Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here and each team is hoping they will be one of the 16 winners.
To make that reality, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to win the positional battles. As coach Mike Tomlin stated, there will be “significant matchups that will determine the outcome of this game.”
Here is the breakdown of those matchups in order of importance:
1. Chris Johnson vs. Steve McClendon, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward
Titans owner Bud Adams has sunk lots of cash into the Titans offensive line. With two of the top-10 paid NFL tackles already in Tennessee, Michael Roos and David Stewart, Adams went out and signed former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre to a $48-million contract this summer.
The Titans then selected guard Chance Warmack with their first-round pick and added starting center Rob Turner in free agency. That’s a lot of money tied up in paving the way for perennial 1000-yard running back Chris Johnson. The veteran back still runs a 4.28 40-yard dash and has worked this offseason to improve on running at the defender vs. looking for the sideline.
Johnson has never had huge success against the Steelers — no 100-yard games. Defensive lineman Hood, Keisel and Heyward will be fighting alongside first-year starting nose tackle Steve McClendon to keep this streak alive. The Titans line may be without David Stewart who is listed as questionable with a calf injury.
2. Kenny Britt/Nate Washington/Kendall Wright/TE Delanie Walker vs. Steelers Secondary
The Titans pulled off the upset last year because they won this battle. Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright outplayed corner Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Mundy, especially in the second half. This time around, corners Cortez Allen and William Gay will be there to help in coverage, and more importantly, Troy Polamalu is back.
There are so few players in the NFL like Polamalu that it is easy to forget how much of a difference he makes when he is healthy. Quarterback Jake Locker, who struggles with accuracy anyways, will soon be reminded that there is no other player quite like Polamalu.
3. Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers Receivers vs. Titans Secondary
There is not a lot of confidence in Steelers offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert (right) and Mike Adams (left). If the Steelers receivers can beat the Titans secondary, the tackles will have a much easier afternoon. While the Titans addressed their offensive problems through the draft and free agency, their defense, which gave up the most points in the NFL last year, did not get much of an upgrade.
Former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was brought over to provide some attitude, but his coverage skills are just slightly above average. With questions at running back, the Steelers’ offensive strength is Ben Roethlisberger and a group of quick and scrappy receivers. A heavy dose of downfield passing and points on the scoreboard will put this game out of reach for Jake Locker and the Titans.
4. Isaac Redman vs. Titans Defensive Line (Derrick Morgan, Sammie Hill, Jurrell Casey, Ropati Pitoitua)
With just two snaps in preseason, Isaac Redman was named the Steelers’ starting running back. The Titans aren’t a top run defense unit but center Maurkice Pouncey will have his hands full trying to contain the Titans’ Jurrell Casey. The 6-foot, 300-pound defensive tackle from USC is the Titans’ best defensive player.
The Steelers best hope at establishing a run game against the Titans would be to run the ball away from Jurrell Casey with their newly-installed outside zone blocking schemes. LaRod Stephens-Howling may be the best back for this game plan.
I predict a big day for the Steelers defense and Roethlisberger. Steelers win 23-9.