(photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
Tennessee travels to the Steel City to take on the aging but still relentlessly proud rival Steelers with a potential division clincher (Tennessee needs the Colts to lose on Saturday plus a win) and seeding (Tennessee needs New England to fall to the Colts) on the line. Can the still wounded Titans escape the trials and tribulations against a bitter conference rival on the road in close to freezing temperatures? Each team will have to avoid the pitfalls of looking too far ahead as both go against high-quality opponents bracketed around the Christmas holiday on short rest.
Steelers key numbers + info (2021 season)
Record: 6-6-1 (2-2 AFC North)
Points scored: 272
Points allowed: 322
Avg. yards per rush: 3.7
Avg. yards per rush allowed: 5.0
Avg. rush yards per game: 88.38
Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 139.46
Rushing TDs: 8 for, 14 against
Avg. pass yards per game: 240.61
Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 231.84
Passing TDs: 20 for, 19 against
Pass Completion Rate: 65%
Pass Completion Rate Against: 64%
Leading Rusher: Najee Harris (237 attempts for 837 yards and six touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: Diontae Johnson (81 receptions for 990 yards and six touchdowns)
Leading Tackler: Joe Schobert (91 tackles, five passes defensed, one forced fumble)
Key Additions: P Pressley Harvin III (rookie), OT Dan Moore, Jr (rookie), OL Kendrick Green (rookie), TE Pat Freiermuth (rookie), RB Najee Harris (rookie), LB Joe Schobert (trade), DB Ahkello Witherspoon (trade), DB Tre Norwood (rookie), DL Chris Wormley, DL Taco Charlton
Key Losses: C Maurkice Pouncey (retired), LB Vince Williams (retired), CB Steven Nelson, DL Stephon Tuitt (IR), DL Tyson Alualu (IR), WR Juju Smith-Schuster (IR), OL BJ Finney (IR), OL Kevin Dotson (IR), TE Eric Ebron (IR), DL Montravious Adams (COVID), OL David DeCastro (retired), P Jordan Berry
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 47-32-0. A home record of 5-6 since the 1997 season against a Tennessee-based franchise.
Keys to a Titans Victory
Secondary Ball Handling
- The Titans will be once again without the services of cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins leaving rising star man Kristian Fulton and a motley crew of wait, that guy’s on the team? covering a fleet of star receivers. Can the Titans secondary hold on against the likes of Diontae Johnson, the always jovial Chase Claypool, and rookie sensation Pat Freiermuth? Not to mention, the looming presence of Najee Harris catching balls out of the backfield.
Protect Ryan Tannehill
The offensive line has been improved from its woeful and unabashedly horrendous form but the threat of a return to prior form is ever-present. Especially so as starting left guard Rodger Saffold has been declared out for the game. Can the line protect the struggling Tannehill from the terrifying Steelers defense that has the handsomely paid and deservedly so TJ Watt along with the ever-present Cam Heyward?
Run the darn ball
Pittsburgh has had one of the worst run defenses in the league even before they gave up a massive 242 yards against the Vikings last Thursday. Enter a Tennessee team heavily predicated on the run despite losing Derrick Henry and a talented offensive line. Can the Titans get their run game going despite featuring a decidedly not Derrick Henry backfield?
Keys to a Steelers Victory
Make Tannehill beat you
- Ryan Tannehill has looked downright pedestrian without the services of the aforementioned Henry and has shown flashes of skittish play after being repeatedly hammered by a woebegone line. He hasn’t had the combined talents of Julio Jones and AJ Brown much this season. Jones is perceived to be fully healthy but with his injury history, it’s unknown at any given time. Brown will miss this contest as he is on IR. With a weaker cast of receivers and no threat from Henry, the decorated Steelers secondary should feast. Tannehill has to be better than his absolute best in order for Tennessee to have a chance.
Protect Big Ben
It’s getting close for the eventual Canton-bound passer to call time on what has been an illustrious career. The offensive line has been up and down, which is expected, replacing a Hall of Fame-worthy center with a rookie and starting another rookie plus another newish starter who has taken their lumps. Can the Steelers cobble enough protection for the increasingly statuesque Big Ben to find his cadre of receivers? A solid Tennessee stop unit awaits to dispel any notion of a renaissance performance.
Use the cold and shoddy field advantage
- It’s expected to be a balmy and rather tropical 36 degrees at kickoff according to the latest forecast. The Titans have consistently struggled in cold weather, getting blown out repeatedly in their past history when the mercury hovered around freezing. Throw in a notoriously unkempt track at the Ketchup Palace aka Heinz Field, and you have the makings of a sloppy grind-it-out game in which the Steelers are well conditioned to win. Are the Titans looking to get in and get out as quickly as possible to play on very short rest? Pittsburgh can take advantage but they can’t look too far ahead of themselves as the once again roaring Chiefs are up next.
Injury Report - Titans @ Steelers
What are the Odds?
Caesars has the Titans as 1 point favorites at -110 while the Steelers are +110 dogs. The over/under has been set at 43 points. The money line is Tennessee at +100 and the Steelers are -120.
WynnBet has the Titans as 1 point favorites at -110 while the Steelers are -110 push. The over/under has been set at 43.5 points. The money line is Tennessee at -105 and the Steelers are -115.
BetMGM has the Titans as 1 point favorites +100 while the Steelers are -120 push. The over/under has been set at 43 points. The money line is Tennessee at -110 and Pittsburgh is -120.