Titans Believe Patience is Key vs. Steelers Defense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Long, dark curls have bounced up and down during each of Donnie Nickey's trips across the practice field this week.

Nickey, a reserve safety and key special teams player for the Titans, is mostly bald, but this week the eight-year pro is wearing a long, curly wig at the bottom of his helmet as a representation of Pittsburgh's five-time All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. The wig is helping Titans offensive players key in on where the Steelers might place Polamalu during Sunday's game at LP Field.

It's Nickey's third time wearing the wig, which he said surfaced from an old Halloween costume that belonged to Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson.

"It's itchy and it kind of gets stuck to my bald head, so I'll get home and find a long polyester piece of hair on me," Nickey said.

Aside from that, Nickey said he enjoys practicing the part of Polamalu, who wears his hair long in honor of his Samoan heritage. Polamalu is the pitch-man for Head and Shoulders, which has his hair insured at $1 million.

"It's fun to do what he gets to do," Nickey said. "They let Troy really roam kind of free and make plays, so it's fun to go be him. We'll mark a good player (each week). You've got to account for that kind of talent on every play. We'll just put a hat on (to mark most players). The wig's kind of funny, kind of a joke."

Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said "You better know where (Polamalu's) at all the time. He's a great player. His play last week against Atlanta, not many guys can make."

Heimerdinger was speaking of an interception that Polamalu recorded in Pittsburgh's season-opening 15-9 overtime win against the Falcons. In his eighth season overall with the Titans and third season in his second campaign, Heimerdinger said other preparations are required for the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Most NFL teams play a base defense of four down linemen and three linebackers.

Heimerdinger said blocking schemes and running lanes will change, and patience is critical.

"The thing about the Steelers is you've got to be patient with the run because you're not going to get a lot of long runs," Heimerdinger said. "You've just got to keep handing it in there and hope you break something, but they're so sound in what they do. They're always in their gaps. They don't break down. All good defensive teams tackle well. They don't miss tackles where you can get on the second level.

"You have to be very patient," Heimerdinger continued. "In our run game, the back has to be real disciplined in what he does. If he cuts back, he's going to cut into a lot of trash."

Titans running back Chris Johnson will try to extend his streak of games with more than 100 yards rushing to 13. Johnson, the 2009 Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 2,006 yards last season. He gained 57 yards on 15 carries against the Steelers in the 2009 season opener, which Pittsburgh won 13-10 in overtime.

Johnson started this season with 142 yards on 27 carries in the Titans' 38-13 defeat of Oakland. Johnson scored on a 76-yard run just before halftime and added a four-yard score in the second half. Apart from the glide-and-gone long touchdown, Johnson churned for yardage, averaging 2.5 yards per carry.

Johnson rushed 16 times for 69 yards in his rookie year in a 31-14 Titans win against the Steelers in December 2008.

Heimerdinger hopes that quarterback Vince Young and the Titans' passing game will allow breathing room for the running backs. Young completed 13 of 17 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Oakland. He notched a career-high passer rating of 142.8 in the opener, which leads the league.

"Hopefully we can throw the ball good enough and make some good decisions at quarterback that loosens some things up for the run," Heimerdinger said. "(Young) says he's more comfortable, so we'll see. This will be a different test for him. On third down, they're very complicated. This week he's going to have to make some good decisions with people in his face."

Young said he's worked on his "overall game" this week, focusing on "where my eyes need to be at, where the ball needs to be at, continuing to be consistent" as he prepares for his first game against Pittsburgh.

"We respect their defense, but it's all about us," Young said. "We've got to play our game."

Reserve running back Javon Ringer, who scored the Titans' first rushing touchdown of 2010, said blocking and patience by the running backs will be important.

"It's going to be a big battle for us," the second-year pro said. "Pittsburgh has a great defense. We need to make sure we can win the line of scrimmage so our offense can be successful. You've got to make sure you're not too overanxious. There could be a lot of people in a lot of different places. You've just got to make sure you follow your blocks and stay consistent."

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