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Week 6: Steelers-Titans preview

The SportsXchange

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-4)

Thursday, 8:00 ET, NFL Network, Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan

Last Meeting: The Steelers jumped out to a 21-3 lead and rocked the Titans, 38-17, on Oct. 9, 2011. Pittsburgh rode five Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes, and improved to 3-2.

Streaking: Roethlisberger leads the NFL with a passer rating of 132.6 in the fourth quarter and has gone three games -- 117 attempts -- without an interception.

The defense rests: The Steelers are downright filthy on third down these days, converting 53.2 percent to first downs. Mostly, that's been Ben Roethlisberger's handy work, but there are signs of a restored running game taking shape. Four receivers average more than four catches per game; TE Heath Miller could again be a go-to guy even with MLB Colin McCarthy (ankle) in the lineup. The Steelers will rotate backs behind Rashard Mendenhall, who had 101 total yards Sunday in his first game this season. With a short turnaround, Pittsburgh isn't quite ready to overburden Mendenhall, meaning Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman must stay ready against a defense allowing 144.2 rushing yards per game. The deep threat of Mike Wallace forces the Titans into zone looks that Roethlisberger typically picks apart. As teams single-cover Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger has consistently looked to him; Brown has a team-high 25 receptions.

Cook in the kitchen: The seam is there if QB Matt Hasselbeck's protection holds. It didn't last week, and the Titans threw checkdowns and short outs to the sideline. With linebackers shooting gaps, beating the fire blitz and finding TE Jared Cook between the hashes can be a lifeline for the Titans in an ongoing quest for explosive plays. RB Chris Johnson has become an afterthought, but the lagging production isn't his doing alone. With no threat of the deep ball and few creases at the line, Johnson's best chance to make plays is as a receiver. The Steelers won't have SS Troy Polamalu to track Johnson and OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) isn't likely to go. That makes LT Michael Roos the pressure point -- if he can stalemate James Harrison, Hasselbeck should have time to work through progressions and use his above-average receiving corps.

Need to know: The Steelers allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season and have allowed the fewest in the league since Mike Tomlin became their coach in 2007. ... Titans' opponents have a completion percentage of 74.6 percent this season.
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