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Steelers-Titans pregame stretch

October 11, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) vs. Tennessee Titans (1-4)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m., NFL

Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 63, slight chance of thunderstorms before game’s end. The real question here on the weather is whether it’ll be mild enough for Ed Hochuli to wear a short-sleeve shirt. Since this is a national TV game, we’re guessing yes.

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Announcers: Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock

Annoyance factor: Mayock was the football announcing darling of 2011, but there’s been a bit of a backlash this year with complaints that he’s too technical or too analytical in his approach. We can see where that comes from but we’d rather have that than the John Madden Boom! Pow! approach.

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Referee: Ed Hochuli

Competence factor: Just as Lance Easley became the “face” of the incompetent replacements during the recent referee lockout, Hochuli became the face of the “good guys,” even garnering a Sports Illustrated cover shot out of the deal. That’s largely because Hochuli has the biggest presence among current officials and partly because he seems to love that kind of spotlight. In any event, he’s still one of the top 5 white hats working and that’s what’s important come kickoff.

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The line: Steelers -6

Smarts say: We’re guessing this would have been -8 had the Steelers not suffered the defensive injuries they did on Sunday. For the third straight week, the over/under in the Steelers game is 43, means the smarts see this one being played close to the vest, something like 24-17 Steelers.

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Key matchup: Steelers offense vs. Titans red zone defense

Because: The Titans have surrendered a league-high 181 points so far in 2012 and any formula for a comfortable Steelers win has to involve scoring touchdowns, rather than field goals, in the red zone. A couple of big plays would help, too (paging Mike Wallace). So far this season, the Steelers red zone offense has consisted mainly of Heath Miller, the No. 1 red zone target in the league. That only means that Miller is going to see more and more attention down deep and a few more TDs from Rashard Mendenhall would go a long way toward tempering that. We’ll go as far as to say that if Mendenhall scores at least one, the Steelers will win.

Quick hits:

+ We wrote a blog a few years ago speculating that Twitter might turn out to be a very bad thing for pro sports because it creates a closeness between fans and athletes that is fraught with potential trouble. For example, early this week, Steelers running back Baron Batch “got loose” (<---Rudelism) on Twitter and ripped some fans for their Monday morning quarterbacking. Of course, those same fans are the ones buying tickets, souvenirs, jerseys and providing the TV ratings that pay the Steelers’ bills and the last thing the organization wants to do is alienate them. At the same time, pro athletes often take personal abuse that goes well beyond the limits of legitimate fandom. It happened both ways before Twitter, but in rare instances. Now, the things that used to be screamed in living rooms and the things that players used to only say to other players are broadcast worldwide 24-7-365.

+ Just a couple quick followup notes on the Ryan Clark hit from Sunday’s game. The first point is a reminder that not every helmet-to-helmet hit in the NFL is a penalty. We would estimate that at least half of the people being paid handsomely to analyze pro football as writers or commentators do NOT understand this. Such hits are only illegal when the player being hit is defined by rule as defenseless (we wrote a blog on this last year, there are about a dozen such situations). We think there’s pretty strong visual evidence that Brent Celek fit none of the defenseless definitions as he had completed a catch and was warding off other tacklers, which is a key action in determining when a receiver becomes a rusher. The second point is a reminder about how fickle human perception can be. When we watched that play live (and emotionally) as a fan, we would have bet the farm that Clark started moving toward Celek before the whistle blew. But when we watched the play more calmly and rationally on Monday, it was clear that wasn’t the case and in fact the hit was most definitely late. Our interpretation of this scenario is that the hit was legal, but late, certainly meriting an unnecessary roughness penalty, but likely not a fine. As of this writing, no fine has been issued (although it could be waiting in the mailbox for Clark when he gets home from Nashville).

+ Last week, we noted former No. 1 pick (No. 15 overall) was nearing bust status and Timmons went out (coincidentally, of course) and had his best game, maybe ever, but certainly since the 2010 season. So, we’ll look for a repeat this week by noting the oft-injured Jason Worilds, a second-round pick in 2010, is not very far behind in the draft disappointment department with the sack he registered last week being the seventh of his career as he plays in his third year. (Consider that Bruce Irvin as 4.5 sacks in his first five NFL games.) What makes Worilds’ performance even more painful is the fact that Sean Lee was still on the board when he was selected. Ouch.

The pick: Any who thinks this is a no-doubt laugher is forgetting two things: 1. This is the NFL, and 2. The Steelers are not that good. Is the potential there for an easy Pittsburgh win? Sure. The Titans are a terrible football team right now, but at least one terrible football team wins a game each weekend in this league. So what could kill the Steelers? Turnovers, of course, where Pittsburgh has been fairly good so far at +2. Since it’s almost impossible to predict turnovers, we’ll go with common sense … Steelers 27-17.

Last week: We correctly forecast a Steelers win but they did not cover the spread so we fell to 2-2 against the line in 2012.

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