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09-15-2009, 06:57 AM
Steelers Team Report
Updated: September 15, 2009, 2:40 AM EDT

Inside Slant
Pittsburgh won again without a ground game and without consistent offensive line play. But barely, and they know they cannot do it throughout this season.

The Steelers beat Tennessee, 13-10, in overtime while rushing for only 36 yards and a 1.6-yard average. At no time during the game did it ever seem the Steelers could do anything on the ground. They even used third-down back Mewelde Moore in the I-formation on two critical short-yardage runs they could not convert, resulting in the tying field goal.

A more troubling issue was the loss of Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu. His left knee MCL was sprained in the second quarter and coach Mike Tomlin estimated he will be lost 3-6 weeks, although Polamalu said on Monday he won't need surgery.

If it weren't for their reliable defense and Ben Roethlisberger's superlative play, they would easily be 0-1 today.

"Obviously, we'd like to run the ball a whole lot better," said tight end Heath Miller. "Ben's the best player in the offense, so we play to his strengths. But we're still capable of running the ball. The running game is very complicated. If one guy gets beat, it breaks down."

Last season, the Steelers ranked 23rd in the NFL on the ground. It was their second-lowest ranking since they joined the AFC in 1970 and, judging by their first game, they are headed lower in 2009.

"It is obvious we have to do a better job," Tomlin said. "As good of a defense as they are and as good of a front seven as they are, we have to do better than that if we want to consistently be in the victory lane."

Notes and Quotes

-- The Titans game was broadcast in Spanish to a radio station in Mexico City by a separate Mexican broadcast crew that will carry all Steelers games this season.

"You cannot understand the depth of Mexico fans' love for the Steelers," said veteran Mexican NFL broadcaster Fernando Von Rossum, Sr.

-- Coach Mike Tomlin tried everything to get his short-yardage game going. He even inserted third-down back Mewelde Moore in on two crucial situations in the I-formation deep in Tennessee territory. On second-and-2, Moore gained one yard behind rookie fullback Frank Summers. On third-and-1, he gained nothing and Jeff Reed tied it with a 32-yard field goal with 2:57 left.

"I think until we get great clarity about who can distinguish themselves in that area in regular-season football, we are going to go with the guys who are in the game," Tomlin said. "He happened to be in the game."

-- WR Hines Ward was stripped of the ball after a 30-yard reception to Tennessee's 4 with 51 seconds left in a tied game. Ward was fighting for more yards when he lost the ball. His teammates told him not to worry about it.

Said fellow receiver Santonio Holmes, "I looked at him and I came up and bumped him and told him, 'You always tell me keep your head up. Plays like that happen. Go out and make it in overtime.' He was hurt. I don't remember how many catches he's had without a fumble, and it happened at the critical point of the game. He was looking forward to winning the ball game."

Strategy and Personnel

-- SS Troy Polamalu, who tore the MCL in his left knee in the season opener, will not need surgery. However, he said the best-case scenario has him returning in 3-6 weeks.

-- LB Keyaron Fox got his first start with the Steelers, replacing injured Lawrence Timmons on the inside, and he led the defense with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble.

-- LB LaMarr Woodley did not have a sack but he batted down two passes and had one tackle for a loss.

-- DE Ziggy Hood, the team's first-round draft pick, played briefly for Aaron Smith but he did not make the stat sheet.

-- LB James Farrior, 34, had the team's only sack, dropping Kerry Collins for a 10-ayrd loss. He played every snap on defense.


PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Ben Roethlisberger overcame constant pressure from the Titans that included four sacks and plenty of scrambles to complete 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions (one on a Hail Mary pass into the end zone at the end of the first half). He had two receivers top 100 yards, with Santonio Holmes catching nine for 131 and a 34-yard touchdown and Hines Ward with eight for 103. Roethlisberger completed 5 of 7 on the winning field goal drive in overtime, including a final one of 22 yards to the 15 to rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The poor running game from 2008 got worse. They averaged 1.6 yards with 36 yards on 23 tries, none longer than 8 yards. They could not pick up short yardage and tried three different backs with little success: Willie Parker (13-19), Mewelde Moore (5-8) and Rashard Mendenhall (4-6). The line run-blocking was terrible and, giving the backs a little due, they had nowhere to run.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Kerry Collins completed 22 of 35 passes for 244 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Steelers sacked him just once. With Tennessee's running game pretty much stifled, Collins had to pass and a good pass rush had trouble getting to him, although it batted down several of his passes. The secondary also had a gaffe at the end of the first half. After the Steelers went in front 7-0 with 1:22 to go, they permitted two big passes, one for 57 yards and one for a 14-yard touchdown without ever getting near either receiver.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Chris Johnson had one 32-yard run, highly unusual against the second-best run defense in the NFL last season. However, the Titans got little after that. They had 86 yards total and a 3.4-yard average, but without that play they were 24 for 54 on the ground and they had no touchdowns.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Two missed field goals by normally reliable Rob Bironas, one blocked by Aaron Smith, highlighted a good day for this area of the game by the Steelers. New return man Stefan Logan opened the game with a 39-yard kickoff return, but he did not do much after that, particularly on punts, returning just one for 11 yards - two others were either downed or out of bounds and two more he fair caught. Daniel Sepulveda averaged only 42.7 yards on seven punts but he did a nice job, dropping four inside the 20.

COACHING: B-minus -- One reason the Steelers cannot run is the lack of a fullback in their offense as a lead blocker. Several times they tried to run in short yardage without one and the runner was stuffed. However, coordinator Bruce Arians unleashed the no-huddle in the nick of time and his quarterback pulled it off perfectly. There was some confusion at the end of the first half in the secondary, and that likely was not a coaching error but on the players back there. There were no game-changing decisions made either way by the head coach.