Collier: Thursday game a money-maker and a bad idea

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Football journalists love to ask the authorities whether this week or that week is a good week for the bye week, but no one ever asks if this week or any week is a good week for football on Thursday night.

Maybe that's because the answer is self-evident.

There is no good time for Thursday night football, and that includes the night when it's mixed with the Thanksgiving leftovers.

You think James Harrison, coming off his first full NFL Sunday in nine months likes getting ready for a full prime-time tonight with only half the typical recovery time?

"He's always in a bad mood," teammate Casey Hampton said the other day.

So, sure, it's hard to tell when it's worse.

You think Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, though he says reflexively he doesn't care about the schedule, wants to thrust a defense that's finally coming together against the run and a rush offense that has just begun to jell with the return of surgically repaired Rashard Mendenhall back onto an NFL stage on three days of rest?

Maybe they do, for the record, but not in their heart of hearts, their spleen of spleens. Nobody not directly connected to the Park Avenue office's hypocrisy division and its NFL Network accounts can find much good in this idea.

(CLARIFICATION: Send no emails, tweets or texts to the NFL Hypocrisy Division; that's a product of satirical license. But, really, I wish I were making more of this up than I actually am.)

On Tuesday, the 16th, for example, Harrison and backup quarterback Charlie Batch will attend a news conference at the Omni William Penn Hotel to discuss a new product Harrison and some others have been using inside their helmets, a supplemental padding. They will be joined by a couple of NFL Concussion Committee neurologists to reveal the results of a recent study of the effectiveness of that product, called CRT, and to discuss its potential impact on the future of the game.

That's wonderful. I hope some great news comes out of it.

But for a league that spends tens of millions of dollars on concussion research and takes every waking opportunity to remind us that the safety of its players is its primary concern to put many of those same players in harm's way twice inside of five days all season long represents something of a disconnect.

That's a pretty grim contradiction. I hope no terrible news foreshadows any great news.

The NFL has done the Steelers one huge favor for the show tonight, namely putting them in Nashville, where the Titans are staggering around like a wrestler getting tag-teamed by multiple opponents wielding folding chairs and malevolent intentions.

"We have to approach it like it's the best opponent," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "We have to play our best no matter what."

Well, good luck with that first part. In the only game they've won, the Titans blew a two-touchdown lead in the final 18 seconds on the way to overtime against Detroit. Last week, backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw a touchdown pass, but not until Minnesota was ahead, 23-0. In four losses, the Titans have allowed opponents to build a slight edge in total points -- 140-44.

Tennessee coach Mike Munchak, trying to root out some good news from a stinking pile of bad statistics to this point, might have found something. Yes, his offense is ranked 26th out of 32 teams in yards per game, 29th in first downs per game and 30th in rushing yards per game, but -- here's that good news -- the offense is seldom on the field. Less than any offense in the league, in fact. The Titans are 32nd in time of possession, averaging 24:50.

"It's a short week, so I haven't seen too much film," Hampton shrugged when asked what specific challenges the Titans might present. "It's always going to be our first objective to stop the run. We don't want them to get that goin' because that can make for a long night. We've had some success against Chris Johnson, but, if he can get one big play, he can hurt you."

It was in this specific defensive area that the Steelers made a crucial step forward Sunday against Philadelphia, stopping conference-leading rusher Shady McCoy and the highly elusive Michael Vick from doing any damage in the run game.

But the cost was outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who yanked a hamstring and singular safety Troy Polamalu, who re-injured a troublesome calf muscle. It's difficult enough to gain momentum on this brutal NFL track without the same parts repeatedly flying off.

"We definitely haven't played up to our expectations; I think anybody in this room would tell you that," Hampton said about a team that's really just a sweet Sweezy Money field goal from being 1-3. "We just have to keep grinding. You've just got to take the next game and continue to build."

And it's probably a lot tougher when the next game comes around three days before it should.

Once upon a time, when the NFL was merely a quaint little multimillion-dollar industry rather than a voracious media entity looking to add tens of billions to its tens of billions, the league would occasionally present A Very Special Thursday Night Edition of Monday Night Football on ABC. Now it presents A Not Very Special At All Thursday Game of the Week.

It's a bad idea, and you just hope nobody gets a gruesome reminder as to why.

Steelers

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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