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NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - INSIDE SLANT
The Tennessee Titans allowed the most points in the NFL last season, a whopping 29.4 a game. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not take advantage of that -- or maybe they just can't.
The Titans started this season by stifling the Pittsburgh offense Sunday, holding the Steelers to 195 total yards and without a touchdown until there was 1:23 left in a 16-9 victory at Heinz Field in the opener for both teams.
Gregg Williams, who was suspended all of last season by the NFL for his part in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, was brought in by the Titans as a defensive consultant during the offseason to help coordinator Jerry Gray. Williams showed the kind of difference he can make with a defense.
"I think our defense is the best-kept secret in the NFL," Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "Last year was a bad year but we know the type of talent to play like this. It was important to have a game like this in the opener. It lets us put last year in the past and look forward to having a good season."
Zach Brown led the Tennessee defense with six tackles and two of the Titans' five sacks. Jurrell Casey also had two sacks and Verner's interception set up the game's only touchdown.
"It only counts as one win but it's a sweet win," said Titans coach Mike Munchak, on the hot seat after going 6-10 last season. "Obviously to come to Pittsburgh and win one, this organization has not done that very often. I have been part of some on the other side and know how hard it is to accomplish."
The Titans' defense covered for an offense that managed just 229 total yards.
Chris Johnson rushed for 70 yards on 25 carries -- he has yet to crack the 100-yard barrier in seven career games against Pittsburgh -- and Jake Locker completed 11-of-20 passes for 125 yards. Johnson averaged just 60.2 yards a game in the Titans' last five games of 2012.
However, Tennessee did not have any turnovers.
"When you come on the road and play against a good defense in a hostile environment, (turnovers) are one way to really get their crowd into it and shift momentum in the game," Locker said. "We did a great job taking care of it and not allowing that to be a factor in the game."
The Steelers managed just 32 yards rushing on 21 carries as starting running back Isaac Redman had just nine yards on eight carries and fumbled twice. Ben Roethlisberger was 21-of-33 for 191 yards and threw the late 4-yard scoring pass to Jerricho Cotchery that got Pittsburgh within 16-9.
"Our performance just wasn't good enough, point blank," Roethlisberger said. "No excuses. It wasn't good enough. I didn't play good enough."
Pittsburgh lost five of its last seven games last season to finish 8-8, and then went 0-4 in the preseason. The Steelers also had their string of 10 consecutive wins in home openers end.
Compounding the Steelers' problems was that center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a season-ending right knee injury on the first series. He tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments when inadvertently chopped blocked by Steelers guard David DeCastro. Pouncey, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three season, was taken to a local hospital for an MRI.
The Steelers also lost veteran linebacker Larry Foote for the remainder of the season when he suffered a torn right biceps in the fourth quarter.
"It was unacceptable performance," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "I won't accept it. This team better not accept it. We've got some work to do. We sustained some injuries in the game but that's really not an excuse. The guys that played had opportunities and we didn't play well enough."
Tennessee took a 7-2 lead just before halftime when Jackie Battle had a 3-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds remaining. That capped a 12-play, 49-yard drive that was set up by Verner's pick.
Rob Bironas kicked field goals of 26 yards in the third quarter and 44 and 27 yards in the fourth quarter to push the Titans' lead to 16-2.
The game started in unusual fashion with the Steelers scoring a safety on the opening kickoff.
Darius Reynaud picked up the ball with his left foot over the end line. He then stepped back into the end zone and downed the ball. It was first game-opening safety since the New York Giants scored once against the Dallas Cowboys in 1988.
"That was sitting in my head for a little bit," Reynaud said. "I know I was in the end zone. I did not know where the ball was. That's something I need to work on. The guys kept telling me they were going to bail me out and they did."
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Center Maurkice Pouncey is out for the season. On the first series against Tennessee he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments when inadvertently chopped blocked by Steelers guard David DeCastro. Pounceuy, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three season, was taken to a local hospital for an MRI.
--Linebacker Larry Foote was lost for the remainder of the season when he suffered a torn right biceps in the fourth quarter.
--Other Steelers injures -- RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee), cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and K Shaun Suisham (hamstring).
--RB Shonn Greene (knee) was limited to four carries and 18 yards in his Titans' debut.
--OL Kelvin Beachum showed his versatility as he started at tight end then moved to center when Pouncey was injured..
--RB Le'Veon Bell (foot) and TE Heath Miller (knee) were inactive for Pittsburgh.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just didn't get enough going with any of the running backs. Our quarterback was getting hit some. We needed to be able to run the ball and stay on schedule. We weren't able to do that," - coach Mike Tomlin on a running game that managed 32 just yards on 15 carries.
NFL Team Report - Pittsburgh Steelers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Steelers' offense is in disarrary. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season on the first series when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee. Running back Le'Veon Bell (foot) and tight end Heath Miller (knee) are also sidelined. No wonder the Steelers managed just 195 total yards.
--The Steelers defense doesn't make plays. The Steelers led the NFL in total yards allowed last season, giving up 275.8 a game, but was 25th among 32 teams in turnovers forced with just 20. The Titans did turn the ball over Sunday.