Another test for Dixon

Having passed their first test without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers get another when ...

... backup Dennis Dixon must operate a shaky offense in a less comforting venue at Tennessee Sunday.

The state of Tennessee has not been good to the Steelers. They have lost eight of the nine games they have played there, including their first visit, at Memphis, and their last in 2008. That includes one playoff loss. Their only victory came in 2001 by 34-7. However, they did beat the Titans in their opener last season, 13-10 in overtime.

Dixon could not guide his offense to a touchdown until Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard run in overtime beat Atlanta, 15-9. It was only Dixon's second start and his accuracy was poor at times.

The friendliness of Heinz Field will disappear for Dixon this Sunday. But as coach Mike Tomlin noted, Dixon played OK at Baltimore last November in his only other start, a loss that also ended in overtime.

"His first time out as a starter, he took us to a hostile environment, took us to overtime and put us in a position to win," Tomlin said.

Dixon needs the kind of defense he got Sunday, one that held Michael Turner to 42 yards rushing and Atlanta to just 58 yards on the ground. They will find it a lot tougher this week going against Chris Johnson, who has rung up 12 straight 100-yard games.

The Steelers' defense slipped last season, losing fourth-quarter leads in five losses during a 9-7 season. Many believed they were getting too old with seven starters over 30. They answered the bell last Sunday and were the main reason they won their opener.

The formula they used against Atlanta is one they likely will deploy during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's suspension - play good defense and try to run the football.

"It could be," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "I think we're going to run the ball more. We've got some good running backs who can make big plays like Rashard did."


TRENDING: Hines Ward got his 13th NFL season off to a big start. With his six catches for 108 yards in the opener, Ward, 34, passed 900 receptions (901) and 11,000 yards receiving (11,055). He set yet another team record with his 26th 100-yard game. Ward also showed he has not lost a step by averaging 18 yards a catch against Atlanta.

"When you have a young guy in there at quarterback and you need big-time plays, you're pretty comfortable when you can deliver to old 86," Tomlin said. "We know what he's capable of and he just about always delivers for us."

LINEUP WATCH: Left tackle Max Starks will miss Sunday's game in Tennessee with a left high ankle sprain. The Steelers inserted Jonathan Scott against Atlanta in that spot and could either start him or Tony Hills. They are not likely to move starting right tackle Flozell Adams, who spent most of his career in Dallas at left tackle.

Isaac Redman, a practice-squad player last year, has become the short-yardage back, although the back at the goal line remains to be seen.

Redman picked up three first downs on Sunday against Atlanta and was stopped on one third-and-one. He carried six times for 19 yards, and was the team's second-leading rusher.


* NT Casey Hampton left the game in the second quarter for good last Sunday with a hamstring injury. If he cannot go in Tennessee, longtime veteran back Chris Hoke will replace him.

* WR Antonio Brown, a rookie expected to be the Steelers' top return man, did not dress for the opener.

* SS Troy Polamalu, who led the Steelers with seven interceptions last season even though he played only five games, has the only interception after one game.

* ILB Lawrence Timmons, who played last season on two bad ankles, looks like a new man and had 11 unofficial tackles, three for losses and one pass defensed in a Troy Polamalu-like performance in the opener.

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