Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers laid an egg last week, they still head into this Monday night game against the Tennessee Titans with a chance to make up ground and move into second outright in the AFC North behind the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 6-3-1. They currently find themselves in a three-way tie for second with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, who are all 6-4.
The Steelers certainly have some road demons to exorcise tonight, where the offense has produced 13 points or less in four of their five games, including three games of scoring only 10 points or less. But it’s difficult to dismiss the 15-touchdown splurge that the offense produced in the three games preceding the loss to the New York Jets a week ago.
Pittsburgh will be motivated to get the ground game moving along again with long-time Oiler and Titan Mike Munchak‘s first trip to the visiting locker room in Tennessee, and, though they have some missing pieces on defense, if they can avoid a slow start, they should be able to find success against rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Markus Wheaton remained as the kick returner for the second week and brought the ball out to the 32-yard line. On first down, Le’Veon Bell got the handoff and easily found the left edge for 12 yards against a blitz. He was blasted at the line of scrimmage on the next play. On second down, he found another seam around a pulling Will Johnson for 19 yards. On his fourth consecutive run, he kept things going with a gain of about five yards. On second and five, Jurrell Casey got to Bell again for a loss of one, beating Kelvin Beachum. On third and six, they gave it to Bell again, but only for a couple yards. Shaun Suisham came on on fourth down to give the Steelers an early 3-0 lead with a 49-yard field goal.
Mettenberger took over at the 20 after a touchback by Suisham. On first down, William Gay jumped a route and took advantage of a slip by Justin Hunter to pick the ball off and returned it for the score to give the Steelers a 10-3 lead five minutes in.
Suisham’s second kickoff came up short, which enabled the Titans to field and return it to the 33. Bishop Sankey started Tennessee’s second drive with a three yard run to the left. On second down, Mettenberger found Kendall Wright for the first down, and Brice McCain was flagged for a face mask in addition to missing the tackle, putting the Titans on the Steelers’ 35. Sankey picked up another three yards in Steelers territory. With time to throw, Mettenberger was able to find Wright again down the field to set up first and goal. Sankey scored on the next play from nine yards out to make it a 10-7 game.
After a hold on the return, the Steelers started their second drive just inside the 10-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger‘s first pass went to Martavis Bryant on a screen for three yards. On second and seven, Roethlisberger used play action to throw open Heath Miller for a gain of about 20 yards. With a new set of downs, Bell got the ball, but Casey was once again in the backfield for a stop. On second and 10, Roethlisberger escaped pressure and threw to Bryant right in front of the cornerback just shy of the first down. On third and short, the pass was low but fielded by Antonio Brown to move the chains.
After the first down, Roethlisberger went down the field to Miller again and hit his tight end for 22 yards down to the 33. Bell weaved through traffic at the line to escape for another first down for 10+ yards. From the 21, Bell was stopped just short of the red zone for less than a yard. Roethlisberger threw to Bryant in the end zone, but couldn’t get the ball there quick enough and the cornerback caught up to prevent the score. Brown converted on a hot pass to set up first and goal.
On first and goal from the six, Bell was stopped after about a yard. On second down, Bell was stopped from getting to the corner on a fade pass for an incompletion. Now on third and goal, with four wide, Roethlisberger overthrew Bryant to the far left corner of the end zone. Suisham’s field goal from 23 yards out made it 13-7.
Suisham kept the ball well within the field a play once again that allowed the Titans excellent field position for the second straight drive at the 40-yard line. On first down, Sankey found space off the right side for nine yards near midfield. Shonn Greene put the Titans within Steelers territory to end the first quarter.
On first down from the Steelers’ 48, Mettenberger fired down the field and hit Dexter McCluster for 17 yards on the ground. Lawrence Timmons brought down Sankey near the line of scrimmage on the following play. On second and nine, the Titans executed an excellent screen to set up first down goal to Wright, down to the seven. Mettenberger looked for McCluster over the middle, but he tripped and could not hold on to the ball. On second and goal, McCluster fired up the middle for close to five yards down to near the two. Sankey checked in for third down. He lost his footing on the carry and was taken down for no gain, forcing the Titans to settle for a field goal to make it 13-10.
On his third return, Wheaton took it across the 20 again, tackled at about the 24. Off play action, Roethlisberger threw down the field to Brown, but the safety broke it up. Looked like he was there early. Bell was dragged down for a loss from the backside on second down. On third and long, Roethlisberger bought all the time he could before a rusher finally got loose for a clear coverage sack. Brad Wing booted the first punt of the game and Vince Williams made the tackle at the 48.
Brett Keisel knocked down Mettenberger’s pass on first down at the line of scrimmage. Sean Spence buried Jackie Battle after reading the screen pass, beating the pulling guard for a loss of five on the play. On third and 15, Mettenberger’s pass was caught, but shy of the first down as the Titans were forced to punt for the first time.
Taking over at the 13, Roethlisberger hit Miller high for a short gain and was hammered by the safety after two yards. On second and eight, he found Brown for the first down on the run cutting across the middle. Dri Archer juggled his first target, eventually coming down with the ball…for a loss of five. On second and 15, Roethlisberger directed Brown open as he held on to the ball against a three-man rush, finding his favorite target to set up third and six. On third down, the play was blown dead after a false start to make it third and 11.The Steelers brought four receivers on the field plus Bell, and Brown got open to convert the long third down as he curled out and in to the sideline.
Bell picked up seven yards with some nice, patient running off the left side near midfield. On second and three, he cut through the middle into Titans territory for nine. From the 42, he got it again, this time for about three yards as the Steelers started to look to drain the clock and make this the last possession of the half. LeGarrette Blount checked in for the last play before the two-minute warning, and Roethlisberger took a sack for minimal loss. On third and eight after the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger beat the blitz, hitting Brown on a quick slant at the chains.
From the 31, Roethlisberger stood up under pressure and threw over the top to Miller for about 11 yards inside the red zone. From the 20, Roethlisberger looked to the end zone for Bryant, but it was broken up by the cornerback, just getting a fingertip on the ball. On second down, Bell got the handoff for about three yards to set up another third and long, getting the feeling of the foreshadowing of yet another field goal. On third and seven, Roethlisberger threw the ball right to Jason McCourty for the touchback on an awful decision by the quarterback to take points off the board. Mettenberger found Nate Washington for an 80-yard touchdown on a double move against Gay to take an improbably 17-13 lead into halftime, after which they will get the ball back.
Wheaton took the kickoff on the run and returned it out to the 20-yard line with 23 seconds remaining in the half. Roethlisberger fired a quick one deep down the field in Wheaton’s direction, but it was over everybody’s head. With 16 seconds remaining, he was sacked for a short loss at the Steelers let the half expire.