Week 1 Game Recap: Tennessee Titans 7, Pittsburgh Steelers 34
What you need to know
The Titans unveiled a new offense, courtesy of their new offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, designed to give their quarterback Steve McNair quick targets, while eliminating the seven-step drop as a way of protecting their leader. It worked to near perfection in the opening drive as McNair completed four of five passes for 37 yards, including a one yard touchdown pass to Ben Troupe to cap an 11 play, 61-yard drive. It would be their only score of the game. McNair’s numbers were efficient (18 of 26 for 219 yards, a touchdown and an interception), with many of his completions of the short or medium variety, but the Titans committed four turnovers (two in the red zone) and gave up three sacks to the Steelers’ defense.
Erron Kinney and Ben Troupe combined for nine receptions and 86 yards, as McNair looked to them often in a two tight end sets (11 targets). They were found often in the gaps of the Steelers 3-4 defense and were responsible for five first downs. Troupe caught two of McNair’s first four completions for 15 yards, and a one yard touchdown pass for an early lead and Kinney consistently picked up good yardage (10.8 yards per catch). Drew Bennett led the Titans in receiving yards with 79, but he dropped two passes (one for an interception), and as the only deep threat on the team, was double covered a good majority of the game.
Chris Brown led the Titans in rushing with 63 yards on ten carries, including a 24 yards in the opening scoring drive and a 35 yard gain in the second quarter. But he was unable to help the Titans move the ball consistently and found himself platooning with fellow back Travis Henry. Henry had ten carries for 35 yards with a long gain of 22 and a fumble lost. Of the Titans 97 yards rushing, 57 of them came on two plays. The remaining 21 attempts totaled 40 yards.
Four Titans’ offensive drives stalled in Steelers territory, two from turnovers, one on a missed field goal and a punt. Too many mistakes, including a holding penalty after a successful fourth down conversion pass from McNair to receiver Brandon Jones in the third quarter, prevented the Titans from finding out just how effective Chow’s new offense could be. Down 27-7 just a few minutes into the third quarter quarter, the Titans abandoned their running game, but could only manage to pad a few passing/receiving stats en route to losing their first game of the season.
The Steelers won their 14th consecutive regular season game on the heels of their running game, which totaled 206 yards on 41 carries. It made an easy day for Ben Roethlisberger, who used the play action pass to complete nine of 11 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. He spread out his completions over six different receivers.
Like McNair, Roethlisberger was sharp on the Steelers’ first drive, completing five of six passes, highlighted by a 48 yard screen to RB Willie Parker. The drive ended on a second down play action pass to rookie TE Heath Miller for a four yard score. Roethlisberger didn’t complete another pass until the second quarter, when he hit Antwaan Randle El for a 63 yard touchdown. Roethlisberger would attempt just four more passes the rest of the game, completing three of them.
With Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis nursing injuries, the Steelers put the ball in the hands of Willie Parker. With just 32 carries all last year, Parker (5-10, 209) responded with a 22 carry, 161-yard performance, a touchdown and 48 receiving yards for 209 total yards. Parker had no problems running up the middle, outside the tackles or bouncing off would-be tacklers. While several of his runs reached double digits (he had gains of 45, 25, 15 and 14), he was still able to chip away for 3.44 yards per carry on his other 18 carries. With the game in hand, Parker was lifted late in the third quarter and Verron Haynes cleaned up with 33 yards on 11 carries.
The defense played a big role as they tallied three sacks, one by Joey Porter that forced a fumble, and another by Clark Haggans. Ike Taylor and Chris Hope each recovered a loose ball and Troy Polomalu intercepted a pass that Drew Bennett bobbled after being hit by Hope. The unit limited the Titans to 131 second half yards.
What you ought to know
|QB Steve McNair, Pass: 18 - 26 - 219 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - -1 - 0|
McNair was effective throughout the game, completing 69% of his passes, but after the initial scoring drive, he found it difficult to move the ball downfield. He managed the new offense well, using quick three and five step drops to complete four of his first five passes and found Ben Troupe on a bootleg for a one yard touchdown pass. His success continued on their second drive as he went four of four before a Travis Henry fumble killed their momentum. He helped the Titans get into field goal range on their third drive, but the kick sailed wide right. He was able to release one deep ball to Drew Bennett for 53 yards in the second quarter, putting them in the red zone, but Bennett dropped a ball two plays later and the pass was intercepted. McNair fell victim to his teammates’ mistakes and could only do so much on his own. He had to settle for many passes underneath, which resulted in his efficient, yet unspectacular afternoon.
