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Tag:Leroy Harris
Posted on: October 5, 2011 2:37 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Titans preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Tennessee Titans are off to a 3-1 start under first-time head coach Mike Munchak. Are they for real? The Titans have had the good fortune of facing the Jaguars, Broncos and Browns this season – all teams that run a bland 4-3 and suffer from a dire lack of weapons in the passing game. The Titans did, however, defeat a Ravens team that humiliated the Steelers in Week 1.

Which brings us to the next question: how are the Steelers right now? They’re 2-2 but have looked hardly “Steeler-like”. Ben Roethlisberger (sprained foot) is expected to play Sunday, but James Harrison (fractured orbital bone) is out. How serious of a test do the Steelers pose to this minimally tested Titans club?


Here are five keys of the matchup.

Run powers struggling
1. Titans run offense
The natural assumption is that Chris Johnson held out for virtually all of training camp and has therefore been rusty early in the season. An examination of the film reveals that ... this is exactly the case.

Johnson has not shown his usual initial quickness or burst out of the backfield. He’s had a tendency to stop his feet at the first sign of trouble, which is why he’s not creating his own space. These issues were apparent even in his 101-yard performance against the Browns last week.

The fourth-year running back is not the lone culprit for Tennessee’s anemic ground game. Interior linemen Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris and Jake Scott have been inconsistent at times, and right tackle David Stewart seems to have lost a bit of the power that once backed-up his nastiness.

Also, fullback Quinn Johnson is no Ahmard Hall. Hall’s return from suspension this week will be most welcomed – he has great feel and recognition in this Titans offense.

2. Steelers run defense
It ranks 22nd and has looked downright feeble in both losses this season (Week 1 at Baltimore, Week 4 at Houston). The Ravens and Texans both feature a stretch zone rushing attack, which the Steelers have been uncharacteristically poor at defending. James Harrison, coming off back surgery, has not played with the same physicality as past years.

He’s out this game; replacement Lawrence Timmons has superb athleticism but, as a run defender, he’s better equipped for his customary inside position, where he can chase down ball-carriers in either direction. This week, Timmons will have to be an edge-setting outside ‘backer, and against arguably the game’s steadiest left tackle in Michael Roos.

There’s too much history of success to think the Steelers run defense will continue to struggle (though the film through four weeks has often supported the wide-held notion that the Steelers are getting old fast). They have the ultimate X-factor in Troy Polamalu, but the real key to turning things around is at defensive end.

The Steelers’ secret to success is that they’ve always had incredibly active ends who can create chaos in the trenches and allow the linebackers to play downhill. But those ends – Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, who’s been out the past two weeks with a strained PCL – along with stalwart nose tackle Casey Hampton are also well into their thirties.

Creating big plays: natural vs. manufactured
3. Steelers passing offense (natural)
The Steelers are a pass-first team. It’s been that way for several years now. And it will remain that way as long as Mike Wallace is around. The third-year sensation is the most lethal big-play receiving threat in the game today. He’s DeSean Jackson only with a longer stride.

The Steelers have done an excellent job of designing their route combinations around Wallace. His lifting of the safety is often what allows Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown to get open in the 18-25-yard range. But not everything about Pittsburgh’s passing attack is done through design.

There’s a lot of natural talent driving the force. Much of the production comes from Ben Roethlisberger’s incredible ability to not only extend the play, but make accurate throws downfield off that extension (there isn’t a better off-balance, improvisational passer in all of football).

The key to stymying Big Ben’s improve is to get to him with multiple pass-rushers. It’s hard enough getting just one pass-rusher to a quarterback, but the Steelers’ offensive line is porous right now. The Texans swarmed Roethlisberger by blitzing inside, which crowded his sight lines (thus making him break down earlier than usual) and forced shaky offensive tackles Trai Essex and Marcus Gilbert to work one-on-one.

4. Titans passing offense (manufactured)
A bulk of Matt Hasselbeck’s passing yards have stemmed from big plays that were well-crafted and called against the perfect defensive look (the best of many examples: receiver Damian Williams setting a pick against Cleveland’s man coverage that left Nate Washington wide open for a 57-yard game).

These kinds of plays are fine – it’s what good coaching and preparation are all about – but they can only carry you so far. At some point, you need a threat like Mike Wallace to build around. The Titans had such a threat before Kenny Britt tore his ACL.

5. Injuries impacting outcome
If the Titans can’t find their run game, they’re in trouble. The Steelers, even without James Harrison, have a far stronger pass-rush than the Jaguars, Broncos or Browns. The Titans handled the Ravens’ potent pass-rush well in Week 2, but they were able to build their aerial attack around Britt. Britt’s replacement, Nate Washington, isn’t that type of receiver – especially against a top-tier cover corner like Ike Taylor.

Running the ball could be equally important for the Steelers. With Roethlisberger less than 100 percent and the front five hurting, Pittsburgh’s best bet might be to challenge the Titans inside. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been outstanding against the run, but center Maurkice Pouncey has the technical aptitude to temper Casey’s raw power. On Pouncey’s left, guard Chris Kemoeatu is arguably the best pulling blocker in the game. The Steelers should relish opportunities to get him on finesse middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.

Of course, putting a dent in Pittsburgh’s ground game is the fact that Rashard Mendenhall left last week’s contest with a hamstring injury. Isaac Redman, the spotlight could be on you.

So who will win? Check our NFL Week 5 expert picks for all the games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: April 14, 2011 12:57 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Tennessee Titans

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups.



