Are you telling me it’s game day again already? Didn’t we just do this like, yesterday? Four days ago already? Okay, but still. A blogger needs some recuperation time. Fine, let’s get on with it.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rode into the playoffs a year ago on the strength of a seven-game winning streak, which was the best run that they had since 2004, when they won 14 straight games. Given that it’s incredibly hard to do better than that, it is an unfair standard, but their current four-game winning streak is nothing to sneeze at, either.
One of the biggest remaining threats to that streak is in Pittsburgh tonight to take them on at Heinz Field in the Tennessee Titans, a team that ostensibly knows them well, with seven former players and coaches on their staff, including some big guns like head coach Mike Mularkey, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and offensive line coach Russ Grimm.
Of course, the Steelers also have Mike Munchak to counter at their disposal.
But really, if we’re talking about things to watch for relative to this incestuous relationship, the core component would have to be the relationship between LeBeau and his protégé, Keith Butler. Both of them know each other, and their system, well, because LeBeau created it and Butler helped hone it before molding it into his own over the past three years. So we’ll see how that mutual familiarity plays out.
But LeBeau knows Ben Roethlisberger a lot better than Butler knows Marcus Mariota, as well.
Still, Mariota hasn’t been much of a dynamic threat on the road for the most part this season, and one would think that the greater threat to the defense in this game would be the rushing pairing of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, both of whom have had success.
As I wrote about yesterday, the run defense has been improving over the past few games, and they also have their front seven intact and playing well for this one. I think this should be a good test to tell just where the run defense truly is.
Defensively, the Titans have allowed the fewest explosive plays through the air in the league, but the deep ball hasn’t been Pittsburgh’s strong suit this season anyway. Either way, I think it all lends itself to the aim of trying to find as much success as possible at an intermediate depth, which could be good news for somebody like Eli Rogers.
A LeBeau defense is probably going to focus on stopping the run. That is just what LeBeau defenses do. I think it’s more important than in any other game this season that the offensive line dominates in the trenches and provides running room for Le’Veon Bell, especially on a short week.
The tight end position is one to monitor if Vance McDonald doesn’t play, which sounds likely. How much of a role will Xavier Grimble and Chris Hubbard play?