As the season approached I predicted the Titans would travel to Pittsburgh and grind out a victory in a tough environment and they did not disappoint. The Titans dominated the Steelers in a game that was more lopsided than the score would suggest. So how did the game go down? Your answers after the jump.

Jake Locker entered the regular with some questioning his ability to lead the Titans or to be a quality NFL quarterback. While Locker didn’t have a game that will silence all his critics, he did do some good things and overall the Titans showed signs this offense is vastly improved over 2012. Locker was 11 of 20 for only 125 yards passing and while he didn’t throw a touchdown he also didn’t thrown an interception either. More importantly, he didn’t fumble and showed he has learned to slide a little better and avoid injury. He had a completion percentage of 55% and a quarterback rating of 74.0 while posting a passing average of 6.3 yards per completion.

Chris Johnson didn’t have a big game but he did do a good job earning the tough yards . The Titans softened the Steelers defense with some good hard running by Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle. Chris Johnson would finish with 25 carries for 70 yards and a 2.8 YPC. Shonn Greene would leave early with a minor right knee injury but still put up 4 carries for 18 yards and a 4.5 YPC. The story of the run game was once again Jackie Battle who has simply been fantastic for the Titans since joining them early in training camp. Battle added 8 carries for 21 yards (2.1 YPC) and scored on a 3 yard touchdown run. Battle was great blocking against the Steelers and is the kind of complete back you want. None of the running backs were targeted in the passing game but they will in weeks to come.

The Titans revamped offensive line was pretty good overall today against an attacking Steelers defense. Locker was sacked only one time though he did see significant pressure at times. The run game wasn’t as good as it will be but hoooh boy did Chance Warmack make a boss play to push Jackie Battle for a first down. David Stewart had his obligatory penalty but the Titans were only penalized 6 times for 60 yards.

The receiving stats reflected the emphasis on the return to the run game but Nate Washington in particular had a nice game. “Nate the Great” doesn’t get near enough credit for how often he is clutch in games and for how dependable he is for the Titans. Washington would once again lead Titans receivers in receiving with 4 receptions for 46 yards and 7 targets. Washington was the most targeted receiver on the day. Kenny Britt was only targeted twice and caught 1 pass for 15 yards. Kendall Wright was targeted 4 times and caught 2 passes for 11 yards.  Damian Williams was targeted twice and caught 1 pass for 13 yards.

Delanie Walker was the second most targeted receiver with 4 targets and 3 receptions for 40 yards.  Walker is going to a key contributor this year and this game was just the beginning. The Titans again showed multi tight end sets and even used a three tight end set toward the end of the game. Walker also put up this block and needs to hang onto his helmet!

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The best stat of the game from the offense came in the time of possession battle. The Titans struggled mightily to stay on the field in 2012 and didn’t succeed very well. Time of possession was an area I cited as one of the benchmarks for judging  Jake Locker and the offense overall this year and they did not disappoint in their first game. The Titans won the TOP battle handily holding the ball 34:01 minutes to Pittsburgh’s 25:59. Good job by the offense and hope to see more of that in the weeks to come.

[UPDATE] I promised myself I would talk about special teams this week and it’s certainly a week to do it. The Titans started their season on an interesting note didn’t they? I like Darius Reynaud but he does sometimes make some head scratching decisions and the flub against the Steelers is his worst. In case you somehow missed it, Reynaud fielded the opening kickoff around the half yard line, backed into the end zone and took a knee giving the Steelers a safety and the ball. Doh! Reynaud is talented and the mistake didn’t hurt in the end but it’s likely a play he will never live down. Brett Kern was outstanding as usual punting and Rob Bironas was perfect on the day.

The Titans improved defense was the talk of the game though I as I mentioned I think the time of possession stat tells the story. Having said that, the Titans defense certainly played a part in that by getting the ball back and keeping Ben Roethislisberger and company in check. The Titans sacked Roethlisberger 5 times and got good pressure on him most of the game. There were a few lapses but the Titans defensive backs for the most part played tight coverage. Jason McCourty in particular had a nice game once the Titans started keeping him in man coverage.  Fellow cornerback Alterraun Verner also had a very good game. The Titans need to keep them in press/man coverage and just allow them to play. That soft coverage just doesn’t work.

JMac in press and man coverage verner in press coverage

McCourty and Verner played so well in man coverage the Steelers only completed 8 passes against them all game. McCourty was targeted 9 times and allowed six completions while Verner was targeted 5 times and allowed only two. McCourty was credited with one pass defensed. Verner also intercepted a Roethlisberger pass and had two passes defensed. Linebacker Zach Brown is as good as advertised in coverage. More on him later. One of the most interesting stats from this graphic below is that Verner gave up the least yards after catch of all the defensive backs. He did really well in press/man coverage against the Steelers.

