Not enough punch

In a game promoted as a heavyweight fight, the Pittsburgh Steelers landed plenty of jabs but not one knockout blow. Instead, the Tennessee Titans threw all the big punches, ultimately routing the Steelers 30-13 in Pittsburgh.

The goal line series at the end of the game summed up a lackluster performance by the offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A pass interference by S Scott McGarrahan on WR Antwaan Randle El put the Steelers on the one yard line of the Tennessee Titans during garbage time. The Steelers simply couldn't muscle the ball in, turning the ball over on downs. The Titans front seven overwhelmed the Steelers offensive line all day and ended the day by humiliating Pittsburgh in their own home.

Statistically, the Steelers dominated the Titans, possessing the ball nearly 36 minutes and holding almost a 2-1 edge in total yards. The Steelers got strong play from LB Kendrell Bell and NT Casey Hampton, who terrorized rookie C Justin Hartwig, and held RB Eddie George to just 21 yards on 11 carries. But none of that seemed to bother Steve McNair, who threw for 161 yards with 3 TDs on 15 of 16 passing. He wasn't spectacular, but then again, he didn't need to be.

The Titans trotted out playmaker after playmaker and did what they had to do just at the perfect time. LB Rocky Boiman might have a bigger name in Pittsburgh than he does in Nashville after turning the tide in the first half with a safety of Tommy Maddox and then later picking off an ill-advised Maddox toss that Boiman took 60 yards to the house, effectively knocking the Steelers down for the count.

The Titans seemed to be making all the big plays and second-year safety Tank Williams was all over the field, blocking a field goal while harassing Maddox all day long. While the Steelers defense turned in another solid performance, they failed to generate any turnovers.

Wanted, playmakers on defense.

Watching Williams and getting a look at S Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens over the last few weeks, the Steelers sorely need a player of their caliber in the secondary. Troy Polamalu was supposed to be that guy, but the best he could do is draw a flag for a 15-yard facemask penalty.

Polamalu is more worried about fundamentals than delivering the knockout blow, something that characterizes both the defense and offense. The Steelers believed if they played mistake-free football, they could simply out-muscle the Titans. They could not have been more wrong on that count.

The lack of killer instinct is most evident in the red zone, where the Steelers continue to struggle to get in the end zone, as well as keeping the opposition out of it. The Titans were 2 for 2 inside the red zone while the Steelers were a miserable 1 for 5 (20%), some 16 points in missed opportunities. Combine that with the blocked field goal and there was the difference in the game.

While Mularkey emptied his bag of tricks on the Titans, mostly because that was the only way the Steelers could move the ball, he continues to run out of magic inside the 20, where a superior offensive line is supposed to take over.

Fans will likely point the finger at Maddox or the misperception of Cowher as a conservative coach. The real problem is that the Steelers can no longer bruise with the best of them. At least right now, this is not an offensive line that can win a championship, let alone get into the playoffs save for, perhaps, the weakness of the AFC North.

The Steelers are getting pushed around right now in the trenches and that's why they can't run the ball or score touchdowns inside the 20. The Titans didn't need to blitz all that much or cheat the safety into the box to stop the Steelers. They mostly played straight up football and simply beat the Steelers to a man.

Pittsburgh just isn't in the same weight division as Tennessee and the hard-hitting Steelers football seems a thing of the past.

Jim Russell

Steel City Insider Top Stories