Thursday NFL Game Preview: Titans at Steelers

Frank Cooney

November 15, 2017 at 10:03 am.

Sep 17, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the third quarter of a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 17, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the third quarter of a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports


KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, Heinz Field, TV: NBC, NFLN, Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox (field reporter)

SERIES HISTORY: 74th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 42-31. The Steelers won four of the past six, including the most recent in 2014, 27-24 in Nashville. The Titans snapped a three-game losing streak at Heinz Field in 2013, 16-9, in the season opener. These two franchises met four times in the playoffs. The Steelers beat the old Houston Oilers in AFC championship games following the 1978 and 1979 seasons en route to Super Bowl XIII and XIV titles. They also beat the Oilers in an AFC wild-card game following 1989 season. The Titans won the only playoff game between the two since the move to Nashville — 34-31, in an AFC divisional round game following the 2002 season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Quarterbacks are usually the center of attention and in this game it may be appropriate with Tennessee’s third-year star Marcus Mariota and Pittsburgh’s venerable Big Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger opened Pandora’s Box a few weeks back by muttering something about retiring. But when the Steelers went to a no-huddle last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Big Ben looked like he was doing what he likes best — taking control of the Steelers offense. They ran eight plays and gained 65 yards, including 19- and 32-yard passes to Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown that helped set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. The no-huddle might also be smart because the Steelers are working on a short week, and Big Ben running the no-huddle might be easier than installing a new game plan.

Mariota, who proved this year he can play well even when limited by injuries, was roughed up on five sacks Sunday against a Bengals team that always plays rough. But Mariota overcame the Bengals and mistakes by himself and teammates that cost 17 points, to guide the Titans 73 yards in seven plays and pull out a 24-20 win with a seven-yard TD pass to DeMarco Murray (who had three touchdowns in the game).

While Roethlisberger has a rich history of comeback victories, Mariota’s winning drive may be a turning point for the Titans, who are gaining believers after winning four straight.

Roethlisberger’s toughness is legendary after throwing so many great passes with defenders clinging to him. Mariota, a dual threat with great foot speed when healthy, proved he can stay in the pocket and pass, but the Steelers must be wary of him getting loose and scattering the defense.


–Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. For years, Roethlisberger would go against LeBeau’s defense in practice and camps each year for the Steelers. Now, it gets to be for real. LeBeau surely has saved a couple of tricks up his sleeve for the veteran quarterback.

–Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Titans CB Logan Ryan. Ryan has followed opposing team’s top receivers in recent weeks and Brown should expect to get that treatment from the Titans. He should even expect a heavy dose of double teams. That’s how the Colts defended him and held him to 47 receiving yards and that’s how the Titans defended Bengals receiver A.J. Green Sunday. The Steelers won’t shy away from attacking double teams, and Brown has to win some of those matchups if the Steelers are going to have offensive success.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers LB Ryan Shazier. His quickness and great instincts may counter the dual-threat capability of Titans QB Marcus Mariota, either as a spy or a thief. Shazier has a team-leading three interceptions, including one against the Colts Sunday that set up the tying touchdown. Shazier also leads the team in tackles (69), passes defended (10) and forced fumbles (2). Hello Marcus.

FAST FACTS: Titans QB Marcus Mariota did well in two previous Thursday night games, completing 40 of 57 (70.2 pct.) with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 108.9 rating. RB DeMarco Murray rushed for two TDs and caught the winning scoring pass Sunday. His 47 TDs from scrimmage since 2013 is most in the NFL. LB Derrick Morgan had 2 FRs last week and has 3.5 sacks in last 4 road games. Safety Kevin Byard leads league with 6 INTs, including 5 in last 3 road games. Watch for rookie CB Adoree’ Jackson to be used more on offense after playing six snaps there last week, gaining 30 yards on three runs. … Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s 3,991 career completions are 9 short of becoming 9th player in NFL history with 4,000. RB Le’Veon Bell totaled 112 yards from scrimmage last week (80 rushing) and is shooting for 10th straight home game with at least 90 yards from scrimmage. WR Antonio Brown leads NFL with 882 yards receiving and is tied for No. 2 with 60 catches. Rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is after 4th consecutive game with TD catch.

PREDICTION: Playmakers aplenty will make this exciting to watch. But Titans will have hard time making it five straight. Big Ben obviously hasn’t retired and the Steelers are not polite hosts at Heinz Field.

OUR PICK: Steelers, 28-24.

–Frank Cooney