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Tomlin Report - Week 2 at Tennessee

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The Steelers travel to Tennessee with Dennis Dixon behind center, but without left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton, both likely out with injuries. Titans' RB Chris Johnson is seeking his 13th straight 100-yard game.

Steelers (1-0) vs. Tennessee Titans (1-0)
at LP Field in Nashville, TN
Sunday, September 19 – 1:00 PM on CBS



Steelers: tied for 1st in AFC North
Favorite: Titans by 5

 
LAST WEEK
Titans: Beat the Raiders 38-13 in Tennessee

• Tennessee mixed efficient, effective play with some big-play sizzle as they dominated the Raiders in their season opener.
• Oakland took an early lead thanks to a 34-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski after a Vince Young fumble that gave the Raiders good field position.
• The Titans answered four plays later on a 58-yard touchdown strike from Young to WR Nate Washington, putting Tennessee up 7-3. Washington led all Titans receivers with three catches for 88 yards.
• After a 43-yard Rob Bironas field goal near the end of the first quarter, the Titans struck again in the second, this time thanks to a 15-yard touchdown run by backup RB Javon Ringer.
• The Titans defense held its ground on the following drive, pulling the offense back on the field. Chris Johnson broke loose on the first play of the drive for a 76-yard touchdown run. The Raiders would add a field goal near the end of the quarter giving the Titans a 24-6 margin at halftime.
• Chris Johnson found paydirt again near the end of the third quarter, albeit on a much shorter run; this one a 4-yard touchdown on a drive in which he touched the ball on seven of the team’s ten plays. Johnson would finish the day with 142 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns.
• Safety Chris Hope picked off Jason Campbell three plays later, returning the ball to the Oakland three-yard line. After a two-yard gain by Johnson, Vince Young found TE Bo Scaife in the endzone for a 1-yard touchdown and a 38-6 lead. Young completed 13 of his 17 passes for 154 yards and two TDs and added an additional 30 yards rushing on seven carries.
• Oakland scored on the next drive on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to RB Darren McFadden, but it was too little, too late and the Titans hit the showers with a 38-13 win.
• Tennessee registered four sacks on the day, including two sack-fumbles, one by Jacob Ford and one by Jason Babin, though only one was recovered.


Steelers: Beat the Falcons 15-9 in Pittsburgh
• Rashard Mendenhall rushed for the win in OT in a game largely controlled by the Steelers defense, which helped QB Dennis Dixon pick up his first career win.
• The Steelers scored on their first drive thanks to a 52-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, who broke the record for the longest field goal in Heinz Field history (previously 50 yards).
• Each team’s defense took over from there limiting the scoring. Dennis Dixon threw a costly interception, but the defense held its ground and Atlanta’s Matt Bryant missed the field goal. Jeff Reed would register a miss of his own, a 55-yarder after the two minute warning. Atlanta would capitalize on that field position as Bryant sent home a 49-yarder at the end of the half, tying the game at 3-3.
• Dennis Dixon came out looking much better in the second half as the team exchanged field goals in the third quarter, keeping the score tied at 6-6.
• Two big plays by Dennis Dixon set up a third Jeff Reed conversion, this time from 34 yards to give Pittsburgh a 9-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Dixon finished the day 18-of-26 for 236 yards and one interception, though the Falcons defense had a chance at two more.
• The defense stood strong in the red zone on the ensuing drive, limiting the high-powered Falcons offense to its third field goal. After a stalled drive by Pittsburgh, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu picked off a pass after the two minute warning, setting up Jeff Reed with a 40-yard field goal attempt. The kick would sail wide right and the teams would take a 9-9 tie into overtime.
• Atlanta won the coin toss but was stymied on the first drive of overtime by the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh only needed one play from there, as Rashard Mendenhall broke a 50-yard run on the offense’s first crack and took it into the endzone for a 15-9 Steelers victory. Mendenhall was bottled up for much of the day before then, but finished with 120 yards on 22 attempts.
• Hines Ward was the breadwinner on offense, catching six passes for 108 yards and hitting numerous milestones on the day.
• The pass-rushing tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley registered a sack and two hurries each. Bryant McFadden registered 15 total tackles to lead the defense, which allowed Falcons WR Roddy White to catch 13 passes for 111 yards.
• The run-defense looked stout, however, holding the Falcons power-rushing game to 58 yards and 2.3 yards per carry.
• Daniel Sepulveda continues to dominate in the punting game and averaged 50.8 yards on five punts.


