Thursday Night Blackout

By Jared Villani

Steelers came out hot in the first quarter as Ben Roethlisberger threw confidently into tight coverage and spread the ball across the field before connecting with Antonio Brown for a 41-yard touchdown. The big play was a result of a successful hard count that Ben took advantage of and let AB go up and get it. Pittsburgh kept the momentum going as Mike Hilton intercepted Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota on the Titans first drive of the game. Hilton left the offense in great field position, but an unfortunate face mask call against the Steelers forced them to settle for a field goal and Chris Boswell hit one from 41 yards out. Tennessee took over on offense and this time several missed tackles and some porous coverage by Pittsburgh allowed Mariota to scramble in for a 7-yard touchdown to end the first quarter. Although Pittsburgh gave up a rushing touchdown, the run defense was very solid allowing only 34 yards, resulting in a 10 to 7 Pittsburgh lead over Tennessee after 1.

The second quarter was a struggle for both teams offensively. Pittsburgh shied away from the no-huddle offense that helped them score on the first drive of the game, however it was the Steelers defense that shined in this quarter. Ryan Shazier continued to impress as he constantly found the ball, made great tackles and provided solid coverage when needed. Tennessee found themselves in field goal range but rookie T.J. Watt showed his big play ability as he got a hand up and blocked Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal attempt. Steelers defense continued to do a great job throughout the second quarter as Vinny Williams and Coty Sensabaugh had some big plays of their own. Notably, Sensabaugh jumped a pass intended for Titans wide receiver Corey Davis and picked off Mariota for his second interception of the game to set Boswell up for a 28-yard field goal. The defense forced another 3 and out leaving Pittsburgh with a little over a minute to add to their 13 to 7 lead, but some sloppy play on offense resulted in yet another Boswell field goal, this time hitting one from 50 yards out. This drive was kept alive by Martavis Bryant who had been struggling to this point. Bryant recovered a fumble given up by Antonio Brown when Logan Ryan punched the ball out of Brown’s possession. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s offense was extremely underwhelming since the first drive of the game. Ben forced throws and the game plan didn’t seem to include Le’Veon Bell in the running game very often as he finished the second half with just 4 rushing attempts for 19 yards. In addition, Ben completed 10 passes on 22 attempts for 116 yards and a score, AB finished the half with 5 receptions for 90 yards and a score, and Boswell stayed perfect contributing 3 field goals to help Pittsburgh lead Tennessee at the half 16 to 7.

The second half of the game did not exactly start out well for Pittsburgh as Marcus Mariota exploited blown coverage by Robert Golden and Coty Sensabaugh to found Rishard Mathews on the first play of the half for a 75-yard touchdown. Yikes! Fortunately, it did not take Pittsburgh very long to respond as Ben found Juju Smith-Schuster and Le’Veon Bell to chip away down field later resulting in Antonio Brown’s second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard strike from Big Ben. Mariota and the Titans offense looked to continue where they left off earlier in the quarter as Mariota slashed the defense on several short passes and more notably a 42-yard gain to tight end Delanie Walker. As Tennessee got deeper down field, it was Cameron Heyward coming up big to sack Mariota for a 15-yard loss, forcing the Titans to settle for a 44-yard field goal to once again chip away at the Steelers lead, now 17 to 23. Pittsburgh took over on offense and Ben looked sharp and Le’Veon Bell was exclusively featured. Bell got his opportunity and sliced up the middle for a nice 8-yard touchdown. At least that’s what everyone thought. Unfortunately, the call was overturned. Bell’s elbow was in fact down at the 1-yard line and a very entertaining monkey in the middle celebration was all for not.

Antonio Brown celebrates one of his three touchdowns

The fourth quarter picks up with Ben quieting the crowd down after Bell’s touchdown was overturned. Todd Haley draws up a great trick play in which Ben fakes the handoff to Bell leaving Jesse James wide open in the end zone for a Steelers touchdown. The defense looked to stay hot as they forced Tennessee into another 3 and out, and a nice punt return by Antonio Brown set Pittsburgh up for yet another Big Ben to AB touchdown. Unlike the other two connections, Brown managed to catch a pass over his shoulder with one hand to pin the ball against his helmet and to bring it down further adding to the Steelers lead making it 37 to 17. As the Steelers took over on defense, this time it was Robert Golden who made a big play as he came up with Marcus Mariota’s third pick of the game as wide receiver Corey Davis had the ball hit him in the chest and deflect right into Golden’s hands. Now with a comfortable lead it was time to start running the rock with Bell as his solid work would help lead to another Chris Boswell field goal, this time a 26-yard chip shot for the red-hot Boswell to make the score 40 to 17. Tennessee had possession again and just like their last drive Mariota seemed to find another way to get the ball to a player wearing black and yellow as Sean Davis delivered the dagger on a pass intended for Delanie Walker and gave Mariota his fourth interception on the night.

Although both teams had been rolling leading up to this game and each looked to achieve a fifth straight win, it was ultimately Pittsburgh that would come out on top to handily win one on at home, 17 to 40. It was refreshing to see the Steelers finally eclipse 30 points, as their previous best on the season came against Cincinnati in Week 7 with 29. More impressively was Pittsburgh’s defense as they looked elite all night and found themselves putting up a 5+ Sack and 4+ interception performance which was the first time the team had done so in 33 years. The defensive leaders for the evening were Ryan Shazier leading the team in tackles with 10 total, Cameron Heyward sacked Mariota two times, and Sean Davis, Coty Sensabaugh, Mike Hilton, and Robert Golden each picked off a Mariota pass. The offense impressed as well as Big Ben finished by completing 30 of 45 passes for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell had a seemingly quiet night as he ran the ball 12 times for 46 yards but did catch 9 balls for 57 yards. More notably business was boomin’ for Antonio Brown as he scorched the Titans defense from beginning to end putting up a monster stat-line of 144 yards and 3 touchdowns on 10 receptions. Pittsburgh gets another primetime game next week as they stay home and take on the 5 and 4 Green Bay Packers who are struggling mightily without Aaron Rodgers. This is another great matchup for the Steelers as the defense will look to build off the performance they put on against Tennessee. Look for hard hitting safety Mike Mitchell to make a return next week and further strengthen the defense as he will have time to rest up for next Sunday nights’ showdown.

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