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The 2013 Season is upon us. If you missed my Season Preview, check it out. For better or worse, 2013 is here.
What To Watch For
1. Chris Johnson vs Steelers Defense
This will be the biggest matchup of the game. Chris Johnson is capable of taking it the distance any time he touches the ball. The Steelers have done a good job in the past keeping him contained. Johnson has only found the end zone twice in five career games against the Steelers and is only averaging 60.4 yards per game against the black and gold. The Steelers need to continue this streak of success against Johnson in order to force the game into Jake Locker's hands. Tennessee rebuilt their offensive line in the offseason, bringing in free agent guard Andy Levitre and drafting Chase Warmack in the first round.
2. Get Pressure on Locker
Jake Locker is not RGIII or Cam Newton, but he is elusive in the pocket and has the foot quickness to take off if he is pressured. The Steelers not only need to create pressure and force interceptions (Locker had a 10:11 TD-to-INT ratio last year) but also to force Locker off his spots and keep his rushing contained. Last year, Locker averaged about 4 attempts for 26 yards per game. Much like the Steelers young line, it will take time for Tennessee's new line to come together and the Steelers need to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
3. Ben Roethlisberger vs Tennessee's Defense
Tennessee's defense was awful in 2012, finishing 27th in Total Defense (yards allowed), 32nd in scoring defense, 26th in pass defense and 24th in run defense. Tennessee did not alter much about their defense in the offseason and this is mostly the same group that finished in the bottom 5 of the league last season. The Steelers should be able to move the ball at will against Tennessee - Ben threw for 363 yards in a losing effort last year and would have had more if not for a few drops by Mike Wallace. Ben carving up the Titans once again would go a long way to assuaging the fears of those that are concerned about the offense after it did not show much in the preseason.
4. Special Teams
The Steelers special teams units were nothing short of a disaster in the preseason. After all the dust had settled, special teams accounted for a blocked punt, blocked field goal, kickoff return for a touchdown, fumbled punt and a safety on a punt return that was taken back into the end zone. Most of the players directly responsible are no longer with the team, but the Special Teams will need to avoid making any costly mistakes, considering there will be a lot of young players on the field in these situations.
5. Start fast
The Steelers have suffered opening week losses the last two seasons. In 2011 it was a shellacking at the hands of the Ravens that prompted the "old and slow" comments about the Steelers defense. In 2012 it was Peyton Manning's return party that spoiled the start to the Steelers season. In both years, the team was immediately behind the eight ball, fighting to break the mantle of the opening loss for the rest of the season. A Week 1 victory will go a long way towards setting this team on the right track this season. Nothing begets winning like winning games and after a winless preseason, the Steelers need to start off on the right foot.
Football is back.
Time to protect our castle.