RECORD BREAKERS
• Jeff Reed’s 52-yard field goal set the record for the longest field goal ever made at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001. It was also the second longest conversion of his career.
• Hines Ward registered his 26th 100-yard receiving game, passing Hall-of-Fame WR John Stallworth for the team record in that category.
• In addition, Ward became the first Steelers receiver to pass 11,000 receiving yards and 900 receptions.
• Ward also has caught a pass in 179-straight games, which ties WR Tim Brown for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.


BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Cleveland
(0-1) dropped its season opener to another cellar-dweller in Tampa Bay by a score of 17-14, largely due to three turnovers, two by free agent pickup QB Jake Delhomme. The on-again, off-again relationship between head coach Eric Mangini and RB Jerome Harrison seems to be set to off, as Harrison was forced to split duties with newly-acquired RB/FB Peyton Hillis. Hillis rushed for a touchdown but also lost a costly fumble. Cleveland will host a Kansas City team that beat division rival San Diego for sole possession of first place in the AFC West.


Baltimore (1-0) overcame three turnovers in a defensive battle between former coordinator Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, largely thanks to a disciplined style of football. The Jets committed 14 penalties for 125 yards and gave the Ravens six free first downs, including one on a 5-yard defensive holding call as Baltimore was lined up in a third-and-28.


The Ravens new offense started slow but showed some major promise in living up to what may have been one of the best offseasons in the NFL. WR Anquan Boldin, acquired in a trade with Arizona, dominated the Jets with seven catches for 110 yards. TE Todd Heap looks like he’s regained his Pro Bowl form and caught six passes for 72 yards. Newly-signed wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh only grabbed one reception for 28 yards, but repeatedly drew penalties on the Jets defense.


Cincinnati (0-1) was utterly dominated by the New England Patriots in a score that wasn’t as close as the 38-24 final suggests. Cincinnati failed to score a touchdown until midway through the third quarter, when New England already held a 31-3 lead. The Bengals were burned for two touchdown returns, one on a kick return by Brandon Tate, and one on a Carson Palmer interception.


Cincinnati’s young, promising defense failed to record a sack or a turnover, and allowed Tom Brady and the New England offense to convert nine of their thirteen chances on third down. One positive: Chad Ochocinco backed up his talk… sort of. Ocho finished with 12 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, though most of that damage came after halftime when the Patriots already had a commanding lead and were playing a prevent defense.


MIKE LIKED…
Dennis Dixon’s level of improvement thus far, especially against Atlanta.


“I thought he got better as the game went on,” explained Tomlin. “There were some situations early in the game where he was delivering the ball to the appropriate target but it was falling short. I thought as the game wore on, he was not one making the routine plays, but he was creating a little bit. I thought that stepping up in the pocket and hitting Hines [Ward] on a third-and-9-plus was a signature play of the game. Of course, we’re going with him because we feel he’s going to continue to evolve, not just in practice, but when he steps into stadiums as well.”


STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
QB Byron Leftwich continues to work back from a knee sprain suffered in the team’s final preseason game. He will receive limited work in practice this week and will be DOUBTFUL against Tennessee.


LT Max Starks suffered an “inversion ankle sprain” or low-ankle sprain as opposed to the high-ankle sprain that was initially reported. General recovery time for such an injury is 2-6 weeks, making him DOUBTFUL in Week 2. Jonathan Scott will start in his place.


NT Casey Hampton has a hamstring injury and is QUESTIONABLE at best. Chris Hoke would get the nod if Hampton can’t go.


TITANS INJURY UPDATE
The Titans are one of the few teams in the NFL to come out of the opening week unscathed and will take a relatively healthy roster into week two.


MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY
Can the Steelers defense contain Titans RB Chris Johnson? Pittsburgh held Johnson to just 57 yards rushing in the season opener last year, but Johnson has clearly improved since then. He led the league in rushing last year with 2,006 yards, becoming just the sixth back in NFL history to top the 2,000-mark and enters the game with a streak of 12-straight 100-yard rushing games.


TITANS TO WATCH
RB Chris Johnson; QB Vince Young; WRs Nate Washington and Kenny Britt; TE Bo Scaife; OTs Michael Roos and David Stewart; DEs William Hayes, Jason Babin, Jacob Ford, and Derrick Morgan; DTs Jason Jones and Tony Brown; CBs Cortland Finnegan and Jason McCourty; FS Michael Griffin; SS Chris Hope


LOCAL CONNECTIONS
• S Chris Hope played for the Steelers from 2002-05 and was part of the team’s 2005 Super Bowl win.
• WR Nate Washington also played for the team from 2005-09 and was a solid third receiver in the 2008 Super Bowl season.
• LB Patrick Bailey played for the Steelers on special teams (2008-09), but was cut following this year’s training camp.
• QB Kerry Collins and LB Tim Shaw played collegiately at Penn State.
• Assistant special teams coach Marty Galbraith coached at Pitt in 1991, while offensive line coach Mike Munchak played at Penn State.


