The Pittsburgh Steelers went into Nashville, Tennessee with an undefeated record and left the field still undefeated after a narrow victory over the Titans. It was the tale of two halves, as the Steelers dominated the first 35 minutes holding a 20 point advantage. Over the next 25 minutes, the Titans slowly but surely clawed their way back only to come up short due to a Stephen Gostkowski missed field goal that would have tied the game. Per usual, let’s break down this game on both sides of the ball for the Steelers.
Without a doubt, Ben Roethlisberger played his worst game of the season. Much like the whole team, it was a sharp start as he went 10/12 on the first drive of the game. Fun fact time, the Steelers finally scored a touchdown on the first drive of a game since 2018 vs the Patriots. Ben was able to establish chemistry with Diontae Johnson who came back from injury and caught two touchdowns.
One was a laser throw by Ben to thread the needle and cap off the previously mentioned opening drive. The other saw Johnson catch a pass at the ten, plant his foot, and turn the other direction to freeze his man and sprint into the endzone. Johnson had 15 targets and caught 9 of them for 80 yards and two scores.
The bad from Roethlisberger started at the tail end of the first half when he chucked a deep ball into double coverage that was picked off. In hindsight, it was a bad decision to go for broke instead of running a sideline route to get in field goal range. Ben’s second pick was more of an incredible play by the Titans as the ball was tipped at the line and a diving catch was made to flip the field.
As the game went on, a trend started to emerge on offense. Ben was unnecessarily forcing the ball downfield, especially to JuJu Smith-Schuster. It resulted in the Steelers settling for field goals twice and a late pick by Ben thrown into triple coverage that gave the Titans life.
Speaking of JuJu, he got his shine this game as he saw 14 targets and ended up with 9 catches for 85 yards. Not a sexy statline, but the timeliness of his catches was what made an impact. He caught three straight first down passes to move the sticks on the last drive. While it didn’t end up in points due to the Ben interception, the drive did waste over 6 minutes of clock which ultimately helped the Steelers pull out the win. JuJu still seems like Ben’s most trustworthy weapon with the game on the line.
A final guy who produced was Eric Ebron. He had 6 catches for 50 yards with a lot of first downs. That’s been his role in the offense so far this year, move the chains and help extend drives by being a vertical threat.
Once again, the ground game was as steady as ever with James Conner earning 20 carries for 82 yards. Nothing eye popping, but the offense was moving as Conner moved in the first half. His vision in particular shined as he made quality cuts to bounce it to the outside and pick up solid yardage.
In the trenches, the offensive line was superb in pass blocking. Ben wasn’t sacked once and was only hit three times all game. Run blocking was good for most of the game but sputtered in the last 20 minutes along with the entire team. The Titans were able to shoot a lot of gaps up front and force Conner outside. In addition, the Titans defense as a whole made a lot of adjustments in the second half to counter Pittsburgh’s early dominance.
Besides Ben’s lackluster play, it was penalties and conservative play calling that did the Steelers in and put the Titans back in the game. The script became predictable and the offense stalled on the majority of drives in the second half. Credit to the Titans defense for stepping up but there’s definitely still improvement to be had on offense.
Like the offense, the defense was stellar in the first half but almost faltered enough for the Titans to make a full comeback. Coming into this game, the number one key to a Steelers win was to limit Derrick Henry. Completely shutting down Henry is an impossible task but limiting him was the key. Considering how good Derrick Henry is, the Steelers accomplished their mission. Henry ran for 75 yards and was held to less than 4 yards a carry. He did score at the end of the game which is when he got the most of his production.
As always, Pittsburgh’s excellent rush defense was a team effort. Everyone in the front seven was needed to stop Henry from getting to the second level. By my count, Henry got downfield three times all game and was stifled behind or at the line of scrimmage on numerous occasions. Heyward and Tuitt didn’t put up the stats, but they still forced the interior of the Titans line back and it resulted in no room for Henry to run.
Standouts include Vince Williams and T.J. Watt who both made impacts in several ways. Williams had 9 solo tackles, 2 TFLs, and 1 sack. He stepped up and delivered as the number one linebacker against a great opponent. T.J. Watt was all over the field today and took full advantage of a backup Right Tackle. He finished with 3 tackles for loss, a sack in which he went through two players, and a pass deflection at the line. Watt played an integral part in limiting Henry’s production with the three tackles behind the line all being on him.
When it comes to the pass rush, there wasn’t as much as usual this game. There were 6 QB hits for the game and 2 sacks, which were impactful but not as elite as the Steelers are known for. Dupree had a quiet day and the line couldn’t bring down Tannehill. Not a bad day by any stretch but also not as elite as we’ve seen in weeks past.
In pass coverage the Steelers were very hot and cold. They ended the game with 6 pass deflections as a team and lots of opportunities to force turnovers. Those opportunities didn’t generate a turnover, however, and the Steelers ended the game -3 in the turnover column.
The good was mostly from Cameron Sutton and Terrell Edmunds. Sutton had 2 deflections and there was no production at all from the Titans’ slot wide receivers. Edmunds showed a lot of versatility as he helped out in the run game and locked down Jonnu Smith to one catch for 9 yards. Edmunds has been the primary defender against tight ends, and since the Broncos game, the Steelers haven’t allowed tight ends to impact the game at all. Joe Haden was solid as well, finishing with 7 tackles and a deflection.
The biggest miscues on defense came on one play which saw A.J. Brown shred Steven Nelson and Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 73 yard touchdown off a slant route. Minkah Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the year by far in this game. He took a terrible angle on the Brown TD and missed a tackle and had a costly penalty to give the Titans a first and goal. Despite not much pressure and no turnovers, the Steelers defense got the job done.
A win is a win no matter how you get it. Make no mistake, even though the Steelers almost blew the game, this is still a quality win against a very good team. For 35 minutes the Steelers outplayed one of the only other unbeaten teams in the league and showed their potential as a team. There is still a lot of improvement this team can make but that’s the scary part. This 6-0 Pittsburgh Steelers team can still get even better.