As we enter week 6 of the NFL season, several teams are vying to put themselves in prime position to play in the post-season. In this Thursday night matchup, one team is trying to compete for the postseason, while the other is still trying to find themselves and consistent play every week. The Steelers, and the Titans, are each heading in opposite directions. Pittsburgh is coming off a big last-second win over the Eagles while Tennessee had yet another blowout loss this time to the Vikings. The Steelers are trying to avoid a letdown, and the Titans trying to prove that the first five weeks are behind them and they are a new team.
Are the Steelers on upset alert? Or are the Titans in for yet another demoralizing loss? Let’s see which side will give.
After a bye week, the Steelers responded by getting back to .500 with a last-second Shaun Suisham field goal. Now the Steelers are trying to keep their great play up, and build a bit of a winning streak, against a weak Titans squad. Bringing back Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers can get back to their balanced play and open up the deep ball for the likes of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. The Steelers defense should be expecting a big game and a lot of time in the backfield, having allowed the fifth least amount of yards by any defense in the league. The Steelers are going to bring a heavy blitz and put replacement quarterback Matt Hasselbeck under pressure constantly. With balanced play, and a heavy rush by the defense, the Steelers are prepared to take this one easy at LP Field in Tennessee.
The Titans are on the fence to just throwing their 2012 campaign away. After defeating the Detroit Lions in a week 3 shootout, the Titans showed that they could put something together this season. Following that big win, they responded with a combined loss of 68-21 in two games to the Texans and Vikings. With Jake Locker still out with a shoulder injury, veteran Matt Hasselbeck continues to be behind center for the Titans. Hasselbeck’s veteran play and natural ability could get this team going early, but ultimately this teams way to win is from their running back, Chris Johnson. Besides his week 4 performance against Houston, CJ2K has been a ghost. Besides that game, Johnson has led his team in rushing once this season, with 24 yards on the ground. With a stout defense by Pittsburgh, it will not get any easier for Johnson, and Matt Hasselbeck can not keep this team afloat for the entire game.
What to Watch:
Steelers Secondary Without Troy Polamalu: Troy Polamalu has been the catalyst for the Steelers defense since he came into the league in 2003. Polamalu is always all over the field, whether coming in on his successful safety blitz, or making an interception on a deep ball to a team’s number one receiver, Polamalu is an all-around football player. Without him, the Steelers defense will still shutdown the pass because they are an elite unit, but it will not be as effective. It will be interesting to see which Steeler defensive back steps up and makes the big hit in the open field, and the game-changing plays.
Chris Johnson: It is almost common knowledge to this point; Chris Johnson is not the running back he was of a couple of years ago, and by no means a 2,000-yard rusher anymore. His game-breaking speed is gone, and he has noticeably lost a hop to his step. The Titans shaped this team to be a run-first team, and Chris Johnson to be the centerpiece to this offensive scheme. Now, at week 6, nearly the halfway point of the NFL season, Johnson’s disappearing act has to end, or Johnson could be out of Tennessee next season. This is a difficult matchup for Johnson, as the Steelers have a fierce rush defense, but Johnson needs to have a big game to prove to coach Mike Munchak and management that he can still be the player he once was, and that this team is still going in the right direction.
Rashard Mendenhall: The other premier running back in this matchup, Rashard Mendenhall, returned last week to his old-self following surgery to repair his torn ACL. Medenhall had a near normal workload with 13 carries for 68 yards and 3 catches for 33 yards and a score. Was this just adrenaline and his big game was due to his fresh legs? That will be decided in this one, as the Titans rank in the bottom half in the league in rushing, so Mendenhall must follow up last weeks performance with an even bigger one against the Titans.
Without their starting quarterback, and their expensive franchise running back giving them nothing, the Titans are a mess. This mess will not be cleaned up on Thursday either. The Steelers are one of the most balanced and consistent teams in the league, and at an average record of 2-2, this team is looking to build their record up now. This will be an easy game for Pittsburgh, and they will take the long lay-off following this game to prepare for a big divisional game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Expect them to come out hot early, and for the Steelers to wrap this one up in the early second half.