8:20 PM ET, October 11, 2012
LP Field, Nashville, TN
The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at .500, but injuries on defense continue to be a concern even with a potentially favorable prime time matchup ahead.
Trying to win two in a row for the first time this season, the banged-up Steelers look for a fourth consecutive victory over the struggling Tennessee Titans on Thursday night in Nashville.
Coming off its bye week, Pittsburgh (2-2) rallied for a 16-14 home victory over Philadelphia on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger engineered a 64-yard drive over the final 6:33 and Shaun Suisham hit a 34-yard field goal as time expired to help the Steelers carry some momentum into this short week.
"We had the ball last," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Such is life."
Life can be better for the Steelers, especially on defense. Pittsburgh ranks fifth in the NFL with 280.0 yards allowed per contest, but it's given up 65 total points in road defeats to Denver and Oakland.
Though Tennessee (1-4) ranks 27th averaging 17.6 points, the Steelers will line up without one, and possibly two, of their top defenders.
That's enough to leave Tomlin wary of this challenge, along with the fact that Pittsburgh is 2-7 in Tennessee since the former Houston Oilers relocated there in 1997.
"We just need to respect the fact that we have yet to (win on the road) this year and we have an opportunity on Thursday night," Tomlin said.
Star safety Troy Polamalu will miss a third game after re-aggravating a strained calf Sunday. Tomlin, however, is cautiously optimistic that linebacker LaMarr Woodley could play despite a strained right hamstring.
"We're at the early portion of the season and we've got to be smart with how we deal with that," he said of Woodley.
While the Steelers hope a potentially patchwork defense can come through Thursday, their offense is healthy and could be in for a productive evening.
Rashard Mendenhall looks to build on his strong performance last week in which he rushed for 68 yards, and caught three passes for 33 yards and a touchdown in his first game since tearing his ACL on New Year's Day.
"Our savior is back," Roethlisberger said. "It was great to see him out there and he did a great job."
Mendenhall ran for 69 yards on 23 carries as Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid at Tennessee with a 19-11 win Sept. 19, 2010.
Roethlisberger missed that contest while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, but he threw for five touchdowns in a 38-17 win over the Titans on Oct. 9, 2011.
Roethlisberger is 3-1 versus Tennessee, with the lone defeat coming in Nashville on Dec. 21, 2008. He threw for 329 yards with two touchdowns, but was intercepted twice and sacked five times as the Steelers fell 31-14.
He passed for 220 yards with a TD on Sunday, recording his 25th career fourth-quarter comeback.
"I always have confidence in myself and the guys that we can do it," said Roethlisberger, who has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,111 yards with eight touchdowns and one pick in 2012.
He might not need another fourth-quarter rally against a Titans club that has allowed a league-high 181 points. Tennessee yielded its lowest point total of the season in a 30-7 loss at Minnesota on Sunday.
"It's frustrating," said coach Mike Munchak, whose team has totaled 21 points in two losses since a 44-41 overtime home win over Detroit on Sept. 23. "We know this is our big opportunity to hopefully change the opinion of a lot of people by how we play on Thursday night."
That could be a tall order for a team that has committed 10 turnovers and struggles to run the ball. Chris Johnson had 45 rushing yards over the first three games before gaining 141 in a 38-14 loss at Houston on Sept. 30. However, he managed 24 yards on 15 carries versus Minnesota.
Johnson won't get much help with backup Javon Ringer out at least four weeks with a knee injury.
"We don't look like a good team, so I wouldn't sit here and say that we're close," said Johnson, who has averaged 52.8 rushing yards in four games versus Pittsburgh.
Tennessee has not lost three in a row since a six-game skid Oct. 31-Dec. 19, 2010.
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|Avg Points Allowed||23.0||34.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||PIT|
|Rush Yds Allowed||PIT|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 6-5|
|Oct 9, 2011||PIT 38, TEN 17|
|Sep 19, 2010||PIT 19, @TEN 11|
|Sep 10, 2009||PIT 13, TEN 10|
|Dec 21, 2008||PIT 14, @TEN 31|
|Sep 11, 2005||PIT 34, TEN 7|
|Sep 28, 2003||PIT 13, TEN 30|
|Jan 11, 2003||PIT 31, @TEN 34|
|Nov 17, 2002||PIT 23, @TEN 31|
|Nov 25, 2001||PIT 34, @TEN 24|
|Oct 29, 2001||PIT 34, TEN 7|
Ben Roethlisberger has been stellar on 3rd down this season. He's completing over 70 percent of his passes for 5 touchdowns and zero interceptions. When passing on 3rd down, Roethlisberger has converted a first down nearly 53 percent of the time, best among all qualifying QB this season.[+]
BEN ROETHLISBERGER - NFL PASSING RANKS ON 3rd DOWN THIS SEASON
Chris Johnson is averaging 1.8 yards per rush before first contact this season, sixth-worst among players with 40 rushes and more than two full yards worse than his rate in 2009. Johnson might find more space Thursday, as the Steelers have allowed 3.1 yards per rush before contact, fifth-worst in the NFL.[+]
Chris Johnson Average Yards Before Contact - Last 4 Seasons
Ben Roethlisberger has the best Total QBR this season (89.4) when facing four or fewer rushers. The Titans have used such pressure at the second-highest rate this season (81.7 percent), and have allowed the highest Total QBR (90.9) when sending four or fewer.[+]
Passing with 4 or Fewer Rushers - This Season
ESPN Stats & Information