Sunday, September 08, 2013

Season Opener Game Day: Tee it Up

Remember this?
Before Steeler Nation makes it a foregone conclusion the Steelers will win today's 2013 season opener at Heinz Field, let's remember what happened in Nashville as recently as the night of Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012.

Mike Martin, Ben Roethlisberger
A flawed Tennessee Titans squad "upset" the Steelers behind the now-departed Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. The Steelers' now-departed Drew Butler had a punt blocked, and that was just one of many, many mistakes that night for the Black 'n Gold.

The defensive line got pushed back consistently, and the secondary (featuring the now-departed Ryan Mundy and Keenan Lewis, who dropped an interception) got scorched. It was an ugly loss for the Steelers, and it foreshadowed subsequent losses to Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Diego and Baltimore.

That was then. This is now.

What do we know about the 2013 Tennessee Titans? 
The Titans have 20 new players on this year's roster. Twenty!  

That sounds like a lot of new faces on a 53-man roster, and it is. How many new players are on this year's Steelers' roster? Nineteen.

Tennessee invested heavily in beefing up their interior lines during the off-season. On offense, there's always lightning-fast running back Chris Johnson, but the critical additions this year are veteran left guard Andy Levitre, who signed on as a free agent out of Buffalo, and right guard Chance Warmack, who was drafted 10th overall with the team's No. 1 pick. For a while this past off-season, the NFL Network's Mike Mayock trumpeted Warmack as the best player in the draft and the potential No. pick overall. Also fortifying the offensive line will be tight end Delanie Walker, who was signed as a free agent from the 49ers.

Not Jake Locker
The Titans are hoping for a huge step up from last year's No. 1 pick, quarterback Jake Locker, who was drafted eighth overall in April 2011 but missed last year's game vs. the Steelers because of injury. In 11 games last year, Locker threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10), and he took 25 sacks, but the Titans invested a high first-round draft choice in him, so he's their guy.  He will need help from receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington (former Steeler) and Kendall Wright, the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft.

On defense, the Titans have a strong defensive line featuring tough-to-move Mookie Johnson, Sammie Hill and Mike Martin in rotation at tackle and Derrick Morgan a mobile force as a pass-rushing defensive end. Morgan blistered Steelers tackle Mike Adams last year but will be paired up against Marcus Gilbert today, since Adams has moved to left tackle. The Tennessee linebackers and secondary have some question marks, although Tennessee invested heavily in the safety position with head-hunter Bernard Pollard (Baltimore) and veteran George Wilson (Buffalo).

Tennessee could have a good team this year, but ... with 20 new players, it has a lot of "ifs."

Pretty much the same could be said about the Steelers.

Links worth checking:
Dave Bryan at Steelers Depot offers his typically thorough analysis of the opposing team.

Steel Curtain Rising considers the team's potential vs. question marks.

Behind the Steel Curtain profiles new special teams ace Kion Wilson.

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