The Steelers appeared to be a ‘sleeper’ Super Bowl contender for many, but in this game they looked anything but a contender. Anyone expecting a shootout between Jake Locker and Ben Roethlisberger came away disappointed, as instead we received a heavy dose of run defense and sloppy play on both sides.
Tennessee managed to overcome their blunder on the opening kickoff to win the low-scoring game fairly comfortably, 16-7, while Pittsburgh not only lost the game, but also two of their main contributors to injury.
It’s only Week 1, though, and there’s a long way to go, so with that in mind let’s take a look at some interesting performances.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
From their first offensive play, it was evident that Titans center Robert Turner (-5.0) was going to have a rough game. A play action fake did little to slow down Steve McLendon, as he beat Turner center left to land a hit on Jake Locker. It didn’t stop there, as a few plays later the Steelers’ nose tackle won on a run and picked up the stop on 1st-and-10, en route to a grade of +3.7. Turner went on to give up three more pressures – not a good total, considering he only pass blocked 25 times – and looked overmatched the entire game against a strong Pittsburgh line, whether he was failing to stay in front of defenders (2Q, 3:40) or getting completely overpowered (3Q, 9:07).
The Titans boast a pair of strong corners, but their best defensive player is probably one of the big guys in the middle, Jurrel Casey (+4.9). Casey was a wrecking force as part of a pass rush that pressured Roethlisberger on more than 40% of his dropbacks and sacked him five times, two of which came from Casey. He also picked up a hit and three hurries to total six QB disruptions in 33 rushes from the interior. His best stretch came in the fourth quarter, when at 5:41, he effortlessly split Pittsburgh’s center and right guard for a QB hit, helping to force an incompletion. Then, on the very next play, he ended the drive with a sack by getting inside of LT Mike Adams on a stunt.
With just 11 preseason snaps under his belt, tight end Delanie Walker was probably somewhat rusty coming in to his Titans debut, and it showed. As a receiver, he caught three of four targets for 40 yards, but ended his longest reception with a fumble (though he ended up recovering it). Walker also picked up an offensive pass interference penalty. His run blocking wasn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from his 49er days either, as he graded at -1.9 in that area, though he wasn’t the sole reason the Titans averaged just 2.8 ypc. Walker’s most egregious plays were allowing Lamarr Woodley inside for a tackle short on third down, and later leaving Jarvis Jones unblocked for a tackle in the backfield.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Not a good day to be a center. While Turner was getting manhandled, the Steelers had their own share of misery in the middle. It’s bad enough that Maurkice Pouncey went down on Pittsburgh’s first drive of the season, but even worse that it came at the hands of his own teammate, when right guard David DeCastro utterly butchered what should have been a routine cut block on Sammie Lee Hill at 11:14 of the first quarter. Instead of cutting Hill, he recklessly dove right into the knee of his teammate and ended his season. While Pouncey hasn’t been quite deserving of the All-Pro and even Hall of Fame-level hype he’s received in his first few seasons, he’s still a decent player and probably not someone Pittsburgh can afford to lose with little depth behind him.
That lack of depth was on display when Kelvin Beachum entered the game. Three pressures in 35 pass blocking snaps wasn’t terrible, but as evidenced by his -3.3 grade, he struggled in run blocking as part of the overall lackluster Steeler rushing attack that averaged just 2.1 ypc.
The Other OLBs
At this point, the Steelers know what they’re going to get from Lamarr Woodley (+1.3), though he hasn’t been quite as good the last couple of years. Given the 42 rushing attempts by the Titans, Woodley didn’t have a whole lot of opportunity to rush the passer, but with a sack and a hurry in 12 rushes, he made the most of the few chances he did get. It’s the other OLB spot that’s much more interesting, though, as the Steelers wait for someone to emerge and take the role vacated by James Harrison.
Jason Worilds has gotten most of the early opportunity at the position, but hasn’t done much to stand out, either last year or in preseason, and it was much of the same in this game. He had trouble shedding blocks in run defense and picked up no pressure in six pass rushes. Likewise, Jarvis Jones picked up no pressure in his few pass rush attempts. And other than a decent unblocked tackle for loss, he didn’t do much against the run. It’s early and both players have plenty of time to develop, but with an opening week loss, Pittsburgh is likely hoping it’s sooner rather than later.
It’s always fun watching Troy Polamalu toe the line between brilliance and recklessness. There are times where he’s too eager to make a play and it hurts the team, as it did in the second quarter when he failed in his attempt to time the snap and ended up with an offside penalty, giving the Titans a much more manageable 2nd-and-1. When he gets it right, though, there are few players as impactful. He got it exactly right at 8:40 of the third quarter, timing the snap absolutely perfectly and getting to Locker for a three yard loss before the QB could even take a step back from center.
– Jake Locker completed just one pass to the right side of the field.
– A good game for Pittsburgh’s William Gay, who had two pass defenses while allowing just one catch on five passes into his coverage.
– The Steelers targeted WR Emmanuel Sanders 12 times, the player with the game’s second-most targets had six.
PFF Game Ball
Jurrell Casey gets this one for his excellent pass rushing performance.
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