Volek, who entered training camp as the starting quarterback, was supplanted by Kerry Collins and was inactive for this game.
It was a record-setting start to the career of Marcus Mariota. The Titans adjusted their playbook perfectly to his skill set without oversimplifying his responsibilities. This allowed Mariota to prosper as he repeatedly found the open receiver and made accurate throws from the pocket. His running ability was still evident, but Mariota's crisp footwork and precision passing ability was the basis of the offense. His first throw of the game was his most impressive, not because of its difficulty but rather the timing and placement on a pass to Kendall Wright. Too often these passes from Titans quarterbacks haven't hit their intended receiver in stride. With Mariota, every pass was arriving where it should and when it should. It allowed the whole offense to function better than it has in a very, very long time.
Brown started off well, gaining 24 yards on five carries in the opening drive with helped set up a one yard bootleg pass from Steve McNair to Ben Troupe. Thanks to the running back by committee approach in Tennessee, he wouldn’t see his next carry until the second quarter, when he broke two tackles and chugged down the sidelines for a 35 yard gain, a key play which put the Titans in field goal range, only to have the kick miss right. He then ran into a brick wall by gaining just seven yards on his next six carries.
Henry entered the game briefly for one carry on the Titans’ opening drive for no gain. On the second play of the second quarter (his third carry) he fumbled after a James Farrior hit. He saw limited action until the final quarter when the game was well out of reach. He had six carries for 30 yards on the Titans final two drives, one of which went for 22 yards.
Greene had a handful of carries in the first half as he spelled Johnson. He made good reads behind some good blocking to get as much as he could out of each play. However, Greene went out with a right knee injury early on and gave way to Jackie Battle.
The fullback spent most of the game opening holes for Brown and White.
With Javon Ringer inactive, Jamie Harper took over as the Titans number two running back and performed well in relief of Chris Johnson considering the Jaguars were keyed in on the run. Harper had a nice 21 yard gain on a screen pass up the middle. His three runs were all up the middle and resulted in modest yardage. Harper missed one block that allowed Matt Hasselbeck to be pressured as well.
Derrick Henry was worked in here and there throughout the game, but only accounted for 5 total carries on the day as he was primarily used in either a decoy or blocking role. Henry’s best play of the game came on what looked like a busted screen play, but Henry switched fields and accelerated through a number of tackles on his way to a team-high 29 yard gain. Henry also played a key part in the first Demarco Murray touchdown as he fooled Minnesota’s defense on play action to set up the open look for Murray.
Demarco Murray got the starting nod and ended up being the more utilized back on the day with a team high 13 carries compared to only 5 for Derrick Henry. Murray exhibited great vision on a 12-yard run on the first possession, and he looked good overall throughout the first half with most of his runs going for 4 or more yards. Murray was heavily utilized in the passing game as well, with both of his touchdowns coming through the air. The first of his 2 touchdowns was definitely the more eye-popping of the two as Murray snagged the short dump-off from play action and flipped over a defender landing on his back in the endzone Murray’s other touchdown came in garbage time, a quick pass into the end zone from the 4-yard line. Murray did have an injury scare come early in the 2nd half as he limped off the field after being rolled over on after a play, but he was quickly back out there as if nothing had happened. Murray’s primary mis-step of the game was a big one though as he fumbled due to flat out improper ball security, resulting in the team’s second consecutive turnover to cap off an epic Titans meltdown.
Ringer looked good on his 15 yard TD run. If he gets red zone carries going forward, he'll have some fantasy value, but it’s hard to see the Titans taking out Chris Johnson too often in that field position. He confirms his worth as a handcuff to Johnson, though.
Bennett, their only downfield threat, had a mixed day. He did have three receptions for 79 yards, and made a nice catch that was ruled out of bounds that would have gone for 28 had the throw been on target. But he also dropped a couple of passes, and had difficulty shaking double coverage (he wasn’t targeted until 9:12 left in the second quarter). The Titans didn’t use a ton of three or four wide formations, so it was hard for Bennett to get separation from Pittsburgh’s top defenders. Bennett’s highlight was a nifty over the shoulder catch past two defenders for a 53 yard gain in the second quarter, but two plays later, he bobbled a pass in the air, which was then intercepted.
Jones was targeted once, but did not catch a ball.
After his sophomore season was ruined by an injury, Calico will be looked to fill the void that was left when Derrick Mason went to Baltimore. The result was two receptions for two yards. They came on consecutive plays late in the first quarter as McNair hit him on screens, one to each side of the field, where he was promptly brought down for gains of two and zero. McNair did attempt a deep pass to Calico in the third quarter, but the ball was overthrown.
