When the Titans have the ball: QB Jake Locker is expected to miss his second game in a row because of a left shoulder injury and will be replaced by veteran Matt Hasselbeck. The deep passing game has disappeared with Hasselbeck, and part of that is because he had little time to throw Sunday against the Vikings. But he likes to look for TEs Jared Cook and Craig Stevens. They are spreading their sets more and feel as if they can throw to a number of different receivers, including Cook, Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, rookie Kendall Wright and RB Chris Johnson. Wright has an AFC-high 11 of his 17 catches on third down. Johnson, a 2,000-yard rusher who had 22 runs of 20 yards or longer in 2009, is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and doesn't have a run longer than 19 yards. He also doesn't have a touchdown. That is surprising because the offensive line features two former Pro Bowlers on the left side -- T Michael Roos and G Steve Hutchinson. The Steelers will be without Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu (right calf) and OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring). Jason Worilds, who had a sack, two tackles for loss and two QB hurries against the Eagles, will replace Woodley.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Titans have allowed 181 points, most in the NFL. Opponents have rushed for more than twice as many yards as the Titans (721-327) and their secondary is a shadow of what it used to be when it had three Pro Bowlers. The Titans have switched from man coverage to a soft zone with deep safeties. But they're not getting the type of pressure up front to make such a conservative style work effectively. The Titans have allowed 12 TD passes and opposing quarterbacks have a 112.4 rating. QB Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown an interception since the season opener in Denver -- a streak of 118 attempts -- and leads all NFL quarterbacks in third-down passing (5 TDs, 132.6 rating). With a soft zone, look for a lot of underneath passes to WR Antonio Brown, who leads the team with 25 catches and 326 yards, and tight end Heath Miller, who is tied for the AFC lead with four TD catches.
Keep an eye on
Special teams. They have been one of the few bright spots for the Titans, beginning with the version of "Home Run Throwback" they pulled for a 65-yard punt return by Aliquippa native Tommie Campbell in their only victory against the Detroit Lions. Darius Reynaud is an effective kick returner who averages 27.6 yards per return and has the longest return for touchdown (105 yards) in the AFC. P Bret Kern averages 47.7 yards and his net of 44.5 yards is seventh in the AFC.
The Steelers are winless on the road (0-2) and have lost their past three away from Heinz Field. And they are 2-7 (counting playoffs) in the state of Tennessee, 7-11 overall, since the Titans franchise moved from Houston. But they have won the past three meetings with the Titans, including 19-11 at LP Field in 2010. ... Steelers are most penalized team in the AFC with 37 and are averaging 86 yards in penalties per game. ... At some point the Titans are going to wake up and play better, and maybe it's on national TV against a team with whom they have had some success. The crowd could turn quickly on the Titans if they don't start fast because there is a growing clamor to make changes on the coaching staff.
To win, the Titans must ...
1. Remember the Titans. That is, have the defense find a way to play the way it used to play under Jeff Fisher.
2. Not let Matt get hassled. He was under a lot of pressure by the Vikings, and the Steelers will do the same with James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons.
3. Be hard on Rashard. Mendenhall was a difference-maker in the run game in his first game back since ACL surgery, averaging 5.2 yards a carry.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Be titanic on offense. The Titans allow more points than any team in the NFL, whether on the ground or in the air.
2. Not let Nate be great. Nate Washington is their top receiver, but the secondary has done a good job of taking away the big play the past three games.
3. Not let the Titans go yard. In other words, keep an eye out for special gadget plays such as Home Run Throwback.
First Published October 11, 2012 4:00 AM