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Old 09-18-2010, 07:32 PM   #1
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Default Steelers vs. Titans Preview

Steelers-Titans Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers found a way to win their opener without Ben Roethlisberger. The Tennessee Titans - as usual - made sure their path to victory was paved by Chris Johnson.

The NFL rushing champion is in for a bigger challenge Sunday against the visiting Steelers, who hope to back young quarterback Dennis Dixon with another strong defensive effort and snap Johnson's streak of 100-yard games at 12.

Pittsburgh (1-0) had the most productive passing season in team history behind Roethlisberger in 2009, but with the quarterback suspended for the first four games, it returned to the traits that previously defined the franchise.

The Steelers kept the pressure off Dixon last Sunday against Atlanta with stout defense and a solid running game, and when the game went to overtime, both came through again. Pittsburgh quickly forced the Falcons to punt, then Rashard Mendenhall took the Steelers' first offensive play 50 yards to the end zone for a 15-9 win.

"I thought we stayed together and played team football, and we did it until the very end," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We got some things to work on, absolutely, like all 31 other teams do, but we get to do it while we're 1-0."

Mendenhall rushed for 120 yards and Pittsburgh's defense held former All-Pro Michael Turner to 42 yards on 19 carries, the type of effort it would love to replicate against Johnson.

It certainly won't be easy. The Titans' dynamic back said before the season he wants to rush for 2,500 yards, and while he isn't quite on that pace after the opener, he's not far off. Johnson ran for 142 yards - including a 76-yard touchdown - as Tennessee (1-0) routed Oakland 38-13.

"I was waiting on it," quarterback Vince Young said of Johnson's big run. "Offensive coordinators and our coaches always preach just taking it one at a time, one play at a time ... 3 yards, 5 yards and then eventually CJ is going to do what he does."

The NFL's Offensive Player of the Year has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 straight games, two shy of Barry Sanders' league record set in 1997.

Johnson, though, has been held under 70 in both career meetings with the Steelers despite breaking a 32-yard run in last season's 13-10 loss.

Pittsburgh has allowed an NFL-low three 100-yard rushers since 2006.

"I feel like we had a little success against them last year," Johnson said. "It's going to be a tough thing to run the ball against them. So we've just got to go game plan and get focused, just keep doing the same things that I've been doing."

Tomlin is well aware of where his defense's attention needs to be.

"(Johnson) has a strong argument for being the best player in the world right now," the fourth-year coach said. "They have some concept things, some speed option things, some designed things that highlight Vince's athleticism and pedigree, but largely their personality is their personality and their offense flows through 28."

Johnson's job could be easier if Pittsburgh is without its run-stuffing nose tackle. Casey Hampton left the win over Atlanta with a hamstring injury and is questionable, meaning Chris Hoke could replace him.

Both teams will have different signal-callers than the ones who started against each other in last season's Thursday night NFL opener, though Young - who took over for Kerry Collins in Week 8 - has 40 starts under his belt.

Dixon only has two, and his season debut was far from flawless despite going 18 of 26 for 236 yards. He threw a costly interception and escaped a few other picks on defenders' drops, but wide receiver Hines Ward was encouraged.

"All in all, we couldn't ask for any more out of Dennis," said Ward, who had his 26th career 100-yard game. "He did what we wanted him to do, and it was a great learning lesson."

The Steelers may need Dixon to throw more if they continue to find running difficult against Tennessee, though he'll likely drop back without left tackle Max Starks (ankle) protecting his blind side. The Titans have held Pittsburgh to 109 yards on 48 carries in the past two meetings.

Big plays were easy to complete in 2009 on Tennessee, which allowed 61 pass plays of 20 yards or more - second-most in the league. The Raiders only hit one of that length last Sunday.

"Everyone has a chip on their shoulder," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "When we look at film we'll realize we could have made some more plays. We can't be satisfied."

The Steelers are 1-6 all-time at Tennessee.


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