Harry Douglas had a quiet but impressive game for the Titans in his debut. His first reception was the result of a beautiful Mariota pass down the seam as he pulled the ball in with a defender on his back. After that, he caught a touchdown pass in the redzone after working infield to wide open space for the reception. Unless Hakeem Nicks makes an unexpected return to the roster this week, Douglas appears to be comfortably the team's second starter at this point.
Gage was asked to run short and intermediate routes, caught half of the passes thrown to him and had a marginal impact on the passing game.
Givens, a free agent acquisition, had catches of 11, 14, and two yards. The first two converted third downs into first downs. Givens had single coverage and was targeted on a deep fade pass attempt from Vince Young, but the ball was severely underthrown and was picked off. Givens appeared to have a step on the Jets’ defender and a better throw potentially could have resulted in a 29 yard touchdown.
Andre Johnson was only targeted twice in the first half, receiving his first reception near the end of the third quarter as he showed superior hand strength to haul in a well defended 16-yard pass. One of those first half targets was what looked like a sure-fire touchdown, but it was just slightly overthrown to where Johnson had to lunge for it. Johnson did get his hands on the ball and should have had the catch, but it barely slipped beyond his reach.
Rishard Matthews received the fewest targets (4) among Titans receivers, finishing with a very meager 26 yards on 3 receptions. Matthews was touted as a potential WR1 for the Titans, but it was evident after today that Tajae Sharpe has staked his claim on that role. He did not help himself by dropping a key pass in the 3rd quarter on 3rd and 11 to cap off a 3-and-out.
Continuing where he left off in preseason, Tajae Sharpe was the focal point of Tennessee’s passing attack as he finished the day with 7 receptions from a team-high 11 targets. It was clear from the start that Mariota favored Sharpe as he was targeted twice in a row with Mariota’s first pass attempts. Sharpe consistently found space and made plays on the ball throughout the day, but he never did make a huge play despite being targeted on 3 deep balls that resulted in incompletions.
What was really impressive about Wright was his quick feet. He seems so much quicker and faster than everyone else, and that showed up on underneath routes, as he primarily was used on short slants and easy routes. Wright only had 6 targets and came up with 5 receptions. He seemed very energetic and was fired up each time he made a play. His signature play came on a slant pass from Hasselbeck. Despite the fact that he was running full speed towards the left sideline, he stopped on a dime, and cut back to the center of the field, getting down to the 1. It was only 7 yards, but was a thing of beauty. It’s too bad that he didn’t score, as CJ was stopped for -5 on the next play and the Titans failed to get a TD. Wright didn’t get the ball thrown to him deep in this one, and throughout the pre-season and game one, has been used primarily in the middle of the field.
Kinney was the beneficiary of the Titans’ new look offense, as he caught five passes for 58 yards. His first catch was an over the middle dump that went for 12 yards down to the Steelers one yard line, which set the stage for a touchdown pass to Ben Troupe. Kinney would later have receptions of 13, 13, 11 and nine yards. His big frame made an easy target for McNair, and a good safety option when the quarterback was under pressure.
Troupe was questionable to play but once on the field, he was effective. The up and coming tight end caught a 16 yard pass putting the Titans in the red zone on their first drive, and was rewarded with a one yard touchdown pass four plays later. The pass was actually behind the line of scrimmage, but Troupe fought off the ankle tackle and dove forward with the ball outstretched to the goal line, giving the Titans an early lead.
Scaife caught one 12 yard pass.
Anthony Fasano was always going to play in this offense, but it wasn't obvious that he would have such a big role. He should have scored a touchdown when Mariota tossed the ball to him in the flat on a triple-option read. Fasano ran down the sideline as quick as he could, but just stepped out of bounds before he could fall into the endzone. That was Fasano's only reception as he spent most of his day blocking.
Stevens got in the game when Scaife went down because Jared Cook was also out. He got one catch downfield for a first down, but it was overturned by penalty. He struggled mightily as a blocker against the Steelers ferocious OLBs.
Thompson is very much a backup tight end. He had his first target and reception underneath in the third quarter. Thompson's second target and reception came in the fourth quarter, as he adjusted well to an off target pass over the middle of the field.
Walker caught a quick pass underneath as the Steelers gave him space in zone coverage. Walker caught a bubble screen in the second quarter and did well to fend off Ryan Clark for an eight yard gain. Locker tried to find Walker deep down the sideline in the third quarter, but Locker missed him. Locker found Walker deep down the seam soon after. Walker fumbled the football, but showed enough athleticism and effort to recover it ahead of a Steelers' defender. Walker drew a deep pass interference penalty from Ryan Clark as the Titans were looking to drain the clock in the fourth quarter.
