Pre-game was totally different than last week's hoe-down in Baltimore. There simply wasn't that animosity which was all over the place in M&T Bank. It did look like both sides were paying due respect for each other, but my gripe was in the choice of pre-game music. Good grief, we're in Nashville, the home of some of the best music in the world. The rap music just seemed out of place. But kudos must go out to the band Little Big Town on the National Anthem: Great job.
Patrick Bailey may be just a free agent, but I really like him. He won the Steelers rookie of the year award because he keeps making plays on the special teams. He matched up a lot with the Titans linebacker Josh Stamer and it was a battle. On one kickoff return Bailey mulched Stamer and then gored him, followed by a slow, veteran getup following the play, just to let him know who the top dog is.
Bryant McFadden shows me a lot. In the first series, McFadden ripped Titans receiver Brandon Jones on a screen. Busted him like a tooth pick, he did. But it was his initial reaction to seeing the ball coming his way that left my jaw hanging. His Tomlin see-do (sees it, do's it) is fantastic. I wish I had reflexes that good. I lost too many peanut M&M's Sunday because my see-do wasn't as sharp.
Chris Kemoeatu has such great potential, but he's still too inconsistent. He's a "hopper" when he pass protects. Instead of a good step-slide in his footwork, when Juicy hops he is momentarily weightless for a fraction of a second. That gives the opponent too much an opportunity to bull you, even as immensely strong as Chris is. When he gets his footwork straightened out, he'll be far more effective at stoning guys.
The inside traps were looking pretty good early on. Without Albert Haynesworth stacking up bodies in the middle, I thought based on last week's inside trench warfare the O line could rip them pretty good. It didn't happen, and frankly the line took a step back this week. The Tennessee D line tipped some of their stunts (i.e. lining up too close to each other on twists) and was very proficient at holding on their pass rushes (the penetrator would hold the guy they tried to pick, in one case by the elbow sleeves). But there's no way the Steelers should have given up 5 sacks to these guys. They are better than this.
Speaking of holding, the Steelers ended their drought of not getting any holding calls against the opposing pass protectors after 27 quarters. In my career, I've never gone 30 plays without being "a man of the cloth." In fact, the best pass protector I've ever seen, Larry Brown, couldn't go 30 plays without a little Habeus Grabus. I think the NFL needs to invest in a little Lasik surgery stocking stuffer gift certificates for some of its zebras.
Titans running back Chris Johnson runs a terrific cutback. And his line does a great job staying with people. Johnson is one of those gifted runners who sells the front side but shaves the cutback so narrowly that the inside linebackers get caught up in the wash on a regular basis. Going into the game, Tunch Ilkin and I watched film of Tennessee during the week and we both thought that this was an offensive line that didn't scare you. They might not be scary, but they were effective. More than I gave them credit for.
Chris Hoke has to do a better job of disguising his voice. Take a ventriloquism class in the off-season maybe. Hokie got called for throwing some hut-huts in the cadence while the Titans were trying to kick a field goal. It happens a lot more times than a referee calls it, but this ref had sensitive ears I guess.
Quarterback Kerry Collins looked much sharper than he did the week before. He got great reads pre-snap and got rid of the ball quickly. Most quarterbacks go through a progression that goes primary-secondary-checkdown, but Collins seemed to just go primary-checkdown. It worked. Through most of the afternoon the ball was off before the pass rushers even thought of hitting a backup or combination move.
I love the way that Mewelde Moore runs the sprint draw. He's got the little dipsy-doodle that sets up the offensive tackle. The front side tackle is responsible for two guys so the draw action has to be enough to get the end up the field where the tackle can club him and then the tackle has to get to the stacked linebacker. It takes timing and patience, both of which Moore seems to have.
The fourth quarter antics of Keith Bullock, Lendale White, and Jevon Kearse may bring them some bad mojo. Stomping, wiping their noses and such on the Terrible Towel is one sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. The ghosts of Terrible Towels past, present and future may show up to jinx-i-fy a Tennessee playoff run. It's not like it hasn't happened before.