The 7-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will host the 6-3 Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field Thursday night in a Week 11 AFC matchup and ahead of that game kicking off, there are several key storylines worth pointing out.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of Thursday’s game that will kickoff at 8:25 p.m. EST in Pittsburgh.
Short week for the weak? – The Steelers and Titans both played on Sunday and that means the two teams didn’t have much time to rest and prepare for the Thursday night game. The Titans offense played 90 snaps this past Sunday in their home win over the Cincinnati Bengals while the Steelers defense played less than 60 snaps in their Sunday road win over the Indianapolis Colts. Will any of those snap counts ultimately matter? It’s hard to say for sure but with the Steelers being the home team this week on a short week they have some degree of an advantage. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 5-0 at home on Thursday nights during his career. The Titans are 0-3 in their last three road Thursday night games.
Out of Joe – Steelers cornerback Joe Haden suffered a broken fibula in the team’s Sunday road win over the Colts and that injury is expected to sideline him for at least a month. With Haden sidelined, the Steelers will turn to veteran cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who just so happened to play his first four seasons in the NFL with the Titans. The 48 defensive snaps that Sensabaugh played Sunday in relief of Haden were his first of the season and it will be interesting to see if the Titans try to attack him early and often Thursday night.
You mad, Todd? – Short week and all, there’s still been quite a bit of fuss made since Sunday about the televised sideline yelling by Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the second half of the team’s game against the Colts. The original narrative was that Haley was yelling obscenities at Roethlisberger during a botched two-point conversion setup. As it turns out, Haley was indeed yelling at somebody, however, not at Roethlisberger. Instead, Haley said Tuesday he was yelling at an unnamed Steelers coach, who many believe was special teams coordinator Danny Smith. In short, yelling-gate was probably this week’s team mini drama and as usual, the Pittsburgh media and team fanbase blew it way out of proportion.
To huddle or not to huddle – The Steelers offense hasn’t run a lot of no-huddle so far this season and that might be because six of the team’s first nine games were played on the road in addition to there being a few new players such as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald. Whatever the reason, Roethlisberger hinted this past week that we could see more no-huddle Thursday night against the Titans because he says it’s easier to use it on a short week. Against the Colts this past Sunday, Roethlisberger ran the no-huddle during the team’s final drive of the game that culminated with the winning field goal.
Return of Coach Dad – Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will return to Pittsburgh Thursday night to coach against the team he was employed by for 16 seasons in total. Thursday night will mark the first time that LeBeau has coached against the Steelers since he was let go after the 2014 season. If there’s any one defensive coordinator in the NFL who knows quite a bit about Roethlisberger and his strengths and weaknesses, it’s obviously LeBeau. The Titans defense has played very well this season and especially on third downs, which is one area the Steelers offense hasn’t been great in entering Week 11. LeBeau versus Roethlisberger Thursday night figures to be a great chess match.