The Titans are in need of an overhaul, which is exactly what they’ll be getting this year (whether they want it or not). Long-time coach Jeff Fisher is gone, replaced by his former OL coach, Mike Munchak. Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is gone, replaced by Jerry Gray.

So is offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, replaced by Chris Palmer. So is QB Vince Young, replaced by, um, who exactly?

You might have forgotten this, but at one point last season, Tennessee was 5-2. Then, the Titans lost eight of their final nine games of the season to finish the season on a disastrous note. A note that signified that the organization needs a makeover and fast.




New coaching staff

The end of Fisher’s tenure in Tennessee was awfully strange. Though it seemed like owner Bud Adams thought about picking Young over Fisher, he actually didn’t. He wanted Fisher to stay, and Fisher agreed to return. Until he didn’t, changing his mind and resigning his position. Which means that the Titans are going through a wholesale change, and considering the lockout is preventing the staff from meeting with the players, Tennessee will have a tough time catching up.

One of the biggest losses to the team, though, was when DL coach Jim Washburn left for Philadelphia. Jason Babin – who made his first Pro Bowl last season – was really upset with the transition, because he knows how much Washburn tutored him. Washburn also helped develop Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Antwan Odom, and his loss will be felt, especially if Babin leaves via free agency.




1. Quarterback
Young is gone, and though he compiled a 26-13 record and two Pro Bowl appearances in his five seasons with the Titans, a clean break from the organization clearly was needed. So, who to replace him? Kerry Collins, but he’s 38 years old. Rusty Smith, but he’ll be a second-year player with only one start of experience. So, where do you go next? Backup Brett Ratliff? I don’t think so.

2. Interior Offensive Line
LG Leroy Harris and C Eugene Amano struggled last season – one reason RB Chris Johnson’s numbers weren’t as good as he expected. Harris is still young, so the Titans might continue to use him, but Johnson might be appreciative if the Tennessee played somebody else at LG and C. RG Jake Scott, meanwhile, is solid and dependable.

3. Defensive Tackle
When the Titans talked about trading back for Albert Haynesworth last season, you know they were desperate for another DT. Thus, the Titans have to be loving the recent supposed drop in value of Auburn DT Nick Fairley. Although the undersized Jason Jones is quite a strong player at one DT spot, Fairley could add big talent to the defensive line if he’s still available for the Titans to draft at No. 8.




Is there optimism for the Titans next season? I don’t see how. Not after they lost their quarterback and then hired a head coach who’s never even been a coordinator to lead the team. Munchak, a pro football Hall of Famer because of his playing skills, is well-respected inside the game, but it might take a year or two to turn around the organization that, let’s face it, was left in total disarray.

And while we can say the AFC South isn’t necessarily going to be dominated by the Colts next season, I’d put the Jaguars and Texans ahead of Tennessee in the race for the division crown. By far.

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Posted on: September 17, 2010 7:29 pm
 

Chris Johnson vs. the Steelers front seven

C. Johnson hasn't had great success in the past against Pittsburgh (Getty). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

I wondered if Andy, in his weekly key matchup feature, would look at how the Steelers front seven would try to shut down Titans RB Chris Johnson.

Andy went with Michael Vick vs. the Lions defense (read it; it’s a fascinating look), so that leaves me to make sense of the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game.

Johnson, as you know, has 12-straight games where he’s rushed for at least 100 yards. That’s two off Barry Sanders’ all-time record. But remember, the Steelers are traditionally pretty good at stopping the run – in the past 35 games, an opponent has reached the century mark in rushing only once (Baltimore’s Ray Rice).

So, what will happen Sunday? Well, if the past is any indication, it could be a long day for Johnson. Last year, in the season opener, he gained 57 yards on 15 carries, and the season before, he was held to 69 yards.

But the past two seasons, Johnson – no matter what Adrian Peterson thinks – has been the best RB in the league. Yet the Steelers have their gameplan.

"It's a big priority,” OLB LaMarr Woodley told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "You stop the run, you force a team to go to its passing game, which allows us to bring a little heat and get to the quarterback.

"We hit him as a team (the past two seasons). We constantly got to him. When running backs are taking hits after hits from big guys, they slow down a little bit."

True, but not every team can boast the tackling skills of Woodley, James Farrior and James Harrison. This week, though, Johnson might catch a break because starting NT Casey Hampton is out for the game.

Most important for the Steelers is for the defense to maintain gap control.

"He's not real heavy but he's so fast and strong," NT Chris Hoke told the paper. "He jump-cuts on a dime, he's very quick at making his reads. You have to make sure you're gap-sound on every play because he gets a little crack and he's gone.

"It's easy for a guy like that, to get everybody a little over-excited – you want to make sure he doesn't make a big play so maybe you get out of your gap a little bit and you run to the ball and he cuts back when you're running to the ball. You have to make sure you stay square to the line of scrimmage so there is no cutback lane."

And what does Johnson – and his teammates – have to do in order to get that 100-yard game? The Titans offensive line has to work harder than the Steelers.

"One thing they do a lot of times is just outwork guys," Titans guard Leroy Harris told the Tennessean. "Every guy is working to the whistle, no matter what. Their technique is sound. They hold responsibility. They do their job. They outwork guys and they keep running to the ball.

"You can’t let the other guy outwork you. You don’t let the other guy make the play. We’ll do that. We also make sure we see the different looks they have and the blitzes they have. We get bodies on guys."

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com