TV: ESPN (WTAE locally)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates
What To Watch For
1. Playing Down
Coming off a loss to the woeful New York Jets, there have been lots of numbers thrown around on Twitter and Pittsburgh Sports Radio in the past week. Mike Tomlin is somewhere around 1-8 on the road against teams with .200 or worse winning percentages. Mike Tomlin is just 13-13 against teams with losing records. Either way you slice it, the Steelers constantly play to the level of their opponents. They get up for big games (as we saw against Indianapolis and Baltimore) and they stink up the joint against poor competition (Jacksonville, Tampa, New York). So which Steelers team will show up against the 2-7 Titans? Tennessee has lost by 14 points each of the last two weeks since Zach Mettenberger became the starting quarterback. Unfortunately, the Steelers only have 7 wins by 14 or more in their last 42 games and no wins by more than 20.
2. Hello, Old Friends
Remember Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton? Our old friends have now found their way to Tennessee after a stint in Arizona and Whisenhunt's year as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers and Horton's exile in Cleveland. The Steelers should be familiar with Whisenhunt's offense and Horton's defense as it is extremely similar to the offense and defense that they currently run. Of course, the Titans defense has been just as bad as the Steelers defense this season, giving up about 24 points per game. Tennessee is in the first year of a transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and are still working on getting all the pieces in place. On paper, this is a defense that the Steelers should be able to exploit, but as Ray Horton has shown in the past against the Steelers, he is going to blitz the crap out of Ben Roethlisberger - a strategy that worked pretty well for Rex Ryan and the Jets last week. On the other side, former Titans head coach Mike Munchak is the Steelers offensive line coach and will probably looking for a pound of flesh out of the team that ousted him about a year ago.
3. Something's Gotta Give
If you've been reading this blog or following me on Twitter, you'll know just how bad the Steelers are outside of Eastern Time. If you don't, I wrote about that time zone thing as soon as the schedule was released. The Steelers are just 6-16 under Tomlin outside of Eastern Time and have lost to the likes of Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Matt Cassel and Terrelle Pryor. Don't think for a second that Zach Mettenberger isn't capable of adding his name to that list - just like Matt Hasselbeck did the last time the Steelers visited Nashville. Of course, there's the other stat of Dick LeBeau being 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks. So something has to give. Either the Steelers will win their second consecutive game outside of Eastern Time (after ending an 8-game losing streak by beating Matt Flynn and the Packers last year) or Dick LeBeau will lose just his 3rd game ever against a rookie quarterback. As a microcosm, it will be interesting to see how both teams come out of the gate. The Steelers have been one of the worst offensive and defensive teams on opening drives this season. While the Steelers only have 2 opening drive scores this year, the Titans are one of two teams with less, having put points on the board just once this year on an opening drive. That Titans offense will be up against a Steelers defense that has allowed 8 scores on opening drives this season.
4. The Playoff Picture
After losing to the Jets, no one wanted to hear about the Steelers chances of making the playoffs. But just like after the loss to Cleveland, it's amazing the difference that one week can make. After losing to the Jets the Steelers were sitting at the bottom of the AFC North. However, with Baltimore (6-4) on bye and Cleveland losing to the Texans (6-4), the Steelers are in position to get a leg up on both of those teams and put themselves just percentage points behind the Bengals (6-3-1). This game is also important because it has implications in tiebreaker scenarios involving common opponents and division opponents. With the Steelers heading into a bye next week, they can also get a leg up on Miami and San Diego (both 6-4) for the last wild card spot. In short, this is a game the Steelers have to win if they have any hope of making the playoffs.
5. Safety Play
The Steelers have been cursed with some of the worst safety play in the league this season. Mike Mitchell has not only been hilariously out of position all the time, he has also made a number of dirty plays that make him really hard to cheer for. Mettenberger has a big arm and the Titans have basically nothing to lose which means Mettenberger will have the green light to take shots down the field all game. Mitchell's biggest issue has been preemptively jumping underneath routes and letting receivers run right past him deep down the field. Troy Polamalu will be out once again which means the Steelers will need to get something out of Will Allen or Shamarko Thomas or Robert Golden. The nightmare scenario is that Tennessee is able to hit a couple of big passes that turn into points and keep them in the game well into the fourth quarter. The Steelers will need to generate a pass rush against a Titans line that has been decent this season and force bad throws and turnovers out of Mettenberger. The Steelers struggle with putting bad teams away, which is exactly what they need to do tonight to head off into the bye week on a high note.