John: It's week six in the NFL season. We're here to preview this week's Thursday night game as the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Tennessee to face the Titans.
As you can see below, all of us did really well last week by going 11-3. I went 12-3 the week before, so I'm rolling into week six with some confidence after being 23-6 the last two weeks. Of course rolling with confidence is a bad thing when it comes to NFL games because you never know what's going to happen.
Standings after Week 5 (Straight Up)
John 50-27 .649 (Last Week 11-3)
Mike 48-29 .623 (11-3)
Bret 46-31 .597 (11-3)
As always I'm joined by Bret Clev and Mike Maloney to break down tonight's game.
Pittsburgh (2-2) at Tennessee (1-4) 8:20 PM
Bret: The pick has to be Pittsburgh here - even on the road. Tennessee is going to struggle mightily offensively once again this week. I heard an interesting take on Chris Johnson's struggles on the ESPN Going Deep podcast which stated that the only reason he had success against Houston was their defensive scheme has them penetrating deep into backfields - which allowed CJ the space to jump/cut. Whereas most teams (including Pittsburgh) focus on filling gaps - which is rather easy to do against Tennessee's awful line. That's a long way of saying don't expect much out of Johnson this week.
That leads us to the passing game. I don't think Hasselbeck is significantly worse than Locker at this point, but neither of them have much in the way of targets. Last week Britt was just a decoy to keep the defenses from rolling coverage over to Kendall Wright too much. I doubt Pittsburgh falls for that.
Offensively, the Steelers don't have to do much - which is good, because they can't do all that much. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have both had disappointing seasons so far - proving that giving a guy a fat contract will make him lazy AND not giving a guy a fat contract will make him lazy too. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. (Or narratives like that or stupid.)
The Steelers will do what they've been doing this year - run the ball, keep the passing game short, and do enough to win. (Oakland notwithstanding.) Pittsburgh 27 Tennessee 20
Mike: Ignoring Tennessee's 44-41 win over Detroit (Which they only scored two offensive touchdowns anyways on plays of 61 and 71 yards), the Titans have averaged 11 points per game in their other four games. Chris Johnson is their leading rusher with 210 yards on 73 rushing attempts (that's 2.9 yards per carry, by the way). And he had 141 of those yards in one game! For comparison's sake, Ahmad Bradshaw had 200 yards on 30 carries just last week. What's even worse is that their second leading rusher is Jake Locker with 67 yards on 8 carries. Oh, and their stud WR from last year (Kenny Britt) who through the first two games of 2011 had 271 yards and 3 TDs? Well, he's still probably not 100% from his torn ACL and so far has played in 3 games this season and has 9 catches for 83 yards.
The point is that Tennessee's offense is frankly terrible. They have a lot of trouble putting points on the board, they have the worst run game in the league, a receiving group currently being led by Nate Washington, and a solid if unspectacular QB situation in Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck, neither of whom is going to carry the team to any wins on their own. And on top of that their defense, which at least managed to get by as average (15th in DVOA) last year, has fallen to 29th so far this year. Now granted it's still early and Tennessee has had some tough offenses to face, but with an offense as bad as theirs is, they can't be this bad on defense and expect to win anything.
Pittsburgh has had its own issues, only managing 183 yards on 69 carries (2.7 yards per carry) between their two leading rushers Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. But the return of Rashard Mendenhall gave the Steelers a nice boost last week, carrying the ball 13 times for 68 yards and catching 3 passes for another 33 yards and a touchdown. He was key in getting Pittsburgh the win last week with Ben Roethlisberger struggling (22 of 38 for 220 yards and a touchdown).
While Mike Wallace has been somewhat quiet this season, Tennessee is dead last in passing DVOA so far this year, so you would expect Pittsburgh to be able to air it out some. They're also ranked 21st in rushing so it's not like they will have a ton of luck in stopping the run either.
Really the only thing Tennessee has going in its favor is the continuously banged up S Troy Polamalu will be out for the game, and regardless of how much he's been hurt the past few years, Pittsburgh's defense is noticeably improved with him in the lineup. However, even the lack of Polamalu shouldn't be enough to give Tennessee much of a chance here.
The betting line is PIT -6.5 right now, and I'm thinking of taking Tennessee to cover because it's a Thursday night game. I also like the Under 43.5 bet, and it'll be one of my five bets for this week. Pittsburgh 20 Tennessee 16
John: My friends up above gave you a lot of stats. I'll give you these five numbers: 34, 38, 44, 38 and 30. Those are the number of points the 1-4 Titans have given up in their five games this year. Their only win was the 44-41 no defense game against the Lions. The other four games were losses of 21 points or more every time.
Do I think the Titans will play better here? No. I know the Thursday game stigma that teams aren't as prepared so the offenses tend to suffer, but the biggest issue with this Titans team has to do with their defense. They can't stop anybody. Do they have any defensive players that really make a difference to them? No.
If there's anything we know about the Steelers this year it's that they're a throwing team that is 10th in the NFL in passing yards. Defensively their age is definitely showing and they are no longer an elite defense, but they can put points up on the board. QB Ben Roethlisberger has had a good start to his year although I think fantasy football owners would like to see him connect with WR Antonio Brown more than he has. Mike Wallace has done alright. The offense also improved last week with the return of RB Rashard Mendenhall. They seem to be headed in the right direction offensively.
As for the Titans, does home field advantage really matter when your offense sucks so much that the fans boo you? Don't think so. Good luck to Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson and the rest of the Titans, but I don't see them putting up much of a fight.
The line is -6.5 for the Steelers with the over/under at 43.5 points. I like the Steelers and over, but that won't be one of my best bets for the week. I just think they'll take care of business in this game. As for Tennessee's trend of giving up 30 or more points in every game? I think that will continue. Steelers 34-13
Thanks for reading. We'll see you again on Friday for the rest of this week's games.
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