The Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers once had a fierce divisional rivalry, which ended with the 2002 realignment. None of the Titans who will suit up against the Steelers Sunday were with the team eight years ago and the game may not be a rivalry to them but it’s still a huge rivalry to thousands of long-time diehard Titans fans.
This game will more than likely be played the same way Titans-Steelers games used to be played — hard-hitting, tough, defensive battles.
Last week the Steelers limited the Falcons to only three field goals and held Michael Turner to just 42 yards rushing. They’ve only allowed one hundred-yard rusher (Ray Rice) in the last two years.
Their front seven has always been great. Aaron Smith has been one of the best 3-4 DEs for years and he’s back after missing most of last season. James Harrison gave Michael Roos problems last year and that will be a good matchup to watch again. LaMarr Woodley will provide another tough matchup for David Stewart on the other side.
The Steelers will be missing Casey Hampton, one of the best nose tackles in the league, but as Tom pointed out in this report, the Steelers have good depth with Chris Hoke replacing him. If Hoke is semi-effective, then we’ll see Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior making a lot of tackles.
Pittsburgh’s pass defense isn’t bad either. Matt Ryan was sacked twice, intercepted once and compiled a very modest 67.6 passer rating in the 15-9 loss to the Steelers last week.
Troy Polamalu will be running around making plays behind that front seven. He’s the man to keep an eye on. If you want to know where the ball is going, you only need to follow the hair running around the field.
A lot has been made of the fact this will be Vince Young’s first start against the Steelers, as it should be. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes confuse even the most experienced quarterbacks. If the Titans can put up 21 points against this defense, I’ll be happy.
(Assuming, of course, the Titans defense plays well enough to hold the Stillers to less than that.)
The Steelers offense will pretty much be RB Rashard Mendenhall, who was selected one spot before Chris Johnson in the 2008 draft.
Dennis Dixon will get the start behind center again and I’m a little disappointed we won’t get to see Leftover Leftwich, who was just released. Charlie Batch will backup Dixon, if necessary, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Batch either.
The Steelers have some talented receivers in Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. I believe Wallace could eventually emerge into a very good one, but not while Dixon is throwing the ball. If the Steelers passing attack is a factor in this game, I’ll be surprised.
Also, with Max Starks out at left tackle, Jacob Ford (and maybe even David Ball) should be able to get some pressure on Dixon. I don’t expect the Stillers to score many points, especially through the air.
Not that I expect the Titans to score many either. I’m looking forward to a good, old-fashioned defensive struggle.
Prediction: Titans 20, Stillers 13