Thursday Night Football Breakdown – Titans @ Steelers
Seattle went on the road last week in their horrific Color Rush uniforms and did a professional job despite losing several players to injury during the game. The SportsIntel editors pretty much called this one, identifying Seattle as the better squad and the match-up as favoring the road team. One thing I found amusing was the handicapping angle. Late in the game, the scoreboard read 22-10 in favor of Seattle who got to 22 because they recorded a safety early in the game. At this point it seemed like the 6-point spread was in peril because Arizona was getting something going in garbage time. With about a minute left, Arizona tacked on a meaningless touchdown then proceeded to miss the extra point! The game ended 22-16 which goes down as a push. Somehow Vegas always seems to know. Anyway, on to Week 11!
November 16, 2017: Tennessee Titans (6-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2); Line: Steelers by 7
Brad’s take: On Monday I thought I saw that Mariota was listed as Questionable, but I can’t find him on any injury reports today. That’s obviously very good news for the Titans. As I wrote in my AAR for Week 10, Mariota is a unique talent and is definitely the straw that stirs the drink. No other QB could run some of the plays that Tennessee is able to run because of the special skill set of its personnel. So assuming we get to see both teams relatively healthy, who has the advantage?
The Titans and Steelers both enter the game riding 4-game winning streaks, but the streaks are quite different. While Pittsburgh boasts road wins at KC and Detroit, Tennessee has beat up on some of the dregs of the league. Coincidentally, Indy and Cincy are common opponents in the matching winning streaks. The Titans dominated Indy but struggled with Cincy and the Steelers dominated Cincy but struggled with Indy. Of that grouping of results, Pittsburgh’s poor performance at Lucas Oil Stadium last week is by far the most alarming. The fact that Big Ben and Co. had to score 11 4th-quarter points to edge the dreadful Colts is concerning. This Steelers team has impressive wins (26-9 over Minnesota, 19-13 over KC), head-scratching losses (30-9 at home to Jacksonville, 23-17 against Chicago), and seriously underwhelming squeaker victories (21-18 over Cleveland, 20-17 over Indy). The tendency to play to the level of the competition has to drive Mike Tomlin crazy, but it appears that the ceiling is pretty high and that’s all that matters when you get a certain point in the season.
On Thursday night I expect the Titans to be out classed by the real Steelers who will assert themselves in front of a raucous Heinz Field crowd. Don’t let the records fool you; this is the #4 DVOA team hosting the #19 team (you guys know what I am about to say, so say it with me) ON THE SHORT WEEK ON THE ROAD. Steelers win and cover the 7 points by halftime.
Chris’s take: Looking back at the Titan’s opening half of the season, I was interested in identifying where they’ve been successful against tough teams, and I had to go all the way back to week two and three. They won back to back matches against the Jaguars and Seahawks, picking up a win apiece on the road and at home. Their formula for success was tied to their run game with either DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry leading the way in rushing yards while grabbing a touchdown in each contest. A quick glance at the matches that ended up in the loss column tells me the Titans struggle when they don’t get production from these two running backs. The Steelers top five defense needs to make this match up easier by taking the Titans running backs out of the equation. If they can do that, it’s definitely a win for Pittsburgh. With that said, the Titans have the ability to keep this close against a Steelers team that just doesn’t seem capable of distancing itself from opponents despite their talent advantage. I don’t see an upset happening though, so expect a Steelers victory on Thursday Night Football.
Danny’s take: This was supposed to be the year that the Tennessee Titans made the big leap and established themselves as a playoff team. If the season ended today they would be hosting a home playoff game as the champs in the AFC South. Despite their record I’m not convinced that they belong. My first reason for doubting is that through nine games this season they have been outscored by their opponents. Of the eight teams currently leading their divisions, the Titans are the only one to be out scored by their opponents. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who sit right behind the Titans in AFC South, have outscored their opponents by 92 points thus far this season. The Titans have no glaring flaws, but they don’t seem to have any tremendous strengths either. The Steelers, who have been inconsistent this season, are one of the leading candidates to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. After nearly being upset by Indy on Sunday I expect them to show up on Thursday. With the home field on a short week, I expect the Steelers’ defense to get after Mariota and for Le’Veon Bell and the offense to do enough to notch another W.