Friday, September 6, 2013

Ben Roethlisberger Key In Titans' And Season's Predictions

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season is upon us and, in all truthfulness, there is much about which we still have questions. Questions that will begin to be answered Sunday versus the Tennessee Titans. Questions that may all have one answer: seven.

Make no mistake, Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. If the Steelers get down, they don't usually stay down long. In fact, they have never lost at Heinz Field in September under head coach Mike Tomlin. But, the uncertainties make this more of an intriguing matchup that maybe it should be.

As they prepare for the Titans, the Steelers are looking to capitalize on the advantages they believe they have - a strong-looking and chip-on-it's-shoulder defense, a seemingly healthy Troy Polamalu and, as Jerricho Cotchery expresses, their ready and able wide receivers. -

The OFFENSIVE LINE, though, which has been an issue since 2008, is now one of the youngest and most inexperienced the Steelers have had in decades. That alone could be the determining factor for a successful Steelers season. 

The interior of the line - center Maurkice Pouncey, left guard Ramon Foster and right guard David DeCastro - has a chance to be very good. It's the tackles - left tackle Mike Adams and right tackle Marcus Gilbert who are troubling. Adams has trouble keeping feet set properly and Gilbert, about whom If It Ain't Steel has said many times, is a better guard, has trouble with hand placement and has been flagged because of it. 

That said, this game could set itself up as a template for the season. Will the OLine be able to settle themselves and gel enough to protect BEN ROETHLISBERGER?

An upright and clicking Big Ben has the ability to heal a number of ills. Though the Titans are young with a lot of recent turnover, they brought in 17 free agents and eight draft picks because of missing the playoffs four straight years, they still won't make it easy with the array of blitzes

The Steelers would be in good shape if this can be accomplished. They'll be in even better shape if the OLine can provide running lanes for Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and the Steelers' RUNNING GAME

As offensive coordinator Todd Haley said in his Coordinator's Corner interview on Thursday, he's waiting for someone "to take the bull by the horns" and "showcase how much they want the job." -

As we also suggested in our previous post, the Steelers could employ a "thunder and lightning" approach. "Jones' speed and cutting ability would complement Redman's pounding, and would well when the zone-blocking scheme is utilized." -

It something that we could see not only now, but also until Le'Veon Bell returns. 

As for the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers will look to capitalize on Titans' quarterback Jake Locker's accuracy issues (55% in college) and how he reacts to new and unexpected circumstances. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, while praising Locker for his running and "bootleg" ability and ability to throw on the run, has an ace in the hole with a TROY POLAMALU who appears to be healthier than he has been in several seasons. 

Though, he says he doesn't actually have many plays designed specifically for him. 

"Well, really, believe it or not, we only have a few defenses that are what I could call 'Troy' defenses, said LeBeau. "It's just the defense that we call, but they are a little bit better when Troy is in there. I'd like to say that we do some kind of mastermind scheme but it's just Troy's presence."

In other words, he basically just says, "Troy, sick 'em!"

While it may be their job to confuse and confound Locker, it is the defensive line's and outside linebacker's jobs to CONTAIN CHRIS JOHNSON. Along with newcomer Shonn Greene, the mercurial Johnson gives the Titans a formidable running attack. 

The defensive ends and outside linebackers must hold the edge and handle the tackles and tight ends. Whereas Chris Johnson is patient and wants to find the crease to get into the open field, Greene can run between the tackles and in the gaps. If the Titans run effectively they can build play-action off of that and Locker could fall into a very good comfort zone. That is something that must be avoided. 

If the Steelers are able to accomplish these tasks, along with Ike Taylor avoiding returning to the scene of the proverbial crime, they have a good chance to defeat the Titans with an approximate score of 20-16.

As for the entirely of the season, this and more must continue throughout each game. But it still falls down to keeping Big Ben upright. 

Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for 30,000 or more yards and have also won two or more Super Bowls - Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, John Elway and Eli Manning. Big Ben will be the sixth this season as he only needs 156 yards to reach the mark. 

Big Ben has the well-earned reputation for extending plays beyond what the average quarterback would be willing or able to do. Just as it can result in him taking yet another unnecessary hit, it can also result in a big gain down the field, as a defensive back can only hold a receiver for just so long before something breaks down. That's when Big Ben has been lethal. 

If the Steelers offensive line can gel into a singular unit, Big Ben can do the rest. With the offense being catered to him, new weapons and players out the first part of the season, his experience and leadership will be paramount. While it may be rougher early on, he and they can be the catalyst to a 9-7, at best a 10-6, season. 


TIDBITS: Injury Report - Steelers: Le'Veon Bell (foot) out; Heath Miller (knee) doubtful; Jarvis Jones (chest) and Will Johnson (hamstring) probable

Titans: WRs Kenny Britt (knee), Kendall Wright (knee): probable. FB Quinn Johnson placed on IR, FB Collin Mooney promoted from PS to roster. Starting OT David Stewart missed practice Thursday and Friday with a calf injury. He is questionable for Sunday.