Key Match-ups: Steelers-Titans

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's regular season opener between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.

OLB James Harrison vs. LT Michael Roos

The Big Money Man (Harrison) vs. one of the best in the game at his position, that's Harrison vs. Roos. In sort of a fire-vs.-ice match-up, Harrison's unyielding motor looks to break one of the most technically sound blockers in the NFL. Roos' swallowed Harrison during the Titans' 34-13 victory over the Steelers last year, mostly using sound technique and excellent footwork.

Harrison makes tackles pay for poor footwork. Like a steam shovel, he digs underneath the leverage a much taller player (like Roos) tries to establish, and uses his freakish strength to push him backward. Roos is well-balanced, and for Harrison's bull-rush to be effective, he must explode off the ball even more than usual.

C Justin Hartwig and RG Chris Kemoeatu vs. DT Jason Jones

Last year, there was a confidence catalyst going around when the Titans announced DT Albert Haynesworth would be out of their Week 16 match-up. Jones came in and promptly dismantled Kemoeatu and Hartwig, sometimes both at once, en route to 3.5 sacks and Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Hartwig gets to celebrate his recent contract extension by having the spotlight shone brightly on he and linemate Kemoeatu – who struggled at times in the preseason in wake of a contract extension of his own. Jones is a disruptive force and will be the anchor of a typically dominant Titans defensive line. Pittsburgh's desire to run the ball must be ensured by their interior offensive line, mainly, Hartwig and Kemoeatu.

ILB Keyaron Fox vs. RBs LenDale White and Chris Johnson

Fox gets the start, replacing an injured Lawrence Timmons at the mack linebacker position. After a loud preseason (just ask Bills KR Leodis McKelvin), Fox's recognition will be tested tonight, potentially keying off the dual-threat running game of White and Chris Johnson. The Titans will primarily run the ball, but will set up the big play off play action.

White's use as a receiver dropped quite a bit from 2007 to 2008 (34 career catches in two seasons to five), but expect Johnson to be utilized as much as possible in the run and pass games. Tennessee can run or throw out of formations with any combination of their two running backs on the field. In situations where Fox is locked on either of them, new Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will look to see if the least heralded Steelers starting linebacker is up to the task.

WR Hines Ward vs. CB Cortland Finnegan

For fans of old school football, this is as enjoyable a match-up as can be seen from the receiver and cornerback positions. Ward is a physical, savvy receiver who makes his mark in run blocking and catching first down passes. He reads zone defenses as well as any receiver in the game and uses his body to create separation.

It's a great match-up for perhaps the game's most physical cornerback. Finnegan, an All-Pro last season, was a seventh-round draft pick out of Samford in 2006. He's started the last 33 games for the Titans, and personifies the Titans bruising secondary. He doesn't have prototypical size, but he plays 25 pounds heavier, and is equally strong against the run and the pass. Ward is known to get in the heads of defenders who play with as much intensity as Finnegan does, and Tennessee's emerging secondary will be tested mentally as much as physically.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Titans
x Quarterback  
  Running backs x
  Offensive line x
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
even Defensive backs even
  Special teams x

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