XFL MVP: What do the Titans fear most about the Steelers?
Total Titans: The thing that should concern the Titans most, in my opinion, is Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz. Others have tried to copy it but it still presents unique challenges. Who’s coming and who’s going where? It’s not something easy to practice against. The Titans have enough problems with good 3-4 defenses as it is and the zone blitz just makes the base defense more effective. The thing about the zone blitz that concerns me the most is the big play, the turnover, that could change the game.
XFL MVP: What, if anything, should the Steelers fear about the Titans? (BTW, don’t take that as us thinking we’re so great … plan on asking everyone the same first two questions just like that)
Total Titans: Once again, concern is the word I would prefer to use, and I believe the Titans defense will be a concern to every team that faces it this season. The D should hold down the opponents’ score, keeping the Titans in every game. Not to mention the defense will win quite a few of those games for Tennessee. The Titans were second in scoring defense last year behind the Steelers, so you guys know how important that is.
XFL MVP: We heard Vince Young’s offseason words, but didn’t follow him through the preseason — how did he progress and will his role expand anymore than simply being the No. 2 guy this season?
Total Titans: Vince had his ups and downs in the preseason. The bottom line is he didn’t improve his stock. Barring an injury to Kerry Collins, no one expects to see much of Vince this year. Jeff Fisher is a conservative coach and this certainly won’t be a staple in the Titans offense, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vince in a spread offense for a play or two over the course of the season. If Vince’s role will be expanded, as you asked, I expect that will be about the extent of it.
We really don’t care about this, but what kind of Steelers blog would we be if we didn’t bring it up? Can you explain Lendale White’s actions
? Didn’t he learn his lesson the first time?
Total Titans: It seems to be the hot topic, doesn’t it? LenDale is a fun-loving guy who doesn’t mind stirring the pot. He even put on a Pittsburgh Pirates cap for that interview you linked to. I’ve heard that at practice once in college, LenDale participated in a prank in which a dummy was thrown off the roof of a building. I don’t recall the details but someone with extra time on their hands can probably find out.
XFL MVP: Speaking of White, can’t Chris Johnson finally receive full credit for his work this year by being granted permission to punch in those 5-yard TDs? Why give it to White anyways?
Total Titans: Johnson might get occasional touches inside the five – he rushed for nine scores last year – but White is a better short-yardage and goal line back. He has better footwork and is better at finding and working his way through a hole. Despite his nickname of Smash, White depends on those attributes more than his power. Incidentally, with his weight loss, you’ll notice he’s hitting the hole quicker than he was in previous years.
XFL MVP: Defensively, the schemes will be similar and your unit will be strong. That being said, who’s name will we hear the most with Albert Haynesworth now gone?
Total Titans: If you’re just looking for one name, it should be CB Cortland Finnegan. The secondary has the most stars, with three Pro Bowlers last year – Finnegan, FS Michael Griffin and former Steeler SS Chris Hope - so you should hear all of their names a lot. Former Pro Bowlers DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and LB Keith Bulluck will get their names called too. Those are the names familiar to most fans but if you’re looking for a new name that will be heard a lot, it should be MLB Stephen Tulloch. I’m expecting big things, a breakout year, from him. Tulloch has all the tools and is on the verge of joining that group of players who are well known.
XFL MVP: I didn’t want to go over five questions, but quick research also reminded me that the Titans drafted Javon Ringer. He’s tough and I watched him a lot in college. What are the plans for him?
Total Titans: Ringer is in the mix as a kick returner and while he’s not quite the scatback type, he’ll be on the field in some third-down situations. Watching him in training camp was a pleasant surprise; he can do a lot of things people weren’t expecting of him. He has deceptive speed and has good hands catching the ball out of the backfield. And as you mentioned, he’s also a tough little runner.
XFL MVP: …and, if you don’t mind, give us a prediction on the final score.
Total Titans: It’s hard to pick against the champions on their home field but Tennessee’s defense gives them a chance. Titans 17, Steelers 16.
I asked Alan the same questions I asked Don but haven’t received his answers yet. If I get those later today, I’ll post them here, time permitting.
Update: Alan emailed me his answers to those questions this afternoon. I’ll take the blame for not getting them posted sooner, but better late than never. Or something like that.
