Key Matchups: Steelers-Titans

Neal Coolong examines the top matchups in this afternoon's Steelers-Titans game in Nashville, Tennessee.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. RB Chris Johnson

Polamalu grabbed an interception in his return to Heinz Field, but his ability to mirror the movements of All-Pro RB Chris Johnson will be pivotal in Week 2. Johnson's game-breaking ability commands the effort of the entire defense, but Polamalu's athletic ability, as he demonstrated in last year's win over Tennessee, is enough to counter Johnson's.

Johnson had an impressive 72-yard touchdown scamper against Oakland in Week 1, but he averaged a pedestrian 2.5 yards a carry outside of that. But he's able to break a game open every time he touches the ball. Polamalu in particular, and in general the entire Steelers defense has to be disciplined in preventing Johnson's ability to cut back.

ROLB James Harrison vs. LT Michael Roos

Harrison comes off a solid all-around game in Week 1, where Atlanta ran away from him and didn't challenge him in pass coverage much. Last year, against Roos, Harrison caused much disruption, which led to a general lack of offense on the Titans' side. Harrison should feel optimistic, being that Roos struggled against him last year, and didn't have a great performance in Week 1.

Roos wasn't awful, though, and while he did allow a sack, he was effective enough to provide QB Vince Young with the time needed to throw a 56-yard touchdown pass. Tennessee has the playmakers to strike deep once or twice, and the defense to use just that to pull out a win. Roos has his hands full, but a little goes a long way in Nashville.

WR Hines Ward vs. CB Cortland Finnegan

It's a battle for fans of physical football. Finnegan didn't mirror his All-Pro performance of 2008 last year, but against Oakland in Week 1 he looked more like the top-flight corner he showed he could become. He has a solid all-around game, and he's one of the strongest defensive backs in the league; a perfect match-up for Ward.

Ward showed his shoulders are still broad enough to carry the offense in last week's win. His enthusiasm after a few big plays sparked a crowd that was being lulled to sleep by a lack of big plays. Getting open on Finnegan is one thing; getting jammed by him is another, and Ward will have to work hard at the line of scrimmage to make room for the third down receptions that has become his staple in the last few years.

NT Chris Hoke vs. C Eugene Amano

Hoke is 15-2 overall as a starter in lieu of Casey Hampton, and Sunday will be th18th sample of that measurement. Hoke and the Steelers felt a bit of a push from their perch from the Falcons' rush offense, but the Titans will feel more like a shove. Hoke needs to maintain the gap discipline necessary to contain a game-breaking back like Johnson.

Part of that will be to own the 1-on-1 battle he'll have with Amano. In his first year as the Titans' starting center, Amano didn't fare as well as his offensive line counterparts did against Oakland. The Titans were able to maintain a winning edge by running successfully outside, a good 3-4 defense like the Steelers funnels all their plays to the outside linebacker. If Hoke can own the middle, Pittsburgh's chances of containing Tennessee's offense increase.


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