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The Steelers returned to the practice field as they prepare to take on the Tennessee Titans this week.
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These franchises have played 79 times. This series began in 1970 when the Steelers and Houston Oilers would meet twice a year as divisional rivals. The Steelers finished the series 37-19 against Houston including winning all three playoff matchups. During the first 35 times these teams met, Pittsburgh only lost nine times. The first time the Steelers faced Tennessee was in 1997, but they were still the Tennessee Oilers up until 1999. Since the team has been in Tennessee, Pittsburgh has won 16 of the 23 games played. The only playoff matchup between Pittsburgh and Tennessee was a Titans victory in the divisional round in January of 2003. So, as it stands, the Steelers lead this series 53-26 overall including a 3-1 record in the playoffs. There was a stretch in which Pittsburgh won nine of 10. The Steelers also lost seven in a row between the end of the 1997 season through the 2000 season. Pittsburgh has also won the last three meetings, including the last time these teams squared off last year in Tennessee. The Steelers are 27-12 at home in this series and 5-2 at Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin is 6-3 in this series as well.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 7 game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium
The Season so Far
- Since tying the Lions in Week 10, Pittsburgh has scored 79 points in the second halves of their most recent four games. 63% of the Steelers points scored for the entire season have come in the second half of play. That is the highest percentage in the NFL.
- Although Tennessee won 20-0 last week, they produced just 3.8 yards per play. They also allowed just 3.8 yards per play.
- The Steelers generate .322 points per offensive play. Tennessee produces .371. That ranks 17th and 22nd respectively in the league.
- On a per game basis, the Steelers opponents are penalized for 12.5 more yards per game than Pittsburgh. The Titans opponents are penalized for 11.6 more per game than Tennessee.
- The Titans controlled the football for slightly under 37 minutes last week. Only the Ravens, Packers, and Colts are better with time of possession this year than Tennessee. Pittsburgh is just 25 seconds per game under league average with time of possession.
- The Steelers run 64.9 offensive plays per game. That is the ninth most in the league. Tennessee runs 67.2 plays per game which is third most. Over their past three games, the Titans average 70 offensive plays per game.
- Over the past four games, Steelers games average the sixth-most combined snaps and fourth-most total points of any team in the league.
- On average, Pittsburgh's quarterback is getting sacked 2.3 times per game, which is about league average. Tennessee's quarterback gets sacked 2.8 times per game. Only Seattle, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Baltimore are worse. Meanwhile, the Steelers sack opposing quarterbacks 2.8 times per game which is second in the league behind Minnesota. The Titans defense ranks 10th with 2.5 sacks per contest.
- Roethlisberger gets the ball out, on average, in 2.4 seconds. That is the quickest in the NFL. Tannehill's average time to throw is 2.65 seconds. Just five quarterbacks are quicker, including Roethlisberger of course.
- Roethlisberger is completing 65.3% of his passes compared to 65.7% from Tannehill. That ranks 22nd and 20th in the NFL respectively. Kyler Murray leads the league in completion percentage at 71.6%.
- Since Week 9, no team in the league has utilized more rookie snaps than the Steelers. In that timeframe, Pittsburgh's rookies have played 1,740 snaps. The Jets are second with 1,717. To put that in perspective, Tampa Bay's rookie class has played 167 snaps since Week 9 and there are five teams with under 475 snaps. Led by Kendrick Green, Dan Moore, Najee Harris, and Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh's rookies played 307 snaps this past week against the Vikings. Minnesota's rookies played just 21 snaps in that game.
- So far this season, the Titans are 7-0 against teams that were in the playoffs last year.
When Pittsburgh has the Ball
- Over their past five games, Pittsburgh is running into a defensive box with six or fewer defenders a league-high 67.3% of the time. During that stretch, the Steelers have had an advantage in their blockers vs. box defenders 85.1% of the time. That is the second highest rate in the league.
- After a small lull in Weeks 11 and 12, Najee Harris has bounced back with 26 and 23 touches in the last two games in which he has gained 107 and 104 yards from scrimmage while playing 97% and 96% of the offensive snaps. Last week, Harris had his longest rush of the season. He also found the end zone twice, giving him nine touchdowns for the year. Only Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara average more touches per game than Harris.