PFF coverage summary

On the defensive line, Jurrell Casey played as well as I predicted collapsing the pocket and sacking Roethlisberger twice. He would add another quarterback hit and three quarterback hurries. An interesting note about Casey is that he played primarily at left defensive tackle which is the position he played last year. The Titans had him listed all offseason at right defensive tackle. I always thought Casey was a good 3 tech tackle and he certainly took advantage of the spot he played in yesterday. He finished the game with three tackles. The Titans rotated at right defensive tackle with Sammie Lee Hill (17), Mike Martin (16) and Karl Klug (23) playing in rotation. Mike Martin would add a quarterback hit.

sup derrick

Defensive end Derrick Morgan was around the ball all day and would sack Roethlisberger as well. He would add one quarterback hurry and one quarterback hit to his stats of the game. He finished the game with 3 tackles and also had a batted pass. He played the most of all defensive linemen with 50 play counts. The Titans rotated at right defensive end with Ropati Pitoitua and Kam Wimbley splitting duties. RoPo had a really nice batted pass and finished with 4 tackles and one tackle for a loss. Wimbley was credited with two quarterback hurries. I thought RoPo played particularly well in the run game.

At linebacker, I’m really not sure what to make of Moise Fokou. Going back to the preseason, he hasn’t been able to put together a good complete game. He is either good in the run game or good in coverage but so far never both. I am going to mark this down as the adjustment to playing middle linebacker as he has always played outside but he is clearly the weak link there. Colin McCarthy appears healthy but didn’t play well in the final preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. This situation bears watching. Will Fokou be able to hold off a healthy McCarthy? Fokou played all 53 defensive play counts and was credited with two quarterback hurries, and 6 tackles with one tackle for a loss. He also had a bad missed tackle.

At outside linebacker, Akeem Ayers played well in his return to action following an ankle injury. He would play 29 snaps and get credited with a quarterback hurry. Zach Brown was simply outstanding and deserving of the game most valuable player award. Brown was around the ball all game and made crucial plays when the Titans most needed them. He made life miserable for Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense with two quarterback sacks, one quarterback hurry, two tackles for a loss and one pass defensed. He led the Titans defense with eight tackles all of the solo mind you. Give that man a stud award stat.

I have already talked a bit about the defensive backs but I should mention Coty Sensabaugh who was targeted 7 times and allowed only 4 receptions. Sensabaugh is credited with allowing the one touchdown pass but the Titans completely left the vast majority of the end zone wide open, with Fokou misreading the play apparently as a run and Griffin sliding over to the right. I’m not sure what the Titan were doing there but it wasn’t good.

wide open end zone wide open end zone 2 wide open end zone 3

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More regarding the safeties, and I like what Bernard Pollard brings and generally I think the safety play is improved. I would like to see Pollard play a little faster at times and I think that will improve. This isn’t so much a criticism as it is a belief that he has been a second or two away from making some great plays. As the defense continues to settle in I expect to see him make some of those big plays we saw in training camp.

One final note regarding the defense and that is how well they played on third down. The Steelers only converted 4 of 13 third downs for a 30% conversion rate. They did allow the Steelers to convert on fourth down however. Another note is that the passing defense only allowed a 4.3 gain per play while the run defense (!!) only allowed a 2.1 gain per play. I expected the run defense to do well as the Steelers inexplicably released their best running back in Jonathan Dwyer before the season began. The pass defense was simply outstanding.

Final score:

Titans 16 Steelers 9

Final game stats:

Total First Downs 17 Total First Downs 14
By Rushing 10 By Rushing 0
By Passing 6 By Passing 13
By Penalty By Penalty
Third Down Efficiency 6/15 – 40% Third Down Efficiency 4/13 – 30%
Fourth Down Efficiency 1/1 – 100% Fourth Down Efficiency 1/1 – 100%
Total Net Yards 229 Total Net Yards 195
Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 63 Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) 53
Average Gain per Offensive Play 3.6 Average Gain per Offensive Play 3.7
Net Yards Rushing 112 Net Yards Rushing 32
Total Rushing Plays 42 Total Rushing Plays 15
Average Gain per Rushing Play 2.7 Average Gain per Rushing Play 2.1
Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 4–8 Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 2–8
Net Yards Passing 117 Net Yards Passing 163
Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 1 – 8 Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 5 – 28
Gross Yards Passing 125 Gross Yards Passing 191
Pass Comp-Att-Int 11 – 20 – 0 Pass Comp-Att-Int 21 – 33 – 1
Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 5.6 Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 4.3
Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 6 – 5 – 2 Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks) 2 – 0 – 0
Punts (Number-Average) 5 – 41.6 Punts (Number-Average) 7 – 44.1
Blocked 0 Blocked 0
Net Punting Average 41.4 Net Punting Average 35.9
FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0 FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked 0 – 0
Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 58 Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 1
Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 5 – 58 Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 1
Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – -1 Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 4 – 78
Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 0 Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 0 – 0
Penalties (Number-Yards) 6 – 60 Penalties (Number-Yards) 4 – 47
Fumbles (Number-Lost) 1 – 0 Fumbles (Number-Lost) 2 – 1
Touchdowns 1 Touchdowns 1
Rushing 1 Rushing 0
Passing 0 Passing 1
Interceptions 0 Interceptions 0
Kickoff Returns 0 Kickoff Returns 0
Fumble Returns 0 Fumble Returns 0
Punt Returns 0 Punt Returns 0
Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1 Extra Points (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1
Kicking (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1 Kicking (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1
Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0 Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0
Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 3 – 3 Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 0 – 0
Red Zone Efficiency 1/4 – 25% Red Zone Efficiency 1/2 – 50%
Goal To Go Efficiency 1/1 – 100% Goal To Go Efficiency 1/1 – 100%
Safeties 0 Safeties 1
Final Score 16 Final Score 9
Time of Possession 34:01 Time of Possession 25:59
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