It’s interesting that so much of the discussion about the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans has been about how difficult it will be, and how much it will challenge Pittsburgh’s supposedly stout run defense, which ranks second in the league.
It is, of course, exactly that. But it’s also a great football matchup that any fan of the game and anybody with a sense of competition should appreciate for its own sake. To a certain degree, I think you have to be able to welcome that in order to be a competitor at a high level like the NFL.
That is exactly the mindset that Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler takes as he prepares his men to face the league’s leading rusher and defending rush champion in Henry, who is coming off a 200-yard, two-touchdown game, and has scored six times in the past three games.
He told reporters on Thursday that they don’t have anybody on the team who could emulate Henry with his size, strength, and speed except for Bud Dupree, and of course they weren’t going to use the edge rusher in that role.
“He really builds speed, and when he does that, he’s really dangerous. We know we have a real challenge ahead of us this weekend”, Butler said. “To me, as a player when I played, that was the fun thing about playing in the National Football League. Every week it’s somebody that’s going to challenge you. He’s certainly going to do that in terms of our run defense. They’re second in the league in offense. We’re second in the league in defense. It’s going to be a good football game. We have to bring our best game to the table”.
I don’t know about you, but I find this attitude refreshing after hearing for the past week about how much of a burden it’s going to be to take on Henry. Yes, it’s up to the defense to stop him, but it’s going to be a great bout of football watching the Steelers’ front seven go up against the Titans’ line and their big back.
Likewise, Pittsburgh’s passing game is going to strain the Titans’ secondary, particularly their cornerback tandem, with an aging, 36-year-old Johnathan Joseph, and Malcolm Butler, with safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro.
I’m sure that Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson and James Washington are all excited about having the opportunity to go up against this secondary, welcoming the challenge as they have every other.
The Titans are giving up 25-plus points per game and giving up 7.0 yards per pass attempts and 5.1 yards per rush attempt, some of the worst numbers in the NFL. The Steelers offense should be able to move the ball at least as well as Tennessee will.