger is in his 18th season as the Steelers quarterback and is joined in the backfield by rookie running back Najee Harris. The rookie out of Alabama touches the ball frequently, whether it be via handoff or reception. A group of pass catchers such as Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and rookie tight end Pat Freirmuth provide Roethlisberger with several talented targets to distribute the football to.
This Steelers defense is not the typical Pittsburgh defense we are accustomed to watching. They have had trouble stopping the run and have given points up in bunches. In their last three losses, opponents have averaged nearly 40 points per game. One thing Pittsburgh continues to do well is get after the quarterback. Linebacker T.J. Watt always seems to cause problems, as he leads the league with 16 sacks.
While it certainly was not flashy last week against Jacksonville, the Titans handled their business on offense and were able to cut out the turnover issues they had the prior two games. Protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be important. He was sacked four times last week and will go against one of the best pass rushing defenses in the NFL this week.
When you get your first shutout at home in over two decades, not much went wrong for the Titans on defense against Jacksonville. Really looked like the week off served the defense well. The Pittsburgh offense has lacked consistency, but with several talented playmakers on that side of the ball, the Steelers can be hard to stop when they get going.
Looks to be a cold, chilly day in Pittsburgh on Sunday, which just seems fitting when these two teams meet one another.
Tennessee Titans (9-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
Game Time: 12:00 pm CDT
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Heinz Field)
TV Broadcast Crew: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: Titans Radio, 104.5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Brad Rogers
Line: Tennessee -1.5
Over/ Under: 41.5
Three Things to Watch
Protecting the Passer – This matchup showcases two teams that rush the opposing passer very well and two teams who have had trouble protecting their own passer. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 37 times this season, while Ben Roethlisberger has been dropped 30 times. Pittsburgh has one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, sacking opposing passers 37 times, which is tied for the second most in the league. As we have seen throughout the season, the most drastic change for the Titans defense compared to the 2020 season is the ability to pressure the quarterback. With 32 sacks this season, the Titans are tied for 10th in the NFL in sacks. The “games are won and lost up front” adage has a really good chance of being true Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Defending Diontae – While Najee Harris, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freirmuth are all big contributors in the passing game, Diontae Johnson is the go-to receiver for the Steelers. Ranking in the top 10 in the NFL for receptions and receiving yards, Johnson has 130 targets, which is the third most in the league heading into Sunday’s game. Johnson had a big day at Nissan Stadium last October, catching nine passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns. For an offense that is attempting nearly 40 passes per game, expect the ball to be headed in the direction of number 18. The Titans will have to find a way to limit Johnson’s impact Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Getting the Ground Game Going – This has been a frequent topic in this “Three Things to Watch” section, but with the Steelers struggling to stop the run and the Titans having some recent success on the ground, it found its way back into this week’s primer. During a five-game stretch where Pittsburgh has gone 1-3-1, the Steelers have allowed 935 rushing yards, an average of 187 yards per game. Allowing a league worst 4.97 rushing yards per play, the Steelers are 30th in the NFL for rushing yards per game, giving up 139.5 per contest. D’Onta Foreman has had the hot hand among the Titans running backs, followed by Jeremy McNichols and Dontrell Hilliard. And do not forget about Tannehill being a factor with his legs. An efficient running attack could take advantage of a noticeable weakness of the Steelers, while also alleviating some pressure for the offensive line when the Titans choose to pass.
Did You Know?
- Since naming Mike Vrabel as head coach in 2018, the Titans are 5-1 in games played on the road in the month of December. The Titans have not been the kindest guests during the last three holiday seasons, winning all five games by 14 or more points and an average margin of victory of 18.8. The lone loss occurred at Lambeau Field two days after Christmas last season in a 40-14 Green Bay victory.
- Kicker Randy Bullock has performed well against the Steelers throughout his career, successfully making every attempt when playing the Black and Gold. The former Cincinnati Bengal has played Pittsburgh nine times, converting all 12 field goal tries and a perfect 14 of 14 on extra points. Although he has had personal success while playing against the Steelers, Bullock has never been on the winning side (0-9).
- During their current three-game losing streak against Pittsburgh, the Titans have faced early deficits in each of the three contests. The Titans have trailed by double digits in each of the three games before putting points of their own on the scoreboard. Two of the early double digit deficits took place before the end of the first quarter.