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Know Thy Enemy: Tennessee Titans

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Another week, another national showcase for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hopefully things go as well as they have in their last three nationally televised outings. On paper, this should be a pretty good chance for the Black and Gold to head into their bye week on a high note after last week’s debacle. The only thing standing in their way is the fact this week’s opponent happens to be the Tennessee Titans.

For whatever reason, Tennessee has had the Steelers number in recent years. I don’t pretend to understand the quirks of the NFL schedule makers but for some odd reason we’ve played Tennessee every year since 2008. Maybe our pal Hennessy secretly works for the NFL. In any case, the Titans have won the last two meetings despite fielding mediocre squads the past couple seasons.

Jake Locker was their quarterback of the future until the fact he was brittle as six month old Kit Kat derailed his career. The Titans tried giving it a go with Charlie Whitehurst but, c’mon, he’s Charlie Whitehurst. So they’ve turned to rookie Zach Mettenberger to provide a spark. Mettenberger was once projected to be a late first/mid second round prospect before a torn ACL caused him to fall all the way to the sixth round.

I actually was kinda hoping the Steelers would give up on the Landry Jones Experiment and take a flier on him back on Draft Day – if only because it’d give the team’s seamstress two ridiculously long names to sew on the back of our jerseys.

Mettenberger has done a decent job since given the starting job. The team is 0-2 under his watch but he’s been the top passer in both games, last week throwing for 179 yards in a loss to Baltimore. Of course stats are just numbers, results are what matter and the results have been less than stellar. Add to the fact he’s facing the great Dick LeBeau, owner of a 18-2 record against rookie quarterbacks during his tenure here, and young Zach looks to be in for a long day.

LeBeau’s defense will once again be without Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. The defense certainly could use both guys although defense wasn’t the problem against the Jets. The 67 yard TD bomb was no good but NFL teams are going to make plays. 20 points really isn’t a huge amount to give up when the offense turned the ball over four times and put them in tough spots all afternoon. This week, they’re not exactly facing the most explosive offense in the league as the Titans are currently ranked 27th and 23rd in passing and rushing while sitting next to last in points per game.

Tennessee have some nice young players new head coach Ken Whisenhunt is hoping to develop around Mettenberger. Fellow rookie Bishop Sankey has taken over primary running back duties from veteran Shonn Greene. Although he’s averaging a healthy 3.9 YPC, he has yet to have his first 100 yard outing. The receiving corps is led by talented TE Delanie Walker and third year man Kendall Wright. Our long lost friend Nate Washington is still hanging around, too.

I don’t know if Whiz is a good head coach but we definitely know he has a knack for offense.

Speaking of offense, our offense has to get back into a gear after a disastrous outing in New York. At this point I have no idea what to expect from these guys week in and week out. Todd Haley‘s group seems to be the ultimate feast or famine unit where they either score a billion points and make it look easy or putz around with a dizzying array of screens and laterals while looking like they need a map to find the end zone. Let’s just hope we don’t see James Harrison at tight end anymore.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown had very bad games last week. While I don’t expect more NFL records out of that duo, I certainly expect them to bounce back into form against a defense allowing over 350 yards and nearly 25 points per game. It’d also be nice if Le’Veon Bell got off the skid as well. He’s been bottled up on the ground in recent weeks but on Monday faces off against one of the worst (29th) rush defenses in the league. If this isn’t the time to rebound, we might have to start asking offensive line coach Mike Munchak what’s going on.

Thanks to the inexplicable loss to the Jets, the Steelers find themselves behind the first place Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. Sadly, that’s only the second weirdest sentence I’ve typed this week after “Justin Bieber dropped by the Steelers Bible study meeting.” Point is, we’ve been over the Black and Gold’s habit of losing to bad teams ad nauseum. If they want to break free of two years of 8-8 mediocrity and compete for the division/Wild Card, they need to start taking care of business in games like this. With the bye week looming, let’s hope the subject of discussion the next couple weeks is who they’re gonna get back for the stretch run and not how they can salvage the season after back to back losses to teams they should have beat.

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