The 2011 season hasn’t really started the way that most of us thought it would. A blowout loss to the Ravens and two wins over terrible teams (Seahawks, Colts) and then lost to another team that is probably going to be a division winner in a really ugly game.
Take in the fact now that the 3-1 Tennessee Titans come into the game with Matt Hasselbeck leading them and an underperforming Chris Johnson. What is going on here? I have no idea to be 100% honest.
The Steelers defense got whipped around on the first drive in Texans and they gave up 150 yards to Arian Foster in defeat. Before this season the Steelers have given up 100 yards to a rusher like once in 50 years and so far this season it has happened twice in four games. Sure, Foster is one of the best backs in the league but so is Chris Johnson.
The Titans seem to be winning their games with some average at best offense and some pretty good defense. The Steelers used to win like that. Before I start talking about what I have already talked about below, let’s get into the preview with a look at the statistics.
Let’s take a look at the statistics:
Houston 17, Pittsburgh 10
Passing: Roethlisberger - 16/30, 206 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Redman - 6 carries, 40 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Wallace - 4 rec, 77 yards, 0 TD
Tennessee 31, Cleveland 13
Passing: Hasselbeck - 10/20, 220 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Johnson - 23 carries, 101 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Cook - 2 rec, 93 yards, 1 TD
All-Time Record vs. Houston: 40-29 (3-1 Playoffs)
Last Five Meetings
Sept. 19, 2010 - Pittsburgh 19, Tennessee 11
Sept. 10, 2009 - Pittsburgh 13, Tennessee 10
Dec. 21, 2008 - Tennessee 31, Pittsburgh 14
Sept. 11, 2005 - Pittsburgh 34, Tennessee 7
Sept. 28, 2003 - Tennessee 30, Pittsburgh 13
Offense (rank in NFL)
Pittsburgh: 359.3 yards/game (13th)
Tennessee: 347.3 yards/game (19th)
Pittsburgh: 265.5 yards/game (10th)
Tennessee: 280.5 yards/game (8th)
Pittsburgh: 93.8 yards/game (21st)
Tennessee: 66.8 yards/game (32nd)
Pittsburgh: 16 points/game (27th)
Tennessee: 22 points/game (18th)
Pittsburgh: 277 yards/game (2nd)
Tennessee: 299.8 yards/game (7th)
Pittsburgh: 157.5 yards/game (1st)
Tennessee: 212 yards/game (t-7th)
Pittsburgh: 119.5 yards/game (22nd)
Tennessee: 87.8 yards/game (8th)
Pittsburgh: 18 points/game (5th)
Tennessee: 14 points/game (1st)
Hit the jump for a closer look at the Houston Texans
With the departure of Vince Young the Titans had to look for someone else to man the 2011 edition. They drafted Jake Locker out of Washington but didn’t want to start him this season. The Titans then signed Matt Hasselbeck who finally got out of the enigma that is known as Seattle. Could you imagine playing for that Seahawks team down? How downhill have they gone since the Super Bowl?
It actually has been pretty surprising how good Hasselbeck has been for the upstart Titans who many thought couldn’t contend this season. Through four games this season he is completing almost 67% of his passes with an 8.7 yard per attempt average and has eight touchdowns as opposed to only three picks. Wow.
I am not going to sit here and say that I thought Hasselbeck was going to be bad because through his career he has shown that he can win some football games. Maybe it was playing with so many bad teams in Seattle that gave this misnomer that he wasn’t going to bring much to the table but that is wrong. With the runner game struggling big time for the Titans they have to rely on the passing attack and they finally have a quarterback that can throw the football and win them games. In other words, Vince Young was garbage for that franchise.
Shocking enough Hasselbeck only had to throw the ball 20 times last week against Cleveland and he only completed 10 of them, with three going for touchdowns. Unreal that you can only complete three passes the entire game and blow a team out like that. I guess it also works when 30% of your passes goes for touchdowns. That can’t hurt.
