The Tennessee Titans opened yesterday’s game with a safety on the kickoff. For those that believe in omens, that would be about as bad as it gets. So how did we end up with Pittsburgh not scoring again until three hours later?
This year, Monday mornings will go more in focus with the “Monday Read Option” on a specific team, player, series, or set of plays. We have plenty of coverage on Sunday of highlight plays, funny moments, boneheaded moves, and wild finishes. I will link those here as well in case you missed it, and have some quick hits at the end with all of that previous content. Feel free to send along requests for the future, because additional pieces may be added depending on whether you, the reader, are sharing, reading, and enjoying it.
Today, we go inside one of the places where panic is likely going to dominate the airwaves and restaurant talk: Pittsburgh. The Steelers got the Tennessee Titans at home, got that gift two points, and then got handled. The simple answer is Maurkice Pouncey, as the Pittsburgh center was lost for the season on the first drive. Answers aren’t always so simple.
The Pouncey injury actually occurred when his teammate David DeCastro took him out while appearing to attempt to cut the defensive lineman.
After that injury, Kelvin Beachum came in to replace Pouncey at center. Pittsburgh still drove the ball down inside the 5 yard line on their opening possession. Then, the Steelers fumbled when Big Ben tried to make a handoff to Isaac Redman, who was lined up in the fullback position, on a quick hit play, and the ball bounced into the end zone for a touchback. It would be the closest Pittsburgh would come until the last two minutes of the game.
The culprits are many, and it is not as simple as saying the backup center was horrible. Blocking issues up front (but certainly not entirely due to Beachum), great coverage and lack of separation by Pittsburgh receivers when locked up in man on Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, and mistakes by the running backs (lots of mistakes) were big factors. Also, while I did not focus on the defense, Pittsburgh got the ball in bad field position a lot (average of their own 17 after the opening drive) and could not overcome it. The Titans offense went on sustained drives that featured Jake Locker picking up third and longs in situations a typical Pittsburgh defense would chew up a young quarterback. This was a team loss.
I also came away impressed with four Titans defenders. First, the cornerbacks, McCourty and Verner, made outstanding plays in man coverage. It started with the very first offensive play of the game, a deep shot to Emmanuel Sanders. It continued all game with several pass breakups, and the key interception by Verner.
The other two Titans that showed up frequently were Jurrell Casey, the third year defensive tackle, and Zach Brown, the second year linebacker. It’s easy to assume that Casey beat up on the backup center. He whipped everyone. The first sack of the game came when Casey came inside right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Without knowing what the assignments were, we do not know where to place blame, but David DeCastro initially starts with a double team block on Casey, then leaves to help the new center. As DeCastro turned away, Casey bulled inside Gilbert. Casey then manhandled Felix Jones, and took Roethlisberger down.
Casey’s other sack came in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh pinned deep, and was against the left guard Ramon Foster. It came at a key moment, with the score at 10-2 and a manageable third down and short. The next time Pittsburgh touched the ball, they were down 13-2. Casey also played a role in the interception by Verner.
Here is the still shot right before Roethlisberger lets it go. Casey is that flash closest to him (again, not against the backup center #68, that appears to be the right tackle). You can see Verner locked in coverage at the bottom of the picture. Six men blitzed, and if Verner doesn’t make that diving interception, it might have been the huge play Pittsburgh needed. Another foot outside with the throw, and it would have been, but that pocket was collapsing on Roethlisberger from his right.
That interception came on the first play of a drive, starting at Pittsburgh’s 31 (the best starting position after the opening safety kick). Tennessee went on a 13 play scoring drive right after, meaning Pittsburgh only had two offensive plays in the last ten minutes of the half. One was the interception, and the other was a sack on the final play of the half.
The second half was the LaRod Stephens-Howling’s show, unfortunately for Pittsburgh. He slipped on a four yard pass, when he might have been able to gain more. On third down, he dropped a pass that was set up one on one with a linebacker, and would have had a first down and a potential big play. With Redman contributing two fumbles, Felix Jones getting blown up in pass protection, and Stephens-Howlings whiffing later on Zach Brown’s second sack, let’s just say the running backs were a big negative in this one, and that’s not even talking about their running and whether they were taking the few opportunities that were there.
Pittsburgh has to deal with the injuries they have. Pouncey is not coming back this year. Heath Miller should be back, and can provide the reliable short target (it was Jerricho Cotchery in that role this game). Le’Veon Bell will make a huge difference as a runner, and if the others don’t do better at pass protection and catching, they will even see their role diminished there. The offensive line had issues, way beyond a backup center. Some of it may have been using DeCastro to compensate for the new guy next to him, but others were getting beat often. Beachum did well on the draw play up the middle for 8 yards, and that should tell you all you need. Pittsburgh had no other runs of even 5 yards all day.
As for the passing game, well, I think what you hope if you are a Pittsburgh fan is that this was a case of Tennessee being a pain in the butt and a tough matchup for a team dealing with injuries, able to go man frequently on the outside and bring pressure against a disorganized unit. None of the four Titans highlighted–McCourty, Verner, Casey, or Brown–have made a pro bowl yet. That could change for a couple of them if they play like they did on Sunday.
OTHER QUICK HITS AND NFL CONTENT ON THE BIG LEAD FROM WEEK ONE
The Secret Sauce Made the Giants’ have slippery hands: The Cowboys won, the Giants had six turnovers, and Eli is perplexed
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right for the Packers: Clay Matthews Took Out Colin Kaepernick on a Diving Clothesline Tackle. The referees made a mistake, since the play came on a third down and the fouls were dead ball. It should have been fourth down and two. Of course, it should have only been a penalty on Matthews as well, and it appeared as though he got away with throwing a punch or hitting Joe Staley in the helmet after Staley rushed over, rightfully, when his quarterback got upended while almost completely outside the white line.
Defensive Boners Lead to Late Game Issues: Ndamukong Suh Took Out John Sullivan on a Block, Costing the Lions a Touchdown on Interception, but that came early. Frank Alexander of the Panthers Ejected for Throwing a Punch. The real doozies were late in the first games. First, Rey Maualuga took a bad penalty when the Bengals were about to get the ball back and attempt to tie it, ending the game. Then, Lavonte David of Tampa Bay hit Geno Smith out of bounds to put the Jets in field goal range for a final play. (Tampa Bay Had a 99.8 Percent Win Probability Before the Lavonte David Penalty).
Honey Badger and Michael Floyd provide highlights, but Cardinals blow lead: Michael Floyd Made a Fantastic One-Handed Grab while the Honey Badger Prevented a Rams Touchdown with Incredible, Diving Play.
Vikings and Lions was your Red Zone highlight champion of the day: Adrian Peterson Started the Season With a 78 Yard Touchdown. Joique Bell almost gave us an LOL Lions moment, but it was reversed to a TD. Reggie Bush later exploded for a 77 Yard Touchdown on a Short Pass
The Chiefs Removed the Pants off Jacksonville in a 28-2 Road Win: Meanwhile, Tyson Jackson Got Pantsed, Gave Us a Full Moon Over Jacksonville
Jay Cutler, Solid with New Coach, New Weapons: Martellus Bennett Made a Great Catch in the Back of the End Zone to Get the Bears Started