Sit down. Decompress. Put on your favorite pair of comfy slippers. Make a chipped ham sammitch. Get yourself in a nice relaxed frame of mind for what you’re about to read.
The [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] are going to lose to the Tennessee Titans this Sunday.
I know, I know. Way to kick off the weekend, Mr. Positive. Look at it this way, it’s far better to keep expectations low and hope the team surpasses them than set the bar high and then get bummed when they fail to clear it. And if I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow with a smile on my face.
Let’s get right to it.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. TITANS OFFENSE
After last year’s massively disappointing season, the Titans cleared house starting with long-time head coach Jeff Fisher. Taking his place was the team’s offensive line coach, Mike Munchack. Along with the baby went the bathwater as the team also cut loose first round bust Vince Young and graybeard Kerry Collins. Taking their place is Seahawks refugee Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck has evidently found the same Fountain of Youth Collins sipped from a few seasons back. A talented but injury prone quarterback with Seattle, Hasselbeck has been nothing short of brilliant while leading the Titans to a surprising 3-1 start. Make no mistake, the team’s rising fortunes can be directly attributed to their quarterback who has already thrown for over 1,000 yards and 8 TDs. Tennessee is currently the 8th ranked passing offense while shockingly ranking dead last in rushing.
Chris Johnson did have his first 100 yard game of the season last week against the Browns. I’ve not seen their games but my educated guess is CJ’s drop in production is owed to the fact teams are concentrating their efforts on stopping him. He followed up a 2,000 yard season in 2009 with only 1,300 last year when the Titans didn’t have a quarterback that could make opposing defenses pay for stacking the box. Now that Hasselbeck has shown he can and will throw the ball, I expect CJ to get back on track as defensive coordinators must honor both the run and the pass.
The Steelers currently rank first in pass defense only because they haven’t been able to stop the run. Although to give credit where it is due, the secondary did allow only one catch to a non-Andre Johnson wide receiver last week. The corner play has been much improved with [intlink id=”96″ type=”category”]Will.i.am Gay[/intlink] playing opposite [intlink id=”101″ type=”category”]Ike Taylor[/intlink] and Kennan Lewis joining them in the nickel. Bryant McFadden was healthy last week but he’s evidently been dropped #4 on the depth chart. Considering he was the most picked on corner in the NFL last season, perhaps it’s for the best.
While the pass defense has solidified, I don’t think this is the week to expect the run defense to rise from the ashes. Casey Hampton and [intlink id=”41″ type=”category”]Aaron Smith[/intlink] are both out for Sunday. Bret Keisel will return so Ziggy Hood will take Smith’s spot while Chris Hoke and Steve McClendon will split time at nose tackle. As we’ve chronicled, [intlink id=”52″ type=”category”]James Harrison[/intlink] is off plundering the high seas for the next month. Lawrence Timmons moves outside to take his place while Larry Foote and James Farrior get the band back together at ILB.
Got all that?
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE
[intlink id=”14″ type=”category”]Ben Roethlisberger[/intlink] is expected to play. How long he he survives is another matter. Were I the morbid type, I’d start a Dead Pool similar to what ghouls do with trainwreck celebrities (Top pick: Lindsay Lohan). Anybody wanna hazard a guess how many more games Ben has left before he’s knocked into oblivion?
Newly signed Max Starks is telling people he expects to start at left tackle this Sunday which I have no idea how to interpret. On the one hand, nobody could be worse than useless Trai Essex or Turnstile Scott. On the other hand, the idea that a guy who underwent major off-season surgery, ballooned up to 400 pounds over the off-season and was cut because the team thought he could no longer play walking in off the street and starting 5 days later doesn’t exactly imbue me with confidence.
Wait, you thought I was done with the injury news? HA!
[intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Chris Kemoeatu[/intlink] is out (again) with his balky knee. Doug Legursky, who you may remember as the ineffective right guard, will bring his talents to left guard. Ramon Foster, who replaced Legursky, will start once again at RG. Will this patchwork line be able to get the Steelers’ absolutely putrid running game on track?
Who cares because guess what? The Steelers don’t have any running backs either! [intlink id=”88″ type=”category”]Rashard Mendenhall,[/intlink] who left last week’s game with a bad hammy, hasn’t been able to get on the field all week. He hasn’t definitely been ruled out but even if he plays all it takes is a couple of his patented tap dancing moves to tweak it to where he can’t go. Meanwhile, third down back Mewelde Moore is definitely out with an ankle sprain. Looks like we’ll be getting a steady diet of Redzone Redman and possibly even a Jonathan Dwyer sighting. The end is surely nigh.
Oh, by the way, the Titans have a pretty decent little no-name defense. Last year, they ranked 20th in rush defense and 22nd against the pass. This year, they’ve improved to 7th and 8th respectively. No single player on their team has a large number of sacks but they’ve combined for 10 in addition to snagging 5 interceptions. For those keeping score at home, their turnover ratio is a respectable +2 while your Stillers still sit dead last at a miserable -10.
Sorry if this preview is a bit of a downer but when your team’s injury report is longer than one of Obama’s speeches, that’s a bit disheartening. Particularly when the team wasn’t playing all that well when guys were relatively healthy. At this point, if the Steelers can keep the game close and most importantly not get Ben killed, I’d consider it a moral victory. Of course, the only Ws that mean anything are those that count in the standings.