ACCORDING TO TOMLIN
“That quality of performance [against Atlanta] is probably not going to be good enough to secure victory this week in a hostile environment versus the Tennessee Titans. That’s how it is. We’ve got some days to improve and get better, to better understand what kind of football team we are and what we need to do to win football games and what we need to do to prepare to do it.”
– Discussing the level of play required to beat the Tennessee Titans, who powered past Oakland for a 38-13 largely on the strength of efficient quarterback play and a dominant running game.


“It is a tough place to play, particularly if they get you behind the chains or behind on the scoreboard. [The defensive line] can get off and they’re an attacking, penetrating group up front. They create negative plays. It’s demoralizing. It ignites their fans. It’s what playing on the road in the National Football League is about. It’s an awesome challenge. We need to prepare for it so we can enjoy it. If you’re ill-prepared for it, it’s not fun.” – On the Titans’ home, LP Field, and the type of environment it provides to opposing teams. Tomlin said that the team will likely have to use a silent count for most of the game in response to the crowd noise.


“I’m not opposed to it. What I am for is ringing up the scoreboard. If him running helps us do that, I’m all in.” – When asked if he would like to see QB Dennis Dixon run the ball a bit more on offense. Dixon rushed for 91 yards on 14 attempts in the preseason.


“It wasn’t [from being] tentative. It probably had more to do with excitement or aggression. In some of those situations, they were bringing heat or potentially bringing heat and he was speeding up the delivery process, which caused some fundamental issues with his delivery. It’s actually the opposite of being tentative-it’s aggressive-so that’s encouraging; but I’d like the throws to be more on target.” – When asked if tentativeness was the cause for Dixon’s habit of throwing balls low against Atlanta.


“Any opportunity to put points on the board, I’m not going to hesitate to use Jeff Reed. He’s a good kicker. He’s ridiculously consistent, particularly at Heinz Field. He’s more experienced and more successful than any man who’s ever played in that stadium.” – Discussing kicker Jeff Reed, who missed two field goals on Sunday, but completed three more. The two misses were a 55-yarder near the end of the first half and a 40-yarder that would have been a game-winner at the end of regulation.


LOOK FOR…
RB Isaac Redman to continue to get looks in the short-yardage game. Redman had three chances to tote the ball in third-and-one situations and converted two of them.


SPLASH TALK
“He adds an element to the preparation equation. This guy can break you down with his legs, whether it’s by design or otherwise. They’re running some speed option with him and he’s getting yards in chunks that way. Of course, if you cover his eligibles up and give him an escape lane, he’s capable of hurting you and hurting you bad with his legs.”
– On the multi-talented Vince Young, who is a threat to both pass and run for big chunks of yardage and took a major step forward as a passer last season.


“There’s a level of respect that goes with playing guys like him. I used to work for Monte Kiffin. He used to tell stories about Barry Sanders. He’d say they shut him down other than the two plays where he went 80 yards. That’s the kind of guy this guy is. It’s not a quarter battle; it’s not a half battle. It’s a 60-minute battle.” – Discussing the big-play capabilities of RB Chris Johnson, whose current streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games (12) is second to Barry Sanders’ 14-game streak. Sanders, of course, is a hall-of-famer who is universally regarded as the most elusive runner in NFL history and is almost always in the conversation for best running back ever.


“In order for us to see our way out of this situation, we need to have a one foot in front of the other mentality. We need to be singularly focused on what’s in front of us. That’s the only way we’re going to work ourselves out of this situation. As the leader of the outfit, I’m going to subscribe to that as well. I refuse to ponder the potential or hypothetical scenarios that wait for us at the end of this situation. I’m in the midst of it. I’m living it, like our football team is. I refuse to address any other element of it other than what we have right now, which is a Tuesday.” – On why he refused to acknowledge (earlier this week on a radio show) whether or not Ben Roethlisberger would be the team’s starting quarterback upon his return from a four-game suspension.


THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
The Steelers haven’t had any continuity in their offensive line in the last dozen years, replacing one or two members every year due to injury or general level of play. This year, the Steelers changed starters at RT (Flozell Adams in place of the injured Willie Colon) and center (Rookie Maurkice Pouncey took the job from Justin Hartwig).


The last time the Steelers were able to carry over one year’s starting offensive line to opening day of the next season? 1997, when the Steelers returned all five starters from their 1996 unit: OTs John Jackson and Justin Strzelczyk, OGs Will Wolford and Brenden Stai, and C Dermontti Dawson.

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