Titans maul Steelers in surprising opener

No team in the NFL gave up more points in 2012 than the Tennessee Titans. Everyone knew that had to change in 2013. Things are off to a great start.

The Titans defense held the Pittsburgh Steelers without any points on offense until the last two minutes of the game, garnered five sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, and forced two turnovers in a surprising 16-9 victory on Kickoff Weekend in Pittsburgh. Zach Brown and Jurrell Casey each had a pair of sacks, and Derrick Morgan had one as they continually frustrated Roethlisberger all afternoon.

Mention must be made, though, of the critical injuries suffered by the Steelers, which played a direct outcome in this game. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was lost on the Steelers first possession to what turned out to be an ACL injury. He is lost for the season. Without the captain of the offensive line, disorganization reigned. Assignments were missed, the running game was completely shut down, and Roethlisberger had little time to throw following the injury. Complicating matters for Pittsburgh was the subsequent loss of RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, also to an ACL injury. Larry Foote, a key member of 2012’s #1-rated defense, suffered a ruptured bicep. He too will miss the remainder of the season.

Still, it was a heroic effort by the defense. Pittsburgh gained only 32 yards rushing, the lowest allowed by the Titans since 2010. Isaac Redman was the starting RB for Pittsburgh. He was replaced by Stephens-Howling following a devastating fumble in the first quarter. Pittsburgh drafted Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State to be the main ball carrier, but he missed this game with a foot injury.

This game could not have started much worse for Tennessee after a safety taken on the opening kickoff when Darius Reynaud wandered across the goal line, only to retreat into the end zone, taking a knee. The Steelers drove following the free kick, converting three third downs along the way, but the Redman fumble into the end zone denied Pittsburgh what appeared to be an inevitable touchdown, saving the Titans.

Jake Locker was hit-and-miss throughout the first half, and the offense went nowhere. But with the score still 2-0, the Titans went back in time to take a lead late in the first half. A 12-play, 49-yard march, (11 of those plays being running plays) put Tennessee ahead for good. Jackie Battle scored from three yards out. The drive brought back memories of better days, and hopefully serves as an omen of better days to come for the Titans.

Three Rob Bironas field goals put the game out of reach before the late touchdown by the Steelers gave us the 16-9 final. Locker was a pedestrian 11-of-20 for 125 yards, but no turnovers. Tennessee ran the ball 42 times on the day with Chris Johnson turning 25 of those carries into a game-high 70 yards. Nate Washington led with four receptions for 48 yards, while new TE Delanie Walker grabbed three for 40 yards in his debut. Ben Roethlisberger struggled to a 21-for-33 day, for only 191 yards. Though the Titans only managed 229 yards of offense, the Steelers ended up with 195 in an outstanding performance by the Tennessee defense.

In the opener, you could see the meshing of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and senior assistant Gregg Williams. Gray is more conservative, while Williams is ultra-aggressive. The combination worked great in this game. Up next for the Titans are the Texans, in Houston, at noon on Sunday.