Week 16 Preview: Titans vs. Steelers

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Well Titans fans, this is it. The biggest game of the season by far for this Tennessee team. A win and they have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. A loss, and well, they probably don’t. Unfortunately, the Browns aren’t coming back to town. Instead, it will be the red hot, 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers. We wouldn’t be telling the truth if we said we were super-confident about this one, but it is a disgrace to see the Titans a 4.5 point dog at home. And if there is anything that the rest of the NFL should have learned by now, it’s not to piss us off. You all know that don’t you?

Titans Passing Offense vs. Steelers Defense:

Kerry Collins is coming off of his worst game of the season, a 15-of-33 for 181 yards performance in which he threw no touchdowns and one INT. The Steelers, on the other hand, are fresh off of a huge win in Baltimore against their hated AFC North rivals, the Ravens. Sure it was a controversial W, but you can’t take the fact that they completely shut down Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco (11/28 for 115 yard and two INT’s) and their surprisingly high-powered offensive attack (over the last eight weeks leading up the the Steelers game, Baltimore had averaged 32.6 points per game, and Flacco had a 12/3 TD to INT ratio). You get out point: the Steelers are not the defense you rebound against.

Edge: Steelers

Titans Rushing Offense vs. Steelers Defense:

While the Steelers own the best pass defense in the league, they aren’t nearly as good against the run. Coming in a lousy second overall, this unit is where the Titans should have a field day. Right? No, not really, but Pittsburgh has shown a few “chinks in the armor” over the last few weeks, allowing 105.3 yards on the ground over their last three contests. About half of the league would be pretty happy with that number, but it’s a ray of hope for a Titans team that will need to run the ball a whole lot to win this game. Look for both CJ and LenDale to eclipse 15 touches in a game that controlling the time of possession will be paramount. We also expect “Twitch” to be heavily targeted out of the backfield in the pasing game, and figure to see him get somewhere in the vicinity of 25 total touches (plenty enough to make something happen). The ypc’s might not be pretty, but if they can move the chains and protect the ball, the Titans should be in good shape.

Edge: Even

Steelers Passing Offense vs. Titans Defense:

Ben Roethlisberger has been hard to read all season long. He’s been able to lead this team to a 11-3 record (with the help of some improbable late game drives), but his numbers are far from overwhelming (only three more TDs than picks – 15/12) and has a quarterback rating of 80.2 (which ranks him amongst the lower half of QB’s this season). Big Ben has also been beat up all season, getting sacked 41 times on the year, which is good (or bad) for second worst in football.  The loss of Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch hurts the Titans this week, but seing that every team in football has been able to mount an effective pass rush against Pittsburgh’s O-Line, this won’t be where their loss is particularly felt. Throw in a Titans secondary that has played the pass extraordinarily well all season long (with the aid of two Pro-Bowlers), and expect Tennessee to capitalize on some Pittsburgh mistakes.

Edge: Titans

Steelers Rushing Offense vs. Titans Defense:

The Steelers’ rushing attack hasn’t been nearly as productive this season as we’ve come to expect over the years. Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore have been equally inefficient at moving the ball the last few weeks, averaging a combined 55 yards per game over the last two contests. This matchup still doesn’t look particularly good for Pittsburgh, but it looks a whole lot better than it would if Big Albert Haynesworth were clogging up the middle of the line. Given the struggles Roethlisberger has had this this season, coupled with the absence of Tennessee’s two best defensive linemen, means that we should also see a heavy dose of the Steelers’ backfield on Sunday as well. The Titans depth at defensive line should keep Pittsburgh honest, so look for this to be yet another close area of the game.

Edge: Even

Special Teams:

The signing of return specialist/CB Chris Carr this past off-season has proven to really be a really great addition to this Titans team over the last half of the season, much more than it seemed it might over the first few weeks. The Titans are in the top five in the NFL in return yardage (24.7 per return), and Carr has consistently given the Titans (a team built to thrive when given good field position) short fields on both kickoff and punt returns most all season long. It just so happens though, that Pittsburgh holds teams to a league best 19.4 yards per kick return, and 6.1 yards per punt return (4th best). Go figure. Also, as we mention every week, the Titans have Rob Bironas, who went 4-4 in FG attempts last week (accounting for all of the Titans points), and should have had an opportunity to hit a fifth. Just a hunch, but “Fish” probably won’t question Bironas’s “range” in this one if the game is on the line.

Edge: Titans

Intangibles:

Pittsburgh has won five games in a row, and certainly has the momentum coming into this contest with the chance to steal away home-field advantage from the Titans. Most everything that could go Pittsburgh’s way over that span, has, especially in their last two games.They keep finding ways to win games in circumstances most teams wouldn’t be able to.

Tennessee, however, is coming off of their most frustrating loss of the season (it would hold that infamy no matter what the Titans record was at this point). The loss of Albert Haynesworth, coupled with the continued absence of KVB, presents a huge challenge to a D-Line a little low on depth right now. This will, by far, be the Titans toughest, most important challenge of the season. It will be very interesting to see how they respond with their backs against the wall. I guess until we really know…

Edge: Even

Pick: Titans 16, Steelers 13.

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Tags: AFC North AFC Playoffs Albert Haynesworth Baltimore Ravens Ben Roethlisberger Big Albert Haynesworth Chris "Twitch" Johnson Chris Carr Chris Johnson Cleveland Browns Jeff Fisher Joe Flacco Kerry Collins Kyle Vanden Bosch LenDale White Mewelde Moore NFL Pittsburgh Steelers Rob Bironas Tennessee Titans Willie Parker

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