In Week 11 the Pittsburgh Steelers head home to face their second straight AFC South opponent, the Tennessee Titans.The Steelers former division rivals feature one of the game’s best young quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota. The Titans support Mariota with a balanced running game led by DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Both backs have a great blend of power and speed. The Titans use Murray as the lightning, while Henry is the hammer. Dick LeBeau‘s defense doesn’t get the pressure his prior units have, but they play tight coverage. Led by a talented trio of defensive backs, Kevin Byard, Adoree’ Jackson, and Logan Ryan they have defended 27 passes. Byard, their free safety, has six interceptions filling a role similar to that of former Steeler Troy Polamalu. Consequently, Ben Roethlisberger has to be aware of where Byard at all times.
The Steelers renew an old division rivalry on Thursday night football when they meet the Tennessee Titans. Pittsburgh leads the all-time series, but are only 8-13 since the Titans moved from Houston in 1997. Over the same time, the Steelers are 5-5 at home and 3-1 in prime time games against them. The last meeting between these two teams was on a Monday in November of 2014, which the Steelers won 27-24.
Thursday night marks the 78th game between these franchises, and like most of them, this one is going to be physical. The fact that there’s seeding implications for the postseason will only add to the intensity of Thursday night’s game. Given the history between these teams, this could be one of the best games of the year. Below are some Steelers keys to victory so they come out on top Thursday night.
The Offensive Line Must be Aggressive
Success on offense begins in the trenches, and the Steelers must control the Titans defensive front. For three quarters last week, they played passively, and were pushed around by arguably the league’s worst defensive line. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, and outside linebackers Derrick Morgan, and Wesley Woodyard have the capacity to wreak havoc very quickly.
Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert have to win their battles with Morgan and Woodyard, while Maurkice Pouncey neutralizes Casey. The Steelers are familiar with Dick LeBeau and should be ready for whatever he draws up. The Steelers offensive line has to match the intensity of the Titans defensive front. If not, it will be a long night for Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell.
Ben Roethlisberger Must be Patient
The primary characteristic of LeBeau’s defenses is their aggression and this Titans defense is no exception. They may create big plays, but Tennessee’s defense is one that Roethlisberger can take advantage of if he exercises little patience. The Titans secondary is athletic and aggressive and they specialize in tight coverage. They’re good at creating the illusion that receivers are open, but Roethlisberger must avoid being baited. He needs to use the Titans aggression against them. Jackson and Ryan are vulnerable to double moves off play action.
Death by a thousand paper cuts might be the perfect strategy for this game. For example, using JuJu Smith-Schuster on drag routes, while sending Martavis Bryant on a slant, could yield great results. The Titans are vulnerable to the underneath routes, and Roethlisberger needs to take advantage of that. Whatever the game plan might be, Roethlisberger needs to execute it with patience.
Keep Marcus Mariota in the Pocket
Nothing is more disheartening than a quarterback scrambling for a first down on third and long. The Steelers have faced their share of mobile quarterbacks over the last few years, but Mariota might be the best. Consequently, they’ll want to keep a close eye on him. In addition to his ability to take off at any time, the Titans have a couple of designed runs for Mariota. One, a fake delayed draw, went for 28 yards on third down last week. The Steelers need to wrap up Mariota when they get their hands on him, because big plays happen when he breaks containment.
Mariota’s favorite targets, especially when he gets in trouble, are tight end Delanie Walker and wide receiver Rishard Matthews. He will surely look to use a wide receiver like Taywan Taylor to take advantage of the loss of cornerback Joe Haden. The Steelers need to pressure Mariota to protect Coty Sensabaugh. The Cincinnati Bengals did a good job of that last week, sacking Mariota four times. He seems to be affected the most by pressure up the middle, which could be huge for Javon Hargrave.
Tame the Two Headed Monster
The Titans offensive attack is centered around their running game. Their ground game is led by the two headed monster that is Murray and Henry. The key to beating the Titans is shutting down Murray and Henry. To do that the Steelers must maintain gap integrity, protect the cutback lanes and wrap up the Titans backs. Murray and Henry makes teams pay for missing tackles. The Steelers priority should be to make the Titans one dimensional so they can pin their ears back and go after Mariota.
Minimize Adoree’ Jackson
Jackson is the Tennessee Titans version of slash. He lines up as cornerback, running back, slot receiver, and is their primary return man. Basically, Jackson can beat teams five different ways. His versatility gives the Titans five different weapons in one package which Mike Mularkey uses to create different looks.
That makes it difficult for opposing teams to discern whether Jackson is the weapon of choice or being used as a decoy. Either way, the Steelers have to prepare and account for him. Every minute spent preparing for Jackson takes time away from other areas of concern, but is a necessary evil. The Steelers can expect Jackson to get at least three to four touches on offense. Because as dangerous as he his, Mularkey will get the ball in his hands whenever possible.
This game is as big as any the Steelers have played all year. They can create separation within the conference, and put pressure on the New England Patriots to keep pace with them. The only thing the Steelers love more than a home game, is a prime time home game. Expect them to come out focused and firing on all cylinders, because they’re going to be ready for this one. This just might end up being Steelers most complete performance of the season.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Week 11 Pittsburgh Steelers Keys To Victory