NFL Kickoff

Steve O Speak

Tonight the NFL season begins where the last one ended, with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers set to host the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers who won Super Bowl XLIII in dramatic fashion, look to avenge one of the few black marks from last season as they begin their run to another Super Bowl appearance. Last year the Titans stomped the Steelers 31-14 at home to clinch home field advantage in the playoffs. But it was the Steelers who had the last laugh, when they held up the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XLIII. This might be the kickoff of a new year, but I’d expect tempers to still run high for both teams. This isn’t a regular week one game, the Steelers look to defend their title and the Titans will look to knock the Steelers off the pedestal they feel is rightfully theirs.

The Steelers are the obvious favorite here coming off the Super Bowl win and having home field advantage. Though there is a consensus that the Steelers will win the game, many people believe that it will be a close game. I think people might be giving the Titans too much credit here. Tennessee doesn’t have the dynamic offense to challenge the Steelers vaunted defense. The Titans are strong at running back, but the Steelers excel at stopping the run as well. Even last year in victory the Titans didn’t statistically dominate the Steelers, they just had some success on a few big plays. For the Titans to win they will need to get their two headed running back monster (Chris Johnson and LenDale White) going early. Tenessee needs a strong running game to set up the pass. Last year QB Kerry Collins was extremely efficient and effective, but Collins is now 38 years old, and I have a hard time believing that lightening will strike twice. Tenessee has solid receivers, but not game changers. Their top WR and free agent signing (via the Steelers) Nate Washington, is expected to miss the game with injury. On defense the Titans lost their best player, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in the off season, and have yet to find a solid replacement. With out that presence in the middle the Titans other defenders might not have the same freedom this year, that they had in years past. The Titans rely on a schemes for their defense to be effective, but without any major difference makers on defense I don’t think they will be able to contain the Steelers.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have the running back duo of the Titans, but they will look to unleash their own two back attack with Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall especially could be effective with his runs between the tackles, since the Titans are a little weak at DT. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been in the league 5 seasons and already has two Super Bowl victories. He is a proven leader and always puts his team in a position to win the game. While losing Washington hurt the receiver depth, Roethlisberger still has his two favorite targets in Hines Ward and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. Holmes looks to be developing into a true number one receiver and should give the Titans plenty of problems tonight. The Steelers one weakness is their offensive line play. Last year Roethlisberger spent much of the season under pressure or on his back, that can’t happen again. This year that unit must improve their play for the Steelers to beat the Titans (not to mention contend again). On defense Pittsburgh Blitzburgh returns the leagues number one ranked defense almost completely intact. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are two of the finest pass rushers in the league and both wear the black and gold. The Titans have a very good offensive line, but Pittsburgh should still be able to get some pressure on Collins and force some turnovers and incompletions.

I think Pittsburgh will be fired up to prove to the Titans that they are the best team in the NFL. I look for them to attack the Titans offense and force Collins to beat them. I think the Steelers will have enough success on offense to make a couple trips into the endzone with the final score being 24-10.

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