October 11, 2011
-- Tennessee's offensive line did an outstanding job of blocking the Steelers' front seven and providing an escort for running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 51 yards on just 14 carries. The Titans couldn't keep the ground attack going because they fell behind, but that doesn't negate the efforts of their line. They used slide protection to get the Steelers' line going one way, and Johnson would then either hit the gap to that side or read the cutback and go opposite. Left guard Leroy Harris(notes) and center Eugene Amano(notes) are dynamic upfield blockers who know how to tag a linebacker and create extra space in the running game. Harris is also very good at pulling right and sealing the edge for Johnson and the Titans' other running backs — he stoned LaMarr Woodley(notes) with one outstanding first-quarter pull-block, and that's no small achievement.
The Titans' line is best at establishing power at the point of attack, and then spreading its force to create other opportunities. You can definitely see the influence of head coach Mike Munchak, the team's former O-line coach and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman himself.
-- The Titans' defensive linemen really seemed to struggle with certain assignments. When ends Derrick Morgan(notes) and Dave Ball(notes) were asked to flare out in coverage on zone blitzes, they weren't able to do much but provide stationary targets for Ben Roethlisberger(notes) to avoid. And on Heath Miller's(notes) first-quarter touchdown, tackle Karl Klug(notes) had Miller in his vicinity, but stayed home while Miller advanced to the goal line. Sending a bunch of zone blitzes at Roethlisberger might not be the best idea — Big Ben's defensive coordinator is Dick LeBeau, who pretty much invented the concept. You imagine that he might see zone blitzes at a pretty high level through the week.
The Titans' D-linemen didn't do much better staying at home at times, either; Jonathan Dwyer's(notes) long second-quarter run was a beautifully executed example of (take it away, Vince Lombardi): "A seal here, a seal here, and we run it IN THE ALLEY!" Left guard Doug Legursky(notes) (pulling right) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert(notes) did an incredible job of blocking out the lane for Dwyer's first run of the season.
-- Generally speaking, the Titans present an interesting set of defensive problems in that they're multiple in their schemes, but they disguise their diversity very well by looking pretty vanilla (a lot of 4-3 or 4-2 nickel) and then, spreading out into different coverages after the snap. Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians put together a brilliant gameplan to counter this — he used a lot of pre-snap motion by receivers from side to side, sweeps and end-arounds to force the defense to pull one way, and quick throws in spread-style formations to get under what Tennessee was doing. The zone blitzes previously discussed aside, Roethlisberger also read Tennessee's standard blitzes very well — it also helps that he's conditioned himself to be unafraid of the blitz because his offensive lines have been so poor for so long.
The Steelers also used a lot of influence motion in their running plays — little half-motion sets by Hines Ward(notes) to draw a linebacker in and out. And as they generally are, the Steelers were very successful when they ran out of bunch formations — the formation/play they run more consistently than any other team. It's important to note that with injuries on both sides of the ball, and facing a very good defense, Arians helped his team win as much as any player on the field.
-- There were certain points where outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley absolutely took over this game — he certainly seemed to recognize the importance of his play with battery-mate James Harrison(notes) out with a fractured orbital bone (yikes). One play that really stood out was his sack of Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck(notes) with 9:39 left in the first quarter. The Titans had second-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 7-yard line, and Woodley rushed in from the defensive left side as tight end Daniel Graham(notes) released into the end zone. Fullback Ahmard Hall(notes) stayed in to block Woodley, but it didn't matter, because Woodley just pushed Hall a good 2 yards back with his initial attack, and when Hall regained his footing, Woodley pushed Hall back into Hasselbeck and got the sack.
Woodley can do a number of things — tackle the run very well, cover in space as well as any 3-4 outside linebacker, and speed-rush around the edge — but his sheer power is the extra element that makes him a true force.
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