By Jeremy Hritz
Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers blew an opportunity in Tennessee to secure their third victory of the season. When the fourth quarter concluded, the Steelers limped away from a 26-23 loss marred by injuries and mistakes.
Ike Taylor was victimized throughout the night by Kenny Britt and was called for two pass interference penalties and one for defensive holding.
Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert both were injured and were replaced in the lineup by Doug Legursky and Mike Adams.
And Shaun Suisham missed on a questionable 54-yard field goal attempt with 49 seconds left in the game that would have given the Steelers the lead and avoided the need to go to overtime.
Sprinkle in a blocked punt, and the contest against the Titans was almost as frustrating as it can get.
Following the game, the sky was falling in Pittsburgh, as the defense gave up a late drive for the Tennessee win, and the offense, while prolific through the air, struggled on the ground, only accumulating 56 yards rushing and a miserable 2.5 yards per carry.
The game was significant because it was an indication of things to come in an aggravating 8-8 season.
The 2013 season-opening contest against the Titans at Heinz Field is also significant, but for much different reasons, but most importantly because it will be the team’s first opportunity to show that they are a much different team from a year ago.
The good thing is that history is on the Steelers’ side, as they have won ten consecutive home-openers at Heinz Field. On the other hand, the Steelers have lost their previous two season openers, in 2011 against the Ravens and last season to the Denver Broncos.
Though the Steelers lost to the Titans last year, they are an ideal opponent to begin the season, and while no team is a cupcake and cannot be taken lightly in the NFL, the Titans finished 2012 at 6-10 and gave up a league-high 29.4 points per game. They were also ranked poorly in the categories of passing defense (26th) and rushing defense (24th).
In the preseason, the defensive issues from a season ago were still apparent for the Titans, and it could present a chance for the Steelers to get off to an excellent start offensively.
More than anything, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers have moved beyond their proclivity to play down to their competition and for committing senseless penalties, or as Mike Tomlin has put it, allowing the Steelers to beat the Steelers.
Next Sunday will provide the first glimpse of the 2013 Steelers and a true assessment will be able to be made as to whether or not they have improved on their forgettable 8-8- season. We will get to see the young offensive line put together a complete game of work, and hopefully, we get to see what Jarvis Jones can do as the new threat off of the edge for a full four quarters. And while not every question can be answered next week, we will have a much better idea if the Steelers truly are on the rebound.
Sunday can’t get here soon enough.