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Steelers vs Titans First Half Notes And Observations

Below are my notes and observations from the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

  • The first observation is obvious: the Steelers may have finally found a return man in Markus Wheaton. I don’t think any other Steelers returner has even been able to bring the ball out to the 30-yard line this year on a kickoff. He has the requisite speed as well as enough strength to work through some contact.
  • You think the Steelers wanted to set a tone early in the running game? The offense got things started with six straight runs by Le’Veon Bell, which is more than half of his total from all of last week. That included runs of 12 and 19 yards, but also runs of two, zero, and minus one. All three of those run stops came courtesy of Jurrell Casey. Still, it get them to the 31-yard line for an opening drive field goal.
  • The Steelers opened the game in their base package despite being without nose tackle Steve McLendon, meaning Daniel McCullers was on the field, but the real story is that James Harrison was out there instead of Arthur Moats.
  • On said opening play, Zach Mettenberger threw behind Justin Hunter, who was stumbling and unable to adjust anyway, which allowed William Gay to jump the route and return the interception for a touchdown.
  • After coming close to sending the opening kickoff out of bounds, the Steelers changed tactics and had Shaun Suisham squib the kickoffs, to avoid both the wind as well as Leon Washington. The first such effort allowed the Titans to begin their second drive on the 33-yard line.
  • On the Titans’ first running play, Harrison was able to come off the block of the tight end to make the tackle on Bishop Sankey after a three-yard gain.
  • A missed tackle plus a facemask by Brice McCain allowed Tennessee to move from its own 36 to the Steelers’ 35 in one play.
  • The Titans set up first and goal a couple plays later on a 23-yard pass off a simple two-receiver route combination, despite the Steelers dropping six in coverage. Mike Mitchell stayed back to guard the deep route while Will Allen broke off run support to drop into an unoccupied zone.
  • Somehow Cam Thomas was the only player unable to get off his block on Sankey’s nine-yard touchdown run, and he was the one man more than any who needed to. McCullers nearly made the play on his own, while Sean Spence couldn’t wrap the back up from behind. Mitchell was dragged into the end zone.
  • On the Steelers’ next offensive play, Heath Miller could not get out ahead of the safety in time on a screen pass to Martavis Bryant that went for only three yards.
  • He made up for it a play later with a 19-yard reception. The offense created false run keys, pulling the guard, drawing in the tight end prior to the snap, and using play action to work Miller open.
  • Casey beat Marcus Gilbert on the following play to tackle Bell for no gain, his fourth run stop in seven running plays.
  • He then beat Gilbert again on the next play against the pass, rushing Ben Roethlisberger, who was able to find Bryant coming back to the ball for eight yards.
  • Then the Steelers took a lesson from the Cleveland Browns and went vertical out of a three tight end set, finding Miller open for 23 yards.
  • From the 20, Roethlisberger got vertical again, this sell to Bryant. He actually sold the inside route well and created plenty of separation for himself, but there were two problems with this play: one, the ball hung in the air, and two, Bryant didn’t go and get it. Instead, he waited on it, which allowed Blidi Wreh-Wilson to catch up and knock it away.
  • Antonio Brown converted two first downs on the drive, but they still had to settle for a field goal from the five-yard line.
  • Following another squib kick returned to the 40, the Titans used two long passes to respond with a field goal drive of their own, including a 23-yard screen pass to Kendall Wright. They used motion to find him one on one with Allen in coverage, and the left tackle proceeded to clear him out of the play, opening up real estate down to the seven.
  • The Steelers caught a break when Sankey tripped over his quarterback’s foot on third and goal at the two. But then again they got lucky on first and goal too as Dexter McCluster slipped and couldn’t pull in a leading pass in front of him that would have been a score.
  • Yes, Dri Archer was open and Roethlisberger didn’t see him on a wheel route on which he took a nine-yard sack on third and 20. No, it’s not a conspiracy.
  • It’s good to see that Brett Keisel still knows how to bat down balls.
  • A reminder of what kind of player Spence actually is. On second and 10, he sniffs out the screen pass to the back, beats the pulling lineman, and hits the back as he catches the ball for a five-yard loss. Get him in space, let his instincts take over, and he can do really good things. Confine him in the box, throw bodies on him, and he’s going to struggle.
  • The safety was about eight yards away when Archer bobbled the ball on his one reception for a loss of five yards. The bobble gave him no chance to make a move around the defender, which he otherwise would have had, and that’s on him.
  • Thankfully, Brown was able to bail out the offense on 11, dipping between two defenders and curling out for a 17-yard gain.
  • Three straight carries for Bell totaling 19 yards got the ball inside the 40, but Brown had to convert another third down to keep the drive going. After an 11-yarder to Miller brought the Steelers to the 20, however, Roethlisberger was intercepted on third and seven trying to force him the ball in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Jason McCourty.
  • The Titans immediately responded with an 80-yard touchdown as Nate Washington caught Gay jumping a route on a double move and Allen bit on the underneath. This is more on the safety than the cornerback. Either way, it allowed the Titans to take a lead into the locker room, producing at least a 10-point swing in the last minute of the second quarter.
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