Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) vs. Tennessee Titans (2-7)
Monday, Nov. 17, 2014
8:30 p.m.; ESPN
SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 44-32 (3-1 postseason). The Titans have won two consecutive meetings and 13 of the last 19. The Titans are 8-2 against the Steelers in Tennessee.
LAST MEETING: Titans 16, Steelers 9, Sept. 8, 2013, Heinz Field: Titans RB Darius Reynaud fielded the opening kickoff and then backed up into the end zone and took a knee for a safety. But the Steelers lost C Maurkice Pouncey (knee) on their first drive of the season and struggled on offense thereafter. The Titans outrushed the Steelers, 112-32. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 191 yards and surpassed 30,000 passing yards for his career.
LAST WEEK: The Steelers fell behind the Jets, 17-0, and eventually lost, 20-13. Pittsburgh turned the ball over four times against a Jets team that came in with three takeaways on the season. The Titans jumped ahead, 7-0, in Baltimore but were eventually beaten by the Ravens, 21-7. Tennessee gained 68 yards after the first quarter and punted on eight consecutive possessions before throwing an interception the final time it got the ball.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL**: Rookie QB Zach Mettenberger will be in charge of what has become the NFL's 31st-ranked offense in his third career start.
Mettenberger has size (6-foot-5, 224) and a big-league arm (that'll be apparent when he throws the deep-comeback route, which he'll do repeatedly). What he's still working on are the issues most rookies must sort through, such as staring down receivers, reading defenses, feeling or sensing pressure, and getting out of trouble. If there's a big-play threat in the passing game, it's WR Justin Hunter (17.5 yards per catch on 21 receptions). The Titans didn't attempt deep throws against the Ravens but might try Hunter or WR Nate Washington deep against the Steelers. TE Delanie Walker leads the team with 512 receiving yards and is tied for the team lead with four touchdown receptions. The Titans' offense ground to a halt when Walker left the Baltimore game in the second quarter due to a concussion.
The running game isn't what it once was in the Chris Johnson, outside-zone days. RB Bishop Sankey, who shares the ball-carrying load with veterans Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster, was one of three rookie starters on offense against the Ravens (along with Mettenberger and LT Taylor Lewan). The offensive line features three first-round picks in Lewan (11th overall, 2014), RG Chance Warmack (10th overall, 2013) and RT Michael Oher (26th overall, 2009, Baltimore) but hasn't functioned consistently at a high level. If the Steelers stuff the run, they'll put Mettenberger in uncomfortable situations. And if that happens, they'll either get him on the ground or he'll throw them the ball.
The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Tennessee Titans.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL**: They'll be looking at a mirror image of the Dick LeBeau defense, one that's run by Tennessee defensive coordinator and LeBeau protégé Ray Horton.
The Titans play with physicality and they swarm to the ball. You can hear them play defense as well as see it on video (the collisions are often that loud). And they've stayed enthusiastic throughout a difficult season. They like to blitz (Horton seemingly does so with more frequency than LeBeau) and they've had 14 players combine for their 24 sacks, so they're coming from everywhere. Most are system sacks as opposed to someone dominating one-on-one. DT Jurrell Casey, who leads the team with four sacks, is perhaps Tennessee's best player.
The issue, in part, has been a Tennessee offense that's converted an NFL-worst 29.9 percent of its third downs. As a result the Tennessee defense is on the field a lot (32:14 per game) and has had a tendency to wear down as games have progressed. The Titans are No. 29 in the NFL against the run (136.6 per game). The secondary is relying on a couple of inexperienced players in second-year CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson and third-year nickel Coty Sensabaugh. They might be targeted while trying to cover secondary receivers in the event CB Jason McCourty is able to reasonably handle WR Antonio Brown. As a group the defense lacks splash players.
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: K Ryan Succop missed the 41-yard field goal that would have put the Steelers in the playoffs last season while kicking for Kansas City (he's 11-for-13 for the Titans this season). P Brett Kern has a 46.8 gross average and 41.0 net average and hit punts of 53 and 58 yards and a 48.8 net against the Ravens. The Steelers are No. 31 in kickoff return average (18.8). K Shaun Suisham hit from 53 yards out but missed from 23 against the Jets. The Steelers also lost an onside kick recovery due to an offside penalty at the Meadowlands.
THE X-FACTOR**: Is it circle-the-wagons time in Tennessee? Will the Titans embrace their Monday Night Football appearance as their bowl game? And if they do, will the Steelers be able to consistently match Tennessee's energy?
THEY SAID IT: "I think there's a certain amount of caution that comes from preparing for a guy you don't have a lot of tape on. We respect what he's capable of, but at the same time there are some unknowns. We've got to be cautious about how we proceed." – Coach Mike Tomlin on defending against Mettenberger.
"There are a lot of things that I still believe strongly as far as with the team and how you go about doing things that I learned in my time there. It's a great organization. I was very thankful to have the opportunity to work for the Rooneys and also with Coach Bill Cowher. Even just from Coach (Dick) LeBeau, just from competing against Coach LeBeau (in practice) and how you do things. There are a lot of things that I've taken away from my time in Pittsburgh that I believe are important as far as how you do things going forward." – Titans Coach Ken Whisenhunt on the Steelers.