Our thanks go out to Bam Morris of Blitzburgh Blog for answering our questions about the Steelers in our weekly question and answer exchange. Following are Bam's answers to my questions.
Total Titans: What do the returns of Rashard Mendenhall and James Harrison mean to the offense and defense, respectively? How does this change the way the Steelers play on each side of the ball?
Bam Morris: Well, according to Mike Tomlin it changes nothing because "the standard is the standard" regardless of who the Steelers play. That is patently false, obviously, and the return of both has really bolstered the Steelers on both sides of the ball. Mendenhall has never really lived up to his draft status and I've never been a huge fan, but he is better than Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer at this point and is by far the most experienced RB on the roster. The Steelers running game has been pathetic so hopefully his return helps at least a little. Last week was a good sign.
Harrison's replacements really struggled for the Steelers early on and getting 92 back is even a bigger win for Pittsburgh than Mendenhall's return. The Steelers entire defensive scheme is predicated on generating pressure with the LBs and Pittsburgh has struggled to do that most of last year and this season so far. The biggest reason has been Harrison's injury issues. If he can get close to 100%, he's one of the most ferocious pass rushers in the league.
TT: Since Jerome Bettis retired and Ben Roethlisberger developed, the Steelers' identity on offense changed from a running team to a passing team. Given that the Titans can't stop anyone from running the ball, would the Steelers prefer to run the ball against them? (The Titans can't stop anyone from throwing the ball either, so the Steelers can take their pick on how to score a lot of points.)
Bam: I don't think that the Steelers can really consistently run the ball against anybody this season. The offensive line simply isn't good enough. Pittsburgh has only averaged 3.1 carries per rush this season despite facing the Jets and Raiders who are also awful at defending the run.
I do think the Steelers have realized that the NFL is a QB dominated league and they have one of the better ones on their side. This group of Steelers is fine with leaning heavily on the passing game.
TT: Should this game be the easiest one left on the Steelers' schedule? I don't see another one that should be as easy, unless it's perhaps the Chiefs. Other than your team having to travel on a short week, is there anything at all that concerns you about this game?
Bam: After the Steelers lost a totally winnable game at Oakland, I don't really feel comfortable saying any game is "easy." Pittsburgh has struggled on the road in recent years and games in Tennessee have been especially bizarre. Tommy Maddox nearly broke his neck there, the Titans 'stomped' the Steelers in 2008 a few weeks before the Steelers won the Super Bowl and there was also the Joe Nedney Flop. I take nothing for granted in Tennessee.
TT: Not that it has anything to do with this game, but if you could have three Titans that you'd like to have on your team, who would they be? What makes them appealing to you? Just curious.
Bam: I don't watch the Titans very often, but Jared Cook seems to be a total beast so I'll take him. Tommie Campbell was a high school football star from Pittsburgh so I've got a soft spot for him. And Kenny Britt would probably be my 3rd choice.
TT: If there's anything you'd like for Titans fans to know about the Steelers, here's an opportunity to lay it on us. Feel free to make a prediction too, if you'd like.
Bam: The Steelers are not as good as everybody seems to think. They are a pretty deeply flawed team this year on both sides of the ball. One of my biggest frustrations the past few years as been with Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau's gameplan on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have really struggled to adapt to the pass happy, no helmet-to-helmet contact NFL. Pittsburgh tends to resist any type of change and the football team is no exception. It feels like we're still using coverage schemes that worked in 2001 but are incompetent in 2012. Don't be surprised if the Titans dink and dunk their way right down the field a few times. I still think the Steelers win though. Pittsburgh 31 Tennessee 17
As a total aside, Tennessee is one of my favorite places to visit. Especially Nashville. I'm very jealous of you all.