Steelers head-to-head matchup will be a good test

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When the Tennessee Titans drafted guard Chance Warmack of Alabama in the first round, running back Chris Johnson tweeted his feelings about the choice: "Thank God."

With head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews -- a pair of Hall of Fame offensive linemen -- the Titans would like to get back to their roots and run the ball better in 2013.

If the Titans are going to reverse a trend that has seen them miss the playoffs the past four seasons, they are going to do it by doing what Munchak and Matthews like best.

"I think we went out and realized that if we're going to win ... it needs to start up front," Munchak said. "Especially with a young quarterback, that's something that's also very important to have -- a good running game and a good play-action game so you're not putting so much on the quarterback like we did the last couple years."

They have the running back to do that, too, with Johnson, one of only eight players in league history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. None of those seasons, though, can compare to 2009 when he rushed for 2,006 yards, scored 14 touchdowns, caught another 50 passes for 503 yards and was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Year.

With a rebuilt offensive line and a renewed emphasis on the run, Johnson thinks he can rush for more than 2,000 yards again. He is one of only seven players in league history to top that magic number.

"I feel like I'm still the same guy," Johnson said. "... There's just a certain special thing about a season like that. You've just got to get hot at the right time. If that happens and if it's possible, I think I'm the type of guy that can do it twice."

Johnson and the Titans will be a good test for a Steelers run defense that has lost two of its best run-stoppers, nose tackle Casey Hampton and outside linebacker James Harrison. The Steelers finished second in the NFL in rush defense in 2012, allowing an average of 90.6 yards per game. Johnson had 91 yards on 19 carries against them in the Titans' 26-23 victory in Nashville, Tenn.

"Chris Johnson does a great job of cutting back and we all know what he can do," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "But I feel our main focus is ourselves. If everybody is doing what we're supposed to do... I think we're going to be a hard team to beat."

The Titans started their reconstruction of the offensive line when they drafted Warmack, a big (6-2, 323), mauling-type of guard, on the first round. Then they used free agency to bring in guard Andy Levitre from the Buffalo Bills and center Rob Turner from the St. Louis Rams. In addition, the Titans signed running back Shonn Greene in free agency from the New York Jets, giving them a physical, pounding runner to complement Johnson.

"We want to get back to the old Titan ways, and we want to run the ball," Johnson said. "Even if teams know we're going to run the ball, we still want to run the ball."

Steelers

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac.


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