- For the season, Harris has played 84% of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps, has accounted for 76% of the team's rushing attempts, has run a route on 65% of the Steelers pass plays, and has received 16% of the targets in 2021.
- Pittsburgh throws the football 63.5% of their plays. Only the Buccaneers, Jets, and Raiders throw it with more regularity. In neutral situations in the first half of games, just the Chiefs and Buccaneers throw the ball more than Pittsburgh. The Titans opponents are running the ball just 35.7% of the snaps against Tennessee. Just two teams see a lesser percentage of run attempts.
- In the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh's last two games, Roethlisberger is 22 of 27 for 311 passing yards and four touchdowns.
- Over the past three weeks, Roethlisberger's average depth of target has gone from 7.7 to 8.0 to 8.9. However, no quarterback throws short of the first down sticks at a higher rate than Roethlisberger. Nine quarterbacks throw short of the sticks 55% of the time or more. Roethlisberger targets are short of the first down marker 60.4% of the time.
- Over the last eight weeks, Roethlisberger has thrown just three interceptions against 15 touchdowns. And over that period, Roethlisberger averages 254 passing yards per game.
- In their past five games, the Steelers have generated nine pass plays that produced 30 or more yards from the line of scrimmage. Only Green Bay has more.
- For the season, here are the Steelers receivers' average depth of target: Diontae Johnson 9.6, Chase Claypool 2.8, Ray-Ray McCloud 6.5, James Washington 11.5.
- Johnson has gotten double digit targets in all games but two this year, including the last five games. Only Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill have been targeted more this year than Johnson.
- The Titans face the most targets to opposing wide receivers (23.7) on a per game basis and have allowed the most receptions and receiving yards to wideouts. They rank 20th in yards allowed per target to the wide receiver position. Only one defense has allowed more touchdown catches to wide receivers.
- Pat Freiermuth's average depth of target is 6.2 yards downfield. Also, since Week 6, Freiermuth has the second most end zone targets of all the NFL's tight ends, catching six touchdowns in his last seven games, as well as the 11th most targets overall at his position. In the five games Eric Ebron has missed, Freiermuth has run a route on 73% of all Steelers pass plays, a high percentage for any tight end, let alone a rookie.
- The Titans have been stingy against tight ends though. Tennessee allows a league-low 4.9 yards per target to tight ends and allows just a 57.1% catch rate, which is second best in the NFL.
- Of the Titans 32 sacks this year, 24.5 of them can be attributed to Harold Landry (11), Jeffery Simmons (7.5), and Denico Autry (6).
- Kevin Byard is Tennessee's defensive leader in snaps played. Byard has been on the field for 835 of a possible 869 defensive plays this year. Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, and Jackrabbit Jenkins have all played between 715 and 771 snaps, but Tennessee doesn't have any other defensive players that have logged more than 576 snaps this season. 20 different Titans defenders have played 157 snaps or more.
When Tennessee has the Ball
- Tennessee's offensive output before and after Derrick Henry's injury are startling. With Henry, the Titans were scoring 28.4 points per game and averaging 377.1 yards per outing while Ryan Tannehill had a 10/7 TD/INT ratio with seven interceptions for a 90.2 passer rating. He was sacked 24 times with Henry in the lineup for the first eight games of the season. Without Henry, Tennessee averages just 19.4 points and 299.2 yards per game and Tannehill has a 4/6 TD/INT ratio with a 74.9 quarterback rating and has been sacked 13 times in the five games without Henry.
- The Titans didn't produce a 50-yard rusher or 50-yard receiver last week, but still won by 20 points.
- The Steelers have allowed multiple passing touchdowns just twice in their last eight games
- Ryan Tannehill threw for 191 yards on 31 attempts as his Titans shut out Jacksonville. His average depth of target in that game was 5.2 yards downfield.
- AJ Brown has only appeared in 10 games this year and still leads the Titans in receiving by 246 yards.
- Nine different Titans caught a pass last week, but no one had more than four receptions. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine paced all Titans wide receivers by playing 52 of a possible 71 snaps last week, running 33 routes. Cody Hollister was next at 43 snaps and 21 routes and Julio Jones was third with 32 snaps and 23 routes run, seeing a high percentage of his action on passing downs. Jones also played very little in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. Jones hasn't played more than 75% of the snaps in a game since Week 1, but he does have a 134-game streak going with at least one reception.