Bironas converted an extra point, but missed his only field goal attempt, a 47 yarder that sailed wide right. He had enough distance, but it began to tail off soon after it left his foot.
The Titans got off to a poor start by allowing 206 rushing yards, 161 of them to Willie Parker, third on the Steelers depth chart before the season started. They routinely missed tackles, trying to use their pads to knock down the 210 pound Parker to no avail. They gave up four big plays totaling 99 yards for Parker. Keith Bullock had five solo tackles and eight total, but he left the game with a slight calf strain in the second half.
They yielded 218 yards to Ben Roethlisberger on just nine completions, including a 63 yard touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El in double coverage. They also failed to pick up a screen pass to Willie Parker that went for 48 yards, and left tight end Jermane Tuman wide open down the middle for a 27 yard gain. They did not record a sack or a pass defended.
Roethlisberger looked sharp, his decisions were made quickly, and he was accurate. It also helped that with the running game going smoothly, he was able to coast on play-action passing and he was nine out of 11 for 218 yards with two touchdowns. He found Hines Ward twice for 25 yards during the first drive, Cedrick Wilson for another 12, and executed a nice screen pass to Willie Parker for 48 yards that put the Steelers inside the Titans’ five. Two plays later, he found Heath Miller in the back of the end zone to tie the game at seven. Roethlisberger’s biggest pass came in the second quarter when he launched an under thrown pass to Randle El, who adjusted to it, and beat the double coverage for a 63-yard score. “Big-Ben” looked as poised as he did during most of his rookie campaign last year, in which he won 13 consecutive regular season games.
Batch got the start in place of Ben Roethlisberger, who was sidelined after an emergency appendectomy earlier in the week. He upped his record as a starter for the Steelers to a perfect 3-0, as he passed for 209 yards and three scores. Batch also added 17 rushing yards to go with his 60% completion rate. His lone miscue was a fumble at the Dolphins’ one yard line in the fourth quarter, but his 87 yard touchdown pass to TE Heath Miller on the next drive more than made up for the gaffe.
|RB Willie Parker, Rush: 22 - 161 - 1, Rec: 1 - 48 - 0 (1 targets)|
With Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis on the mend, Parker took full advantage and racked up 161 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in just two and a half quarters of work. He started off a bit tenuous with four yards on his first four carries, but he took a screen pass for 48 yards to help set up the Steelers’ first score. His compact frame enabled him to stay balanced while taking hits, and his speed helped him shoot through holes up the middle. His touchdown run of 11 yards was a run right up the gut, in which he bounced off two tacklers at the five, and fell into the end zone after taking on a third hit. He left the game in the third quarter after a gain of 45 yards, where he was struck behind the line of scrimmage before he cut to the outside and put the Steelers on the Titans’ 14. Coach Bill Cowher said he expects Parker to start next week at Houston.
Haynes picked up where Parker left off, by scoring a five yard touchdown mid-way though the third quarter. He finished the game with 11 carries and 33 yards and will serve as the backup to Parker next week at Houston.
Kreider caught one pass for four yards in the fourth quarter, and was allegedly the target on a throw away by QB Charlie Batch in the second quarter. That ball was nowhere close to Kreider.
Archer was a relative non-factor in this game. He returned two kicks for 29 yards and had a 4-yard run early in the 1st quarter; he was targeted once in the passing game in the 2nd quarter, but Roethlisberger bounced a pass to him on a quick out route. Archer sprained his ankle and left the game in the second half; he has already been announced as 'questionable' for the Week #2 game against Baltimore.
Le’Veon Bell enjoyed the most productive game of his short career; he accumulated nearly 200 combined yards in the running and passing components of the Pittsburgh offense. Bell seems to be benefitting from his off-season weight loss, as he displayed explosiveness through developing holes in the defense. On the game’s opening drive, Bell caught a screen pass and scampered for 23 yards after the catch; he subsequently ran for a touchdown, but it was called back after left tackle was called for a holding penalty. In the second quarter, he caught another screen pass, ran past defenders, and broke a few tackles for a quick 30-yard gain. In the running game, Bell averaged over 5 yards per carry with his best carry of the day coming on a 38-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a carry where he showed superb vision to elude defenders and dance his way to the endzone.