Football Outsiders has Hasselbeck as the fourth best quarterback in the league in terms of DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the quarterback’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage) and also ranks third in the league in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations) so it shows that he has been far from a sloutch this year as the quarterbacks above him, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, has been pretty effin good all year.
Hasselbeck has thrown at least two touchdown passes in three of the four games this season and has twice hit longs of 80 yards so he will stretch the field vertically if he has to. Granted, he has not played the top flight defenses to say that he has went through the ringer (Jags, Ravens, Broncos, Browns) but it is still impressive none the less. He also has thrown for over 1,100 yards which is good for seventh in the NFL. To put it in perspective he has thrown for just four yards more than Ben Roethlisberger.
The Titans were known as a running team in the recent past. Most of this had to do with the fact that they had a quarterback that was incapable of reading defenses and hitting receivers, but the other part was that they had arguably the best running back in the business in Chris Johnson. Johnson missed all of training camp ask he was in a heated battle with Titans management over his pay. He wanted to be paid like the best back and he was. Johnson signed a six year deal worth $56 million. Not bad huh?
So far this season Johnson has been far from the $56M man as he is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and just shy of 50 yards per game. Known as a speed demon Johnson only has one rush of over 20 yards and that was a 25 yard gain against the Browns last week. Not at all what you expect.
Granted, Johnson might just be getting his legs under him as he finally broke the 100-yard mark against the Browns on 23 carries but in the three games prior he rushed for 24, 53 and 21 yards. Johnson has also been successful out of the backfield as a receiver as he’s caught 15 passes for 102 yards so that is another dimention that he brings to the field. Any way that the Titans can get him in open field with the football they will do it. One missed tackle and he can be gone in a flash.
You would be hard pressed to look at any metrics and find Chris Johnson on them and that is so true at Football Outsiders where they rank Johnson 35th in the league with a -37 DYAR and just to fill you in that is a number you want to be positive on. The only qualified rushers that are below Johnson in that category is Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene. Not company you want to be a part of. One of the more useful statistics they run at FO is success rate which represents the players consistency of successful running plays based on down and distance. Johnson’s success rate sits at 35% which is 35th in the league. Yuck.
Johnson has played against the Steelers defense in three different games in his career and to say that he has struggled would be a pretty applicable statement. In three games Johnson has 47 carries for 160 yards which is good for 3.4 yards per carry. He also had eight catches for 31 yards and a total of one touchdown. The Steelers have done a good job of bottling him up and from what I have seen of Chris Johnson it’s that he doesn’t necessarily like to get hit. Hopefully that trend continues this week.
Outside of Johnson there isn’t much else in the Titans backfield. Javon Ringer is the only other back that has carried it more than five times this season and he only has 19 yards on 15 carries. As a team the Titans are only rushing for 2.8 yards per carry and have 267 rushing yards on 94 carries with two runs of 20+ yards and one touchdown. The Steelers need to get some confidence after getting shredded a few times this season. Johnson could go for 150 and I wouldn’t be surprised but lets hope that he is still trying to find his groove.
The Titans aren’t particularly talented in the receiver department and really rely heavily on the vertical threat of Kenny Britt to hold u p the staff with the ex-Steeler Nate Washington helping out. Well the problem for the Titans is that Britt is lost for the season and was placed on the IR due to injuries a few weeks back and now Washington has to be the top guy.
Before going out with his injury Britt was having an outstanding season with 17 catches for 289 catches and three touchdowns in two games. In only two games Britt had four catches of 20 yards or more and was having his way with defensive backs even if they might have been against a softer secondary.
Nate Washington has actually filled in admirably for the Titans as he has 23 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown while averaging an even 80 yards per game. While Washington was the Steelers deep threat when he was here he is a significant drop off from what Britt can bring to the lineup. In double the games Washington has the same number of catches for 20+ yards and Washing ton averages a little over three less yards per catch (13.9 for Washington, 17 for Britt) so we can see that he is not as dynamic, but still will be someone that the Steelers should keep their eyes on.
