The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixth regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at Nissan Stadium in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans as they look to notch their sixth consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a huge road win against the Titans and move to 6-0 on the season.
Oh Henry – Titans running back Derrick Henry can probably be considered the best in the NFL at his position entering Week 7 of the 2020 regular season. Henry already has 588 yards and six touchdowns on 123 total carries through five games played in addition to another 84 yards on eight receptions. While Henry only has three runs longer than 15 yards so far this season, 70 of 123 (56.9%) carries of his have resulted in successful runs. He’s also only been tackled for a loss six times this season, an average of just a little more than once a game. 219 of the 588 yards (37.3%) that Henry has this season have come after the third quarter in games. What does all this mean? For starters, the Steelers run defense, which has been astounding so far through five games, will get another great test on Sunday in Nashville at Nissan Stadium. Shutting down Henry and the Titans running game early must be a priority and a not-so-easy task. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, that’s when Henry really becomes dangerous. Steelers defensive backs won’t want to tackle him in the open field the later in the game it gets. Henry is going to get some yards on Sunday. Whatever he does get, however, must be earned and he must be taken to the ground quickly. The larger the lead the Steelers can have in the fourth quarter, the less likely Henry will be used on the ground.
Third & Tannehill – The Titans have been winning this season mainly because of their offense. The running game has obviously plated a big part in that. Additionally, the Titans offense hasn’t had to face many third and longs this year. In fact, through five games played this season, the Titans offense has been in 3rd and 7 or longer just 23 times this season. They have converted just five of those. For his NFL career, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a third and long (7 or more yards) passer rating of 71.2. Of the 24 quarterbacks that have attempted 200 or more 3rd and 7 or longer passes since 2012, Tannehill’s passer rating is the second lowest behind only Blake Bortles. So far this season, Tannehill has a 93.8 passer rating on 3rd and 6 or shorter and a 64% conversion rate on his pass attempts. It’s simple, get Tannehill in several 3rd and longs on Sunday and the Steelers defense should be able to get off the field.
Hey Diddle Diddle, Run Straight Up The Middle – As good as the Titans offense has been this season, their defense hasn’t played nearly as well and especially against the run. Not only is the Titans defense allowing a robust 5.07 yards per carry so far this season, the unit has also given up five runs of 25 yards or longer and just over 20 of 10 yards or longer. Up the middle, the Titans defense has been especially bad this season. The Steelers should have right guard David DeCastro back on Sunday and with running backs James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. expected to see the bulk of the carries once again, the offensive running game should include some inside zone runs right up the middle. The Steelers have used their pre snap motion well so far this season and because of that there should be some running room up the middle on Sunday against the Titans. Running well on Sunday early should set the Steelers offense up to run well with the lead late in the contest. Controlling the football that way in Nashville would also help keep the Titans offense off the field, which would in turn limit the amount of carries that Henry gets.
Get Some Good Rookie Slot JuJu – Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster should see a ton of Titans rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton on Sunday as the two should square off in the slot throughout the game. Fulton was exposed in the slot last week by the Houston Texans offense and he surrendered six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown on six total targets. Smith-Schuster has had some quiet games as of late and with the Diontae Johnson back on Sunday and Chase Claypool and James Washington both recently contributing big in games, the Steelers most experienced wide receiver, who has thrived in the slot so far during his career should get plenty of targets from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. The Steelers wide receivers match up well overall with the Titans secondary but Smith-Schuster figures to have the tastiest matchup of them all in Nashville if Fulton is the one to spend the most time covering him.
No Tennessee POOTOS – The Titans have scored 164 points so far this season for an impressive per game average of 32.8. 38 of those 164 points have come off turnovers for an average of 7.6 per game. Turning the football over against the Titans on the wrong side of the 50 yard-line is sure to result in points scored and more than likely a touchdown. The Steelers offense has done a great job at limiting turnovers so far this season as Roethlisberger has thrown just one interception. How did the Titans beat the Buffalo Bills a few weeks ago? The Titans scored six touchdowns with three coming off turnovers deep in the Bills end of the field. The Steelers must make the titans offense drive long fields throughout Sunday’s game.