Tunch Ilkin, X's & O's - Pre-Game Titans

<b>George Von Benko</b>: Tunch, we turn our attention towards the Tennessee Titans. I think one of the more interesting statements in Bill Cowher's press conference the other day was that even though the Titans are no longer in the Steelers' division that this definitely has the feel of a divisional game. <br><br><b>Tunch Ilkin</b>: George, not only that, someone asked him about the revenge thing and that they have dropped 9 of 11 to the Titans, you could just see that chin jut out.


Tunch talks about the keys to get a win vs the Titans
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His response was very short. There is a sense that these teams don't like each other. And yes, they are no longer divisional opponents, but that rivalry that has been going on for so long, dating back to the Houston Oiler days, when I was part of it. It runs deep and there is a lot of nastiness, especially losing twice to Tennessee last year. Of course, the first was when Tommy Maddox got hurt, but the second game in the playoffs, losing the way they did on Nedney's flop. There's some real animosity here whether it is voice or not, boy you could cut it with a knife.

GVB: Tennessee has been playing some decent football and the first thing that stands out is the way their defense has been playing. They are #1 against the rush right now. They are playing very well overall against the pass. It's a tough assignment.

TI: You look at their defensive line and they've got a couple of veterans in Kevin Carter and Jevon Kearse. You've got toughness in their linebacking corps. Keith Bullock might be one of the best outside linebackers in the AFC for a 4-3 scheme. He just comes to play. The one good thing for the Steelers is that Albert Haynesworth, the defensive tackle, their big guy from the University of Tennessee; he's hurt. He dislocated his elbow versus Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. That's good for the Steelers. But it's a very tough, physical defense. You've got pass rushers in Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter, Carter from one end and Jevon from the other. They can collapse a pocket. It's going to be tough.

GVB: A lot of speculation that the Steelers did rejuvenate their running game against Cincinnati, but they may have a tough time getting that running game going against Tennessee. So, they might have to revert back to the pass again.

TI: You know, George, here's the thing. I don't believe that the Tennessee Titans are good enough with their front seven to stop the Steelers running game. They're going to have to bring Lance Shulters and Tank Williams up into the box. They're both very physical. One or the other, one of their safeties has got to be a part of stopping the run. If that happens, then the Steelers are going to pass. The Titans are very good against the run. If they keep their safeties high and try to stop the pass, the Steelers are going to be able to run the ball on them. Make no mistake about it. If they commit the eighth man to the box, Tommy Maddox is going to be able to throw the ball on these guys. It is kind of a pick your poison. Make no mistake about it, the Steelers will be able to run the ball. And if they can't run the ball, they will be able to pass.

GVB: Let's look at the other side of the ball and the challenge for the Steelers defensively. It starts with the quarterback Steve McNair. I harken back to what Bill Cowher said in his press conference about his pocket presence. He's a strong quarterback and he's not afraid to put the ball down and run with it.

TI: He's tough as nails. He is something. He takes shot after shot, George. He just gets up. He doesn't complain. He's got a broken finger, so he doesn't practice much. Every year he has something, but he shows up Sunday. What a gamer. The thing that is so impressive about McNair now, as opposed to a couple of years ago, he can run but he is not looking to run. And now, when he scrambles, he's still very good at it, he's buying himself some time to allow his receivers to get open downfield. Three years ago, Steve McNair would drop back to pass, he'd look for his primary receiver, and if his primary receiver was covered he would either check it down to Frank Wycheck, check it down to Eddie George, just a little dump pass, or he'd tuck it and run. Now, he's allowing those deep routes that take time to develop. He'll scramble around back there until Mason or someone else gets open. He's as good as anybody that I've seen throwing on the run. And he's much better at scrambling around and throwing it downfield.

GVB: What about Eddie George? I was told by some people connected with the Titans that he was not really healthy last year. He couldn't plant or cut. They say he is finally healthy again, even though the statistics show that they are 3 to 1 in first downs in the passing rather than the running game.

TI: Eddie George is better than he was last year and Eddie George has been dinged up for a long time, last two and an half year. He's not the same Eddie George, but he's still pretty darn good. He doesn't cut like he used to. He doesn't have that explosive speed once he finds the crease that he did say three years ago. He had some trouble with his big toe. He's had some trouble with the foot. And when that starts to go on a player, Eddie George has taken so many shot over his career, he's an upright runner, so he's taken a lot of hits head on as opposed to someone like Jerome Bettis who's a lot more compact and runs very low to the ground. Eddie is very tall and he runs erect, so he takes wicked shots. And he's a physical guy who delivers a lot of them. But then the cumulative effect of all those shots he's taken over the years has really taken something out of his game. So he doesn't pose the same threat to the Steelers that he once did. Really the threat is McNair.

GVB: What about special teams play for the Titans? And, of course, the Steelers have had their problems with the special teams this year. Who might have the edge there?

TI: They've got Derrick Mason, who's every year at the top of the league in all purpose yards. As a receiver, he's a big play guy. As a punt returner, as a kick returner, he's a guy you got to make sure you get a hat on. And on punt returns, you got to make sure that you pin him between the numbers and the sidelines. You don't want to just kick to the middle of the field. He's very much like Dante Hall, so the Steelers have had their challenges with great return guys. And even last week versus Cincinnati, Warrick broke one against them. I think the key for them is to stay disciplined in their lanes and to not get complacent. Really, versus Cincinnati, they did a great job and then all the sudden, boom, Peter Warrick breaks one. You've got to sustain that concentration throughout the game and that's going to be the real key for them.

GVB: Keys to victory for Pittsburgh.

TI: The keys are going to be number one is to contain McNair. The secondary really has to plaster their coverages. They've got to get pressure on him. They've got to get hits on him. And once again, the Steelers always want to stop the run first. I think that it's a given that they will stop the run with Eddie George. Offensively speaking, the ticket is for the Steelers to run early and then use play action pass to take advantage of a very aggressive secondary. They've got two, three pretty darn good pass rushers in Carlos Hall, Jevon Kearse and Carter. You've to protect against these guys. You've got to give Tommy Maddox time to look downfield.

GVB: Tunch, let's go to our question from one of our posters on SteelCitySports.com. This comes from JustStillin and he says, "Tunch, I feel that we lack characters in our team that we had past years. Do you feel that too much importance is put on drafting or signing a person that is a model citizen versus the best athlete available that isn't too disruptive?"

TI: Is he saying that don't have enough wild guys like that? Well, I don't agree with that. I agree with the Steeler philosophy that you want to draft character guys. I think that has been a tradition in this organization that guys that are troublemakers don't last around here. And they're disruptive to a team and they're hard to coach. Nobody wants to coach them. You can't have guys doing what they want to do. How do measure how disruptive a guy you allow? Sorry JustStillin, I disagree with you. I think you win with character people. Can you imagine having a Randy Moss here? I'm sorry, it just doesn't wash. You're never sure what's going to happen. So, I like the way the Steelers draft and I like the Steelers' philosophy.

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