Outside of Washington there is only one other player with double-digit catches and that is actually running back Chris Johnson. Johnson will be a threat out of the backfield with 15 catches for 102 yards. While he might not rack up huge chunks of yardage in the passing game he will most likely be matched up against linebackers and safeties out of the backfield and that will be a huge advantage for the Titans.
Tight end Jared Cook has been very successful as really the only other notable pass catcher for the Titans. While he only has seven catches this season he does have 149 yards, 80 on his long scoring play, and averages 21.3 yards per catch. To be honest I am not sure how much stock to put into this because you take out that one 80 yard catch and he has six catches for 69 yards which is much less impressive.
While Matt Hasselbeck has had success this season the offensive line for the Titans it really not the reason for his success. Actually with as much as Chris Johnson has struggled this season it might be just as much on the offensive line as it is on Johnson.
Coming into the game the Titans have surrendered a near league-high 14 sacks, which is the same number as the mangled Steelers line has given up. According to Football Outsiders the Titans have the worst offensive line in the league with an adjusted line yards total of 2.87 which is easily the worst in the league. Adjusted line yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value, 0-4 Yards: 100% value, 5-10 Yards: 50% value, 11+ Yards: 0% value. These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations.
The Titans also have a below average line in terms of power success (Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.), stuffed percentage (Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.) and second level yards. The Steelers have had a hell of a time stopping the run so hopefully with the shoddy line play from the Titans that they can get back on track.
I know you should never take any stat as a given when you look at football and especially when you have only played 25% of the season but it is easy to see that when you look over what the Titans have done offensively and you take the advanced metrics from Football Outsiders about the Titans offensive line you really wouldn’t know how this team is 3-1.
Defensively the Titans are led by Barrett Rudd who came to the Titans from Tampa Bay as he has 27 tackles in four games for the Titans. He was relatively quiet for the first three weeks making only 13 tackles but really came out in a big way against Jacksonville with 14 total tackles and eight of them being solo.
Starting corner Jason McCourty is the second leading tackler with 25 tackles and 24 of those being solo tackles. McCourty also is tied with a team high in passes defended (four) and a team high with two of the team’s four interceptions.
Maybe one of my most hated players in the entire league plays in the Titans secondary and that is Cortland Finnegan. He is an arrogant prick and even though he is fairly talented he just thinks he is way better than he is.
I am by no means a fan of T.O. but this about sums up Finnegan:
Overall the Titans defense is pretty decent and probably can be one of the main reasons they are surprising everyone and in a first place tie with the Houston Texans. According to Football Outsiders the Titans are holding onto the fourth best defense in the league with a -10.9% DVOA (negative is good for defense) and was the top ranked defense last week in terms of DVOA. In terms of DVOA the Titans rank sixth against the pass and second against the run so this isn’t your typical overhyped Titans defense.
The Titans defense are around league average in terms of getting after the quarterback as they have registered 10 sacks on the season which is good for 15th in the league. They are very good in terms of defensive line play with the Dave Ball, Shaun Smith, Jurrell Casey and Jason Jones from left to right on the 4-3 defensive line. I know that the linebackers are going to get all the accolades and stats but as I have said before here about the Steelers the defensive line is really where a strong run stuffing defense is built. In the short yardage situation the Titans rank fifth in the league at 24% stuffed ranking which means that the Titans have stuffed the fifth most plays in the NFL on plays of that nature. The Titans also have an adjusted line yards of 3.93 which is good for 14th in the league so this isn’t going to be smooth sailing for the Steelers and the offensive line is really going to have to step up.
