When the Pittsburgh Steelers line-up to face the Tennessee Titans Thursday night, they will do so without some familiar faces on defense. At this point, both Troy Polamalu (calf) and LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) will miss the game due to injury, a situation the team has experienced throughout the early portion of 2012.The big question entering Thursdays match-up is which Steelers defense will show up. Will it be the sieve that was non-existent against the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, or will it be the formidable unit that came to play in their other two contests against the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, the latter without Polamalu and Woodley.
On paper it would seem that the defense is prime for a big game against a struggling Titans team. Unfortunately, that is what the paper said against the Raiders and the team laid a huge egg. In fact, that is a trend that dates back to the 2011 season, as the Steelers have lost their last three road games and have gone only 8-14 in their pass 22 road games outside the Eastern time zone.
To be successful in Tennessee, the defense will need improved play from their back-up linebackers and safeties, especially at safety where Ryan Mundy has struggled in place of Polamalu at strong safety in 2012. In fact, confidence appears to be waning in Mundy as head coach Mike Tomlin hinted that veteran special team ace Will Allen might get reps at strong safety. Linebackers Jason Worilds and Chris Carter will have to pick up Woodley’s slack, and Lawrence Timmons must show up to play again this week for the defense to be successful. Yes, Titans running back Chris Johnson has struggled in 2012, but he is a dynamic back that has the ability to break a big play at any time.
Offensively, the Steelers got a huge boost from running back Rashard Mendenhall against the Eagles, who looked quite at home in this new Todd Haley scheme. Mendenhall, who is recovering from ACL surgery, looked athletic, decisive and quick and led the team to their best rushing output of 2012. If he can give the running game a boost again this week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be in line for an even better game. Roethlisberger, who has been solid and in total control of the new offense, could start attacking teams vertically with play action and take the impressive offense to even greater heights in 2012. While he is off to one of the best starts in his career, he could make history of sorts against the Titans. With another 300-yard game, he would overtake Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw for the franchise all-time passing mark of 27,989 yards, a feat that may be attainable against a struggling Titans defense.
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