The Pittsburgh Steelers open the 2013 regular season at home against the Tennessee Titans, looking to snap a streak of having lost their last two season openers. The Steelers have won their last 10 home openers, however, and this game is at Heinz Field, which bodes well for the outcome.
There were possibly a couple of surprises among the inactives before the game, with waiver pickups Antwon Blake and Cody Wallace both spending their first game with the team without a helmet. Blake, a special teamer, and Wallace, an offensive lineman, perhaps are not familiar enough with their responsibilities to be trusted right away.
Wallace being down means Kelvin Beachum is the backup center, and likely the first lineman off the bench at every position. Blake was brought in to be a gunner on special teams. With him down, rookie safety Shamarko Thomas should pair with Curtis Brown as the gunners.
Shaun Suisham’s opening kickoff was sort of a line drive that bounced toward the goal line, and Titans returner Darius Reynaud actually stepped out of the end zone to secure the ball. He brought it back behind the goal line to take a knee for a touchback, but the officials ruled that action as a safety, giving the Steelers both the early 2-0 lead and the ball.
Antonio Brown returned the ensuing kick and was able to bring it to the 41-yard line. Beachum began at tight end on the first snap. The first play of the game was a deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders that fell incomplete, but cornerback Jason McCourty was in good position to defend the ball. LaRod Stephens-Howling was the first back of the year to carry the ball, which he did for two yards to set up third and long.
On third down, Jerricho Cotchery checked into the game, and Ben Roethlisberger found him for the first down. Converting third downs will be Cotchery’s job this season. The Steelers quickly found themselves back in third and long, and this time it was Brown converting down the field after Roethlisberger left the pocket. Brown took an end around on the next play for four yards. Isaac Redman’s first carry of the year was quickly bottled up for a loss.
On the play, center Maurkice Pouncey fell to the ground injured. It appeared that right guard David DeCastro inadvertently cut blocked Pouncey in the leg, and was visibly upset. Beachum was forced to move to center following the injury.
On the eventual third down, Roethlisberger found Cotchery on the move, who was able to put in the extra effort and stretch to convert yet another third and long. Redman’s second carry was yet another bust, with three Titans already in pursuit by the time he reached the line of scrimmage.
On second down, Beachum’s snap was a bit high, but Roethlisberger found Sanders for nearly 10 yards. On third and inches, Redman fumbled the ball, which spilled into the end zone and was recovered by the Titans for a touchback. Redman never had a good grip on the handoff.
The Steelers defense took the field for the first time, and on first down, nose tackle Steve McLendon was in Jake Locker’s face, but he found his target for a first down. Two plays later, he ran for another first down. On second and six, Brett Keisel laid into Locker on an incomplete pass. On third down, Locker had plenty of time to find the open target for the first down.
Both Cameron Heyward and Al Woods were rotated in early, with Woods at nose tackle and Heyward in the nickel. Ziggy Hood made the tackle after a yard to set up another third down. Jarvis Jones checked in for the play, and the blitz resulted in an incomplete pass. Tennessee was flagged for pass interference, however, which set up third and 14 at the 40-yard line. The pass fell incomplete yet again, and with the penalty, they were out of field goal range.
Isaac Redman was back in the backfield on the first snap on the next drive. On first down, Roethlisberger found Sanders for eight yards, who reeled in the high pass for his quarterback to set up second and short. Cotchery’s block helped Brown secure the first down on the next play.
Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play, and it is difficult to assign blame, but Felix Jones seemed to be among those at fault. The Steelers now faced third and 15, and once again he was sacked. Zoltan Mesko booted a 51-yard punt on his first attempt with the team, and Reynaud returned it 12 yards. Thomas made the stop at the Titans’ 46.
LaMarr Woodley got the Steelers’ first sack of the year on second down to end the first quarter, setting up a third and 18 to begin the second quarter. In the meantime, Pouncey was downgraded to out and was reported to be heading to a local hospital for an MRI on his knee, which was clearly the more realistic ending than the earlier ‘questionable’ prognosis.
The Titans pinned the Steelers deep in their own end on the punt, but Brown converted a first down on the first play to gain some breathing room. Redman carried for about three yards on the next play. Roethlisberger’s second-down pass was batted down at the line. On third down, Roethlisberger found Brown on a slant to convert yet another third and long.
David Johnson made the catch on the next play to convert another first down after Roethlisberger cut a bootleg short following pressure. On the next play, Redman lost the ball yet again, but he was able to recover. He was benched for the play with Stephens-Howling coming into the game and carrying for four yards, setting up third and 11. The third down pass actually lost yardage. Mesko’s punt went deep, and Curtis Brown made the tackle at the 19-yard line.
Jarvis Jones began the next series on defense in place of Jason Worilds on the right side as part of a promised rotation. Chris Johnson was able to get about seven yards on the first play with a good block on the right side. Jarvis Jones blew Johnson up on the next play unblocked. The Titans converted on third down, but an illegal shift negated the gain, setting up third and long. On third down, the ball was bounced up in the air, and Troy Polamalu nearly was able to adjust for the interception. William Gay was in on the pass defense.
The Steelers received their first penalty of the day on the punt, with Worilds being flagged for an illegal block in the back. Felix Jones was in the backfield for the Steelers on the ensuing possession after Redman’s early ineffectiveness and fumbles. On third down, Roethlisberger was intercepted targeting Sanders at midfield for the second turnover on the day.
With the help of an offsides penalty, the Titans quickly got down to the 35-yard line. On third and two, the Steelers were able to stop the Titans just short of the first down, but were able to convert on fourth and inches after second effort.
Another first down at the two-minute warning found Tennessee in the red zone. After two carries, the Titans had first and goal inside the five. Jackie Battle steamrolled into the end zone for the touchdown to take a 7-2 lead, taking advantage of the good field position off the turnover.
With just 44 seconds remaining in the half after the score, the Steelers did not have much chance to make a move, but they will get the ball after halftime. Cortez Allen was reported as questionable to return with an ankle injury. The Steelers have now lost two of their most vital players at the two positions that they could least afford to.