NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Handle the Blitz
The Titans lost left tackle Taylor Lewan for the season with a knee injury, and now the blitz-happy Pittsburgh Steelers will be ready to test his replacement, Ty Sambrailo. Keeping the Steelers out of the backfield – and in quarterback Ryan Tannehill's space – will be up to the entire Titans offense, however, from the o-line to the tight ends to the running backs in protection. Steelers outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt have 5 and 4.5 sacks, respectively, on the season, and they'll be coming with company. Facing a team with 24 sacks in five games, the Titans will need to protect.
Run the Ball
Another way to slow down the blitz, of course, is by running the football. Titans running back Derrick Henry took over last Sunday's game against the Texans, and on the season he already has 588 yards – an average of 117.6 yards per game. Henry had a career high 264 scrimmage yards last week. The Steelers are one of the NFL's top run defenses, allowing just 66.2 yards per game on the ground. Something has to give here.
All Weapons Are Back
Since the opener, Tannehill has seen his weapons in and out of the lineup all season. A.J. Brown played in the opener, missed the next two, and then returned last week. Adam Humphries missed time on the COVID-19 list, and the same goes for fellow receiver Corey Davis. Well, all those guys are back, along with all three of the team's tight ends (Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt), one week after the Titans set a franchise record with 601 yards of total offense. The Titans, ranked 2nd in the NFL in total offense, will face a challenge against Pittsburgh's No.2 ranked defense.
Harass Big Ben
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is big and he is strong. But he's not real mobile, and he provides a big target in the pocket. So, can the Titans get to him? The Titans have been inconsistent getting to opposing quarterbacks this season, with just seven sacks in five games. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney is looking for his first sack as a Titan, and the same can be said for Vic Beasley. OLB Harold Landry has been playing with great effort, and he has a team-high 10 QB pressures, but just one sack. The Titans need to make things uncomfortable for Roethlisberger, who has some dangerous weapons to throw to on Sundays.
Third Down Defense
The Titans have struggled mightily on third down this season, as teams are converting 57.8 percent of the time on third down. So far, the Titans have lived to tell about it. But things need to get better here, and it's a combination of things. The previously mentioned pass rush needs to improve, along with the coverage on the back end. The Steelers are ranked 11th in the NFL in third down offense, converting 46 percent of the time. Is this the week with the Titans tighten up on third down?
Count strictly on getting turnovers to win on Sunday, and you're going to be wanting more. Sure, they help, but they can't be looked at as a bail-out either. It's about doing something with them, and not shooting yourself in the foot. With that said, these two teams are among the league's best in the takeaway/giveaway category. The Titans are tied for 1st in the league with a plus-6 (9 takeaways vs 3 giveaways). The Steelers, meanwhile, are right behind them with a plus-5 (9 takeaways vs 4 giveaways). In a tight game with two undefeated teams, turnovers could play a huge role in this one.