This was the best DeAngelo Williams has looked rushing the ball in years. He was quick hitting the holes that the offensive line was opening up. On the first play of the game, Williams cut back and ran hard around the right side of the line for an 18 yard again. Two plays later, Williams took a RB draw for an 11 yard gain. He came out fast racking up 33 yards on his first three carries. He continued to eat up chunks of yardage on the ground over the next few series. On the fifth series of the game, he took a handoff up the middle for a 28 yard gain. On the same drive, 2nd and 4 from the New England 13 yard line, Williams took the hand-off around the left side of the line for a 10 yard gain. On 1st and goal from the 3 yard line, Williams fought hard but couldn't get in the end zone. This is when he was pulled for backup RB Will Johnson. Williams was not a factor in the passing game as he only received one passing target. He will have one more opportunity as the starting RB next week versus San Francisco.
Randle El made the highlight reel by scoring a touchdown in the second quarter. Under pressure, Roethlisberger tossed up a deep ball to Randle El, who broke stride and cut across to his right to make the catch. The defenders, also breaking stride were off balance and unable to wrap him up after the catch and he raced untouched for an additional 25 yards for the score. His second reception was a 26 yarder to open up the second half. Randle El also had a rush for six yards and returned a punt for 30 yards in the third quarter, but it was called back on a holding penalty.
|WR Hines Ward, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0, Rec: 2 - 25 - 0 (2 targets)|
Ward caught two passes for 25 yards on the Steelers first drive as he and Roethlisberger seemed intent on establishing themselves together after a rocky preseason. He also had one rush for minus one yard. With the running game peaking, and a large third quarter lead, he needed to do little else and was able to rest up for most of the second half.
Wilson got into the mix with two receptions for 26 yards; One for 12 yards on the opening drive, and another on an out pattern in where he turned up field for 14 yards to set up Parker’s 11 yard touchdown run.
Brown was the third receiver on the field when Pittsburgh went into 3-wide packages over fellow second-year player Emmanuel Sanders. After his big preseason and Sanders’ long recovery from multiple foot injuries in the offseason and preseason, Brown looks to have officially taken over that role. He was also targeted 9 times to Sanders’ 3. Sanders scored the team’s only touchdown, but it came on a 4-wide package with Brown on the field as well. In a normal game where the Steelers aren’t down big, they’ll use 3-wide much more than they use 4-wide which means Brown will see the field – and have an opportunity to score – more than the average #3 WR.
Darrius Heyward-Bey was inconsistent throughout the game. During the third series on a 3rd and 8, Heyward-Bey caught a 48 yard pass for a 1st down. While it was a good catch, the pass was perfectly dropped in by Ben Roethlisberger. During the fourth series on a 4th and 3 from the Patriots 35 yard line, Heyward-Bey caught a quick slant for the first down. On the same drive with thirteen seconds before halftime, Heyward-Bey caught a basket catch in the end zone for what looked to be a touchdown. It should have been an easy touchdown but his right foot was out of bounds on the chalk.
Sweed was supposed to be the 3A with Mike Wallace as the 3B, but he was nowhere to be found in the Steelers passing game, and you have to wonder if Wallace is making his move to relegate Sweed to the fourth WR on this team.
Wheaton had the strongest game of his short career while taking advantage of his matchup against rookie Browns’ cornerback, Justin Gilbert. He caught a 40-yard pass on a ‘go’ route in the first quarter, where he outran the cornerback; a better pass from Roethelisberger would have resulted in a touchdown, but Wheaton was forced out of bounds in order to make the catch. Wheaton caught every catchable pass thrown in his direction and looks to be the Steelers’ primary deep threat moving forward.
Miller caught the only pass thrown to him, a 3 yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.
Tuman caught a 27 yard pass late in the second quarter to help set up a field goal.
Johnson ran a crossing route when he beat Zach Brown for his first reception and a first down.
Spaeth caught his only target in the third quarter for a six yard gain.
Reed converted four extra points and hit field goals of 27 and 44 yards with plenty of room to spare.
The Steelers held the Titans to 97 yards rushing. Brown and Henry each had a long gain of 35 and 22, but managed just 41 yards on their other 19 carries, while McNair had minus one yard on two carries. James Farrior forced a fumble with a jarring hit on Travis Henry early in the second quarter. They committed just one penalty, a five yard facemask infraction by Farrior.
The Steelers gave up 219 yards to McNair, but kept the Titans out of scoring range for the most part. After a shaky opening drive in which they allowed four completions for 37 yards and a touchdown, they filled their gaps and closed passing lanes in the zone blitz defense. They gave up one big play to Drew Bennett, a 53 yard bomb, but made up for it with two interceptions and a sack/fumble.