The Steelers will try to get back on track this Sunday when they face the visiting Tennessee Titans.
Everyone knows that the 2-2 Steelers have struggled in several areas so far this season. And unfortunately, the Titans present challenges in exactly those areas. In fact, they’re just what the doctor didn’t order for the Steelers.
The Steelers’ run defense has been poor at best. They’ve let average runners like the Colts’ Joseph Addai run right through them. And they’ve made good runners like Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Houston’s Arian Foster look like marathon runners. So I’m afraid to even imagine what’s going to happen when Tennessee’s speedy running back Chris Johnson tries to find chinks in the Steelers’ armor.
The Steelers’ already weak run defense will even be more depleted this weekend. Starting defensive end Aaron Smith is likely to miss Sunday’s game. Casey Hampton didn’t practice on Thursday, but no announcement has been made on whether he’ll play. My guess is that he will, but if he’s not 100%, it will definitely affect the team’s ability to stop the run.
On the positive side, Brett Keisel will likely start on Sunday. He’s missed the team’s last 2 games with an injury.
But the running defense hasn’t been the only problem for the Steelers. They also haven’t been able to run the ball on offense. Tennessee probably isn’t a good candidate for helping them solve that problem. The Titans’ defense is ranked #8 in the NFL against the run. They’re only allowing 87.8 rushing yards per game. The Baltimore Ravens are the only opponent that the Steelers have faced this season that allows fewer rushing yards than the Titans.
To further compound the problems in the running game, starting running back Rashard Mendenhall will probably miss the game due to a hamstring injury. So a weak rushing attack may get even weaker.
Of course, some fans believe that taking Mendenhall out of the lineup will actually be an improvement. Mendenhall hasn’t played particularly well this season, and is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry.
In contrast, backups Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore have seemed to have more success than Mendenhall when they’ve been given the opportunity to run the ball. Isaac Redman is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and has provided a spark whenever he’s entered the game. Mewelde Moore is averaging an even more robust 7.2 yards per carry.
But it probably won’t matter who runs the ball if the Steelers’ offensive line doesn’t play better. The offensive line has suffered from injuries and poor play all season. The Steelers signed Max Starks earlier in the week, and it looks like he’ll get the start on Sunday, despite having less than a full week of practice. It probably says a lot about the Steelers’ O-line when a guy off the streets steps right into the starting lineup.
To make matters even worse, left guard Chris Kemoeatu is out with an injury and won’t play on Sunday. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been practicing wearing a boot all week. Big Ben injured his foot in the last game, and the injury will likely decrease his mobility.
I hate to sound like a pessimist, but the Tennessee Titans sound like a bad match-up for the injury riddled Steelers. But injuries are a part of the game, and the Steelers are just going to have to play through them. Backup players are going to have to step up and show us why they’re on the roster.
As head coach Mike Tomlin is fond of saying, “The standard doesn’t change.”
On second thought, though the Titans will be a tough opponent, maybe they ARE just what the doctor ordered.
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