Markus wants to know, “Last year, Mendenhall was injured and Fast Willie couldn’t get anything going against the D. Will the Steelers still test the d-line or come out passing? Can Mendenhall and Parker be a lot like White and Johnson?”
XFL MVP: The Steelers will always test the d-line, but the play calling will be pretty even. Pass first has only been the main option maybe a handful of times in, I don’t know, the last 20 years. What will be more interesting to watch is how long they stick with Willie as the go-to guy if he struggles early. Willie has been injured this preseason, but Tomlin has still said that he is “his horse”. I can’t see that lasting for very long. We’ll run. But I think you may see more Mendenhall than you had originally thought.
Total Titans: Pittsburgh’s o-line was suspect last year. Heading into this season, it appears to be even worse. Four starters return, so there’s no upgrade there, and the fifth starter is on IR, replaced by a backup lineman. How concerned are you about the o-line and what are you hearing? How much do you think this dropoff will effect the play calling?
XFL MVP: Hmm, I try not to think about the o-line struggles and its lack of depth. Since the 5th Super Bowl title, the o-line has been a constant struggle — it’s almost a given now. Ben is going to take his lumps and the run game wont’ be as dominating. The guys upfront now don’t possess the most talent in the world, but they can work well as a unit — sometimes that’s more important. That depth is scary, but as Tomlin said in a recent press conference, I wasn’t comfortable with the depth heading into last season and we won the Super Bowl. I don’t think it’ll effect any play calling. Staff believes, for whatever reasons, that this group can get the job done.
Total Titans: There will be several outstanding individual matchups with All-Pros and Pro Bowlers going head to head against each other. Roos vs Harrison. Mawae vs Hampton. Ward vs Finnegan. The Titans o-line vs the Steelers front seven should be another great matchup. Which matchups (among those or others) do you like for the Steelers? Which matchups concern you?
XFL MVP: I like the Steelers front seven against just about anybody … I’ll always take that matchup. It’s tough to run because Hampton will be filling gaps, it’s tough to pass because Woodley and Harrison will be coming from the outside. Oftentimes, you have to consider Polamalu as an eighth guy up front because he’s always roaming around there. The Steelers are a dominant team because of those guys and their schemes and it’ll remain that way. I’ll take the easy route and just say it’s any unit of yours against our o-line that concerns me. Regardless of the staff’s confidence in the unit, it’s still the weakest on the team. The Titans will get after Ben — I just hope he’s ready for it.
Total Titans: Prediction time. What’s Mike Tomlin’s strategy? Who wins the game, and why? And the final score will be….
XFL MVP: The Steelers have a little revenge in mind. Last year’s game was no indication as to what type of team the Steelers were — they couldn’t do anything right. With a clean slate, on both sides, I think we’re looking at one hell of a game, especially given the similarities between the two styles. The game will be (cliche alert) won in the trenches. You like that one? But seriously, the lines are huge in what each team wants to do. That being said, it’s a tough assignment to come out and take on the Steelers’ zone blitz schemes in the first game of the season. I’ll take the Steelers, 17-13, in a struggle.
Total Titans: Although it doesn’t have anything to do with the game, fans of both teams want to talk about LenDale White and the Terrible Towel. Dave asks, “Do Steelers fans really think the towel stomping is some huge disrespect? Or do you think they realize that they shouldn’t have brought it into our house (and that those fans who did bring them, waved them and then left them for trash after taking a beating, was far more disrespectful and they got what they deserved)?”
XFL MVP: Steelers fans think it is some disrespect mainly because that type of act is not something you’d see on our sidelines. Opposing fans have left numerous goodies in Heinz Field and Three Rivers Stadium over the years, but you haven’t seen a story emerge of a player defacing any of it. We like to do our talking on the field. LenDale never saw the victory column again after his famed stomp. We never left it. So stomp if you want, LenDale … I’ll be too busy admiring our six Lombardis to even care.
Thanks again to Alan at XFL MVP
for joining us in this exchange.
Reminder: We’ll be liveblogging the game here on Total Titans tonight with Tom as your host. You’re invited to join us as we kick off another great season.