|A return to his normal position at split end helped Titans WR Kenny Britt become more involved in the offense in Thursday's win over the Steelers. (US Presswire)|
For a Tennessee Titans’ offense that was stagnant for the majority of back-to-back road losses in Houston and Minnesota, Thursday’s performance in a 26-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was a step in the right direction.
From the start, the offense moved the ball efficiently and at a quick tempo, both of which were noticeably absent in the 30-7 loss to the Vikings. QB Matt Hasselbeck eliminated some mistakes, spread the ball around effectively and was helped by a productive night from running back Chris Johnson. It helped keep the Steelers’ fire-zone, blitzing defense honest.
There’s reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball, as well. For the first time this season, the Titans held an opponent under 30 points. Tennessee stuffed the run up the middle, created pressure from various angles and got off the field at opportune times. After completing the most challenging portion of their schedule, the Titans will have the weekend off before returning to practice on Monday.
Throughout his career, Hasselbeck has been clutch in high-pressure situations. Among active quarterbacks, Hasselbeck has one of the league’s highest career passer ratings in the final two minutes of a half. In Thursday’s win, Hasselbeck led the Titans on two scoring drives in the game’s final 4:19 for the victory. Still, the 14-year veteran had some costly errors. Hasselbeck had a pass intercepted in the fourth quarter and was nearly picked off again minutes later on a drop by Steelers CB Keenan Lewis . WR Kenny Britt returned to his natural position at split end and caught a game-tying touchdown. The offensive line provided Johnson with a number of open creases. Johnson hits the holes decisively to finish with 91 yards on 19 carries. Previous game's grade: F
Though Steelers RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman missed most of the second half with injuries, Pittsburgh still only gained 56 rushing yards on the night. DTs Mike Martin and Jurrell Casey continued to impress Titans coach Mike Munchak with their ability to shed double teams and plug up gaps in the middle. Though a sack/fumble by Martin was reversed, the rookie still finished with six tackles, a TFL and a QB hit. The secondary nearly allowed 400 yards, including a large chunk on several explosive plays. CB Jason McCourty was beaten on an 82-yard touchdown by WR Mike Wallace , but responded with a key interception near halftime. Previous game's grade: C-
Special teams: A
Special teams coach Alan Lowry went to his bag of tricks again to catch an opponent off guard. Linebacker Tim Shaw bowled through the middle on the final play of the first quarter to block a Steelers’ punt. The Titans scored a touchdown on a lateral and gained a first down on a fake punt in recent weeks. K Rob Bironas connected on four field goals, including the game-winner with no-time remaining. P Brett Kern averaged 52.2 yards per punt, including a game-high of 61. Previous game's grade: A
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray installed a creative game plan by using LB Akeem Ayers as a spy on third-downs against Ben Roethlisberger . The Steelers’ QB entered the game with the highest completion percentage in the league in those situations. On Thursday, however, Pittsburgh converted on just 7 of 15 third down attempts. Roethlisberger also ran the ball just one time for 14 yards. On offense, credit offensive coordinator Chris Palmer for frequently rotating his receivers and tight ends. It kept WRs Kendall Wright and Britt, as well as TE Jared Cook fresh late in the game. The Titans outlasted a fatigued Steelers’ defense in the final minutes. Previous game's grade: D
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