JOE BIDDLE: Titans shock Steelers in season opener

JOE BIDDLE: Titans shock Steelers in season opener (Image 1)

Who were those guys in two-tone blue?

Preseason prognosticators had dire projections for the new-look Titans. You could see why. Coach Mike Munchak is on the hot seat to get his team to the playoffs. A lot of new assistant coaches and players came on board in the off-season. It was a difficult task to mesh everything together, especially early in the season.

So what did they do? Marched into the Steel City Sunday, where the Pittsburgh Steelers had won 10 straight home openers and upset the Terrible Towel waving crowd's favorites, 16-9.

I guess Pittsburgh really is a baseball town.

Despite trailing 2-0 three seconds into the game, the Titans never quit coming. They displayed mucho grit and sweat in a town built on blue-collar grit and sweat.

It left Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin hot under the collar after the game.

“There were enough mistakes to go around all three phases,'' he said emphatically.

“It was an unacceptable performance. I won't accept it and this team better not accept it.''

This was a throwback game when the two teams were in the same AFC Central known as the Black and Blue division for the physical styles the teams played.

The Titans flexed their defensive muscles, some of the players acquired through free agency, others emerging from younger players who are coming of age.

They held the Steelers to 32 yards rushing on 15 carries, an anemic 2.1 yard per carry average. Unable to consistently move the ball on the ground, the Steelers had to rely on veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Man, did the Titans defense get in Big Ben's grill? He was sacked five times, Titans flying at him from every direction. He threw his only touchdown pass with 1:23 left in the game and little chance to walk away with a victory.

He finished with 21 completions for 191 yards, but was picked off by Alterraun Verner to leave him with a 76.7 quarterback rating.

The Titans defensive muscle had to surprise the Steelers, as there was little evidence from the unit that gave up the most points of any NFL team last year and showed little improvement of such play during Titans preseason games. This Titans defense stood tall.

Granted, Pittsburgh was crippled by the season ending injury to its Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered what was later reported to be a torn ACL and MCL when teammate David DeCastro fell on it during a running play. The Steelers lost three other players during the game with injuries, including linebacker Larry Foote who suffered a torn biceps.

The Titans defensive line set the tone early and often. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey gave the Titans consistent penetration up the middle and Derrick Morgan came off the edge to force Roethlisberger into errant throws. They combined for three of the team's five sacks. Linebacker Zac Brown had two on the day.

“Our quarterback was getting hit and it wasn't a clean pocket,'' Tomlin said. “We've got to understand what the standard is and we didn't play up to that standard.''

Neither team was going to put up eye-popping offensive numbers. It was all about man-to-man battles in the trenches and the Titans won many more battles than they lost.

You had to like the defensive plan concocted by former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray. You can see Williams' influence infiltrating the minds of the defense.

The Titans offensive plan was simple, but efficient, as quarterback Jake Locker didn't have a turnover, although a number of his 20 passes were off the mark. He was sacked once, but it was clear the Titans main ingredient was running the football.  Chris Johnson led the way with 70 of the team's 112 yards on the ground.

Bottom line? The Titans got off on the right foot.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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