Offense: The Justin’s
Coming into the game, it figured to be hard going against the top-ranked defensive unit in the league. The Steelers hadn’t allowed 300-yards to an opponent all season, and the Titans were coming off of an anything but impressive offensive showing against that Texans. But that streak ended on Sunday, as Tennessee racked up 323 yards of total offense and scored 21 unanswered points, for a thoroughly dominating 31-14 win. The two J’s, Justin “Steady as She Goes” Gage and Justin “I Wonder What Is Going Through Your Head Sometimes” McCareins, made up for three-fourths of the Titans passing game, and both came up with some very timely receptions and smart plays. McCareins helped erase his “Game Blah” for last week’s “effort” in Houston with six catches for 55 yards, including a number of big catches to extend drives. He caught six of the seven balls thrown his way, with three of them going for first downs, and another being a tip-toe, 19-yard reception on a 3rd-and-20 that gave the Titans a 4th-and-1 from the 21-yard line. The Titans went for it, and Chris Johnson scored the touchdown that put the Titans up for good. Gage’s numbers were even better, and his five grabs for 104 yards and a touchdown was easily his second best game of the season. The offense’s recognition of what to do with a “free play” because of a Pittsburgh offsides penalty, led to a 34-yard touchdown reception for Gage, who made a great catch and took a big hit from the guy with the “wacky hair”.
Honorable Mention: “Smash and Dash”
The Titans figured it would be rough sledding against an equally tough Steelers run defense, and it was to a certain degree. The Titans only managed 117 yards on the ground (almost 30 yards below their average) but given that Pittsburgh came into the game allowing just over 70 yards per game on the ground, the duo’s numbers were impressive. As mentioned earlier, “Twitch” scored the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-one with a beautifully designed toss play to the left, for a twenty-one yard scamper to the end zone. He finished the game with 16 carries for 69 yards, good for a healthy 4.3 yards per carry. Lendale carried the ball 15 times for 48 yards and had himself a birthday TD romp as well. We said in the game preview that we thought Fish’ and Dinger’ would/should get them the ball at least 15 times a piece. They did, and many of the hard yards and big runs that the two had helped kill the clock and seal the game in the fourth quarter.
Defense: Jason Jones and William Hayes
The Titans were heavily criticized this past off-season for their draft class, most notably, for their first round selection of Chris Johnson. Ok, Mr. Critic, you got us there, but you were also critical of little known second and fourth round selections Jason Jones and William Hayes. Both were defensive linemen from relatively unheralded college football programs (Jones, a defensive end from Eastern Michigan and Hayes a tackle from Winston-Salem State). All along, both Fisher and Reinfeldt defended the picks and asked Titans’ fans to trust that they had done their scouting and used their best judgement.
Well, with the Titans missing their two biggest threats on the D-Line, Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the two rookies stepped up big. Jones created havoc all day long against an underwhelming Steelers offensive line. He had five tackles and 3.5 sacks, forced three fumbles and nearly de-limbed QB Ben Roethlisberger a few times. Hayes had quite a day as well, adding a sack and a forced fumble of his own. All of the pressure on Roethlisberger was generated at the line, and these two rookies lead the charge. That’s a pretty impressive feat given the circumstances.
Honorable Mention: Michael Griffin
You might remember that many were critical of GM Mike Reinfeldt’s selection of Griffin in the first round of the 2007 draft as well. The Titans “needed” a “go to” WR (much like in this last draft) and a lot of the media thought it was a rather average, boring pick. Wrong again Mr. Critic. Wrong again…
This kid just gets better and better each week. He had a couple of rough games in there where he got burned for long plays, but the second-year pro seems to really understand his assignments, can cover the run and is a great compliment to All-Pro strong safety Chris Hope. His two interceptions on the day, brought him to seven on the season and tied for first in the league. And his second pick of the game, returned 83 yards for a touchdown, was truly what stomped on the “Terrible Towel“. Game. Over.
If we see you again Pittsburgh, it’ll be in Nashville for the AFC Championship Game. Tape up and bundle up, ’cause we should be even healthier, and it’s going to be a lot colder (and louder) here in January…