- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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PITTSBURGH -- Every theme the Tennessee Titans hit, and hit, and hit again through the offseason and the preseason was on display in their season-opening win at Heinz field Sunday.
Let’s run through their core beliefs and how they translated into the 16-9 victory.
Be physical on both sides of the ball: The Titans didn’t run the ball great, but they ran it well enough to hand it off 37 times. Jake Locker's runs, including two kneel-downs made for a total of 42 rush attempts for 112 yards. Sure they’d like more than 2.7 yards a carry. But against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is typically stout against the run, being able to run it that much is a win.
The defense managed to sack Ben Roethlisberger, who’s a tough guy to drag down, five times. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown had two sacks apiece. A couple new players -- end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- made significant contributions to the effort.
The Steelers suffered several injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey's wasn’t from anything Tennessee did, he got hit by linemate David DeCastro. But the physical game certainly had a role in injuries to LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee), cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and inside linebacker Larry Foote (biceps). The Titans weren’t nearly as banged up.
Withstand adversity: Things couldn’t have started any worse. Return man Darius Reynaud inexplicably decided that despite some room, he wanted to turn a bouncing kickoff into a touchback. The trouble was he picked up the ball just across the goal line and pulled it back in to take a knee.
He’s got to make a better decision in such circumstances, and his failure to do so is on him. He was able to have a sense of humor about it since the Titans overcame it.
An aside. One thing he said postgame bothered me a bit.
Asked what sort of rules he’s to follow in such circumstances, he said. “I set back seven deep, if the ball is kicked five yards deep I can run up on it. But on that type of play, we never practiced that play. I’m going to get that in practice this week just to get a good look on it. … Next time we’ll get that right.”
Mike Munchak fired Alan Lowry, a coach who had a reputation for his special teams being prepared for anything and everything, after last season.
Don’t put Locker in bad situations: Locker was sacked only once. He ran the offense efficiently, and his teammates said he was confidently in command in the huddle. He ran for a nice 5-yard gain on one option play with Chris Johnson. He was 11 for 20 for 125 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a long of 25 yards.
He threw a couple off-target passes, but never appeared flustered by a defense that’s got the capacity to make young quarterbacks panicky.
A key to putting him in good spots was productive first downs. In the first half, the Titans averaged second-and-5.2. For the game, nine of 21 second downs were second-and-6 or less.
Stop the run to make opponents one-dimensional: The Steelers turned 15 carries into 32 yards. And their long run was eight yards by Isaac Redman, who also coughed up a fumble as the Steelers were about to score to go up 9-0.
All in all, it was a great day for creating a feeling that work and points of emphasis have paid off.
“Overall, we were exactly what we were trying to work towards in the preseason,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “I think that one drive we had 13 straight run plays or something like that. (Actually 12 of 13 plays.) That’s what we’ve been trying to get to. Impose our will on them and keep drives alive.”