- The Titans even had all three of their tight ends play at least 30 snaps last week.
- The Eagles and Patriots are the only teams in the league that run the ball a higher percentage of the time than Tennessee. In neutral situations in the first half of games, the Titans run the ball more than any team in the league and it isn't even close. When the Titans are trailing on the scoreboard, they are still the run-heaviest team in the league and when they are losing by four points or more, they run the football 9% more than league average.
- Tennessee's ball carriers collectively rushed for 102 yards last week on 34 carries. Five different ball carriers had at least three rushes. As for usage, Jeremy McNichols, Dontrell Hilliard, and D'Onta Foreman all played between 23 and 27 snaps last week. It should be noted though that almost all McNichols touches came late in the game when Tennessee had a large lead. Seven of his eight carries were in the fourth quarter. Foreman got the first seven running back touches in that game.
- Derrick Henry has missed five full games and still leads the Titans in rushing by 697 yards.
- Tennessee has snapped the ball 912 times this year. Tannehill and offensive linemen aside, the Titans leader in snaps played is Geoff Swaim, who has been on the field for 517 plays. He is the only skill position player with 500 snaps played. The Titans have 15 total running backs, wide recievers, and tight ends that have played between 89 and 517 snaps.
- Tennessee is right at league average in usage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) and use just 2% less of 12 Personnel (1 RB/2 TE) than league average. Where the Titans differ from most teams is with their usage of 13 Personnel (1 RB/3 TE), something they utilize 9% of the time, which is 5% more than league average.
The Advanced Scout Podcast
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Matt's Most Memorable Moment: January 6, 1980: AFC Championship Game: Steelers 27, Oilers 13
If it weren't for Pittsburgh, the Oilers teams of the 70s would most likely be better remembered in NFL history. During the 1978 and 1979 seasons, Pittsburgh was 26-6 and the Oilers were 21-11. They met four times during those two seasons and split 2-2. The Steelers destroyed Houston 34-5 in the 1978 conference championship. Leading up to this game though, Houston upset the "Air Coryell" Chargers the week before to advance to the Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium. There were five total turnovers in this game. The Oilers fumbled the football four times but did recover two of them. Despite the weather, Pittsburgh produced 358 yards from scrimmage against just 227 by the Oilers. The Steelers held the great Earl Campbell to a measly 15 rushing yards on his 17 carries. But the most memorable play from this game was one that might be much different if it happened today. Late in the third quarter it appeared as though Dan Pastorini hit Mike Renfro in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The official call was an incomplete pass although modern day replay would probably disagree with the call that was made on the field at the time. Pittsburgh went on to defeat the Rams in the Super Bowl, the Steelers fourth title in six years.
Facts from NFL Research
- Ben Roethlisberger is 6-3 in his career against the Titans after winning his last 3 starts.
- Roethlisberger needs 27 passing yards to pass Philip Rivers for 5th all-time.
- Najee Harris has forced 29 missed tackles on receptions this season, more than anyone else by 11.
- Diontae Johnson leads the team with 81 receptions and a career-high 990 receiving yards this season.
- He is only 8 receptions and 2 receiving touchdowns short of career highs as well.
- Titans WR Julio Jones vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden-Jones returned to action last week for Tennessee. The Steelers are hoping Haden will do the same for this upcoming game. Jones was targeted six times and caught four of those passes for 33 yards in Week 14. But Jones is an all-time great wide receiver and with AJ Brown still out of action for this game, Tennessee needs to lean heavily on Jones. This should be a very interesting and critical veteran battle.
- Steelers Interior OL vs. Titans DT Jeffery Simmons-Simmons is one of the NFL's next great defensive tackles. His power is remarkable, but Simmons also gets off the ball very well with low pads and quickness. He is mostly a bull rusher and wrecking machine through the middle of his opponent, but Simmons also can attack a blocker's edges and win in a variety of ways. Simmons is very difficult to move in the run game and it usually requires double teams to get movement against him. He plays the game with a nasty edge and aggressiveness. Simmons also does a great job of batting passes at the line of scrimmage when he doesn't get home. He is exactly the type of player Pittsburgh's interior offensive line has struggled mightily against.