On the Steelers: Defense controls team fate
Linebacker James Harrison and the Steelers defense limited kicker Matt Bryan and the Falcons to three field goals Sunday.
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Three more games like that from the Steelers' defense and the welcome home party for Ben Roethlisberger Oct. 4 could be a meaningful one.
As it was, the Steelers' defense slammed Atlanta's ground game, holding the Falcons to 58 yards, muzzled quarterback Matt Ryan with a 67.6 passer rating, kept them out of the end zone, presented the game to the offense on a platter with an interception late in the fourth quarter, and still needed overtime to win.
That may be just how it goes for the Steelers the first month of the season. If they are to win any more games before Roethlisberger's return at quarterback for the fifth game, their defense will have to duplicate what it did in the opener Sunday at Heinz Field.
"That's something we want to do every week," said linebacker James Farrior, who played as if he were 30 again. "It's not just because Ben is out. We know the circumstances right now, we know we need to help our offense out more than usual, but we definitely want to play that way no matter what. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are."
Those change this week to a higher amp. The Steelers and young quarterback Dennis Dixon not only must play in the din that is the Nashville sound at the Tennessee Titans home stadium, but they also must contain the freight train that is running back Chris Johnson and his 12 consecutive 100-yard games rushing.
The Steelers did a good job against a good back Sunday, holding Atlanta's Michael Turner to 42 yards on 19 carries and the Falcons to 58 yards rushing overall and a 2.3-yard average. Chris Johnson is not a good back, he's a great back. He became only the sixth NFL runner to top 2,000 yards rushing last season and he began his 2010 quest with 142 yards Sunday against Oakland.
He is the next assignment for a defense that has allowed one 100-yard rusher since late in the 2007 season. And his name is not Chris Johnson. Baltimore's Ray Rice did the trick Dec. 27 in Heinz Field, rushing for 141 yards on 30 carries, and to go against all convention, the Steelers withstood that to beat the Ravens, 23-20.
On the other hand, Johnson is 0 for 2 against the Steelers. He ran 16 times for 69 yards as a rookie in the Titans' 31-14 victory in 2008 at Tennessee. And he ran 15 times for 57 yards last season in the opener at Heinz Field, won by the Steelers in overtime, 13-10.
The Steelers also must contend with quarterback Vince Young, who can match Dennis Dixon's versatility and mobility. They will be forced to take a different approach in their pass rush against Young than they did the pocket passer Matt Ryan in the opener.
"I feel like this is the kind of game we need to play every week, whether Dennis is in or Ben is back in," linebacker James Harrison said. "We need to come out there and keep teams from scoring touchdowns and hope to stop them from scoring any points. We held them to three field goals and that was enough to get job done."
Barely enough, but enough.
The Steelers will have to start their third new offensive lineman and second new tackle when they play the Titans.
Max Starks has a high left ankle sprain, which can keep a player out 2-4 weeks. Jonathan Scott replaced him Sunday and will be a candidate to start there in Tennessee.
"As of this point, I believe it's going to remain the way it is," Scott said shortly after the game. "But there's a hierarchy and I just have to go with the flow and be prepared to go when that time comes."
The Steelers signed Scott to a one-year contract in March as an unrestricted free agent from Buffalo, shortly after Mike Tomlin hired former Bills line coach Sean Kugler to be his line coach.
Scott started 14 games in his career that began in Detroit after the Lions drafted him in the fifth round in 2006 from Texas. He had been almost exclusively at right tackle since joining the Steelers, but he started six games at left tackle for the Bills last season.
"I played left tackle during my career," Scott said.
"I prepared to play it in Buffalo and Detroit so it wasn't something that was just sprung up on me."
First Published September 14, 2010 12:00 am