-The Steelers added to its offensive line this week when they signed Max Starks to a one year deal worth the league minimum for veterans. I am going to say this was surprising since the Steelers made it pretty clear that they weren’t looking outside of the organization but early in the week it was leaked that he was at the facility and the next morning it was official. Word is that Starks has a pretty good chance of starting in the game and this is a pretty good sign. Granted he has been with the Steelers for many seasons before this and knows the system so it does not concern me that he is coming in and starting so quickly. To be honest I don’t really think that Starks is an above average player but let’s be honest do we even have an average player on the offensive line besides Pouncey? It should be interested to see what kind of shape Max is. We are hearing that he lost a bunch of weight and looks good but it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters what you play like. I would like to keep Ben as clean as possible and to be 100% honest having Starks back there makes me feel a little better than I would if he wasn’t here.
-From all signs of thing Ben Roethlisberger is going to play. Don’t ask me how he is even still alive but he is. Ben is battling a strained ankle which from reports is causing him a lot of pain and he is still walking around in a boot for most of the week. He will be wearing a shoe that is one size larger than he typically wears and there will be a metal plate inserted into the soul of the shoe to help keep the foot stable and leave minimal room for the foot to flex. Obviously that is going to inhibit Ben from being as mobile as normal and since the left foot is the one that is injured it might cause he to not be able to push off his throws like he typically does. Ben will not be 100% but we have seen Ben play like this last year and he was still pretty damn good. It will be important for Ben to get rid of the ball and even more important for the line to keep him away from danger so this should be interesting. It has already been talked about that the Steelers might work out of the shot gun more than they already do in order to not have Ben dropping back and putting a ton of unneeded pressure on the foot. I am semi worried about this but I think Ben will be alright. Like he said yesterday, if it is just a pain tolerance type of thing then I think the Steelers will be alright in terms of the quarterback position.
-It is no secret that the Steelers defense needs to show up. They have yet to intercept a pass and only have registered seven sacks which are good for a tie for 22nd in the league. They are just not forcing turnovers and not getting to the quarterback so that is a big reason why the Steelers are 2-2 and not 3-1. I am not going to sit here and tell you the defense has been terrible, because that is far from the truth. If someone told you before last week that the Steelers would only give up 17 points to the Texans you would have taken that every day of the week. Last year it was about how bad the secondary was and how good the run stuffing was. This year it is about how good the secondary has been (#1 in pass defense ) and how bad the run defense has been. To be honest with the personal that the Steelers have I think it would be much easier to fix the stuff up front than the stuff in the back end. A few more turnovers and this defense is going to be a lot better and if LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons start to step up then this defense can be close to what they were last year. Hopefully they can shut down the run. No James Harrison and no Jason Worilds so Timmons will be moved to the outside in an unfamiliar position. No idea what Dick LeBeau is going to do this week.
-One last thing is that it will be curious to see how the running game works for the offense. Rashard Mendenhall has been nursing a mild hamstring injury and nobody really knows if he will suit up for this game. If he doesn’t play then it will be up to Isaac Redman to carry the load. Last week Redman was pretty good in the running game after Mendenhall went out of the game but they are pretty different runners. Redman is a straight ahead runner with no thrills and Mendenhall is a guy that can maybe make something happen when it isn’t there. I don’t think it is true on how some people are talking like Redman should be the feature back because Rashard Mendenhall is clearly the better running back of the two. That being said I am kind of excited to see what Redman can do with what we can expect to be more carries. Hamstrings are nothing to mess with so I would be shocked if RM got the same number of carries as he typically does and I think Redman will get more carries. Mewelde Moore is also nursing an injury so I have no idea what his availability is going to be. Should be fun to see how much the Steelers run the ball and if they run out of the shot gun like they did last year when Ben had the banged up foot.
Prediction: Coming into this game I really didn’t know what to think of the Titans. They haven’t been good in the recent past but they are coming into Heinz Field with a 3-1 record, the same as the Houston Texans in the AFC South. Am I scared of the Titans after going through this preview? Not so much. The Steelers almost never get beat like they did last week twice in a row so they will be amped up. Big win for the Steelers this week. 27-16.