by Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts's AFC North sniper
Just when you think you know the league.
The regular referees have brought some normalcy back to the league and I was starting to get a handle on things this year. At the very least, t I thought I at least knew this - the Steelers were a much better team than the Titans. Pittsburgh’s play has been inconsistent at best, but Tennessee is one of, if not the worst team in football.
As they say, that’s why they play the games. The Titans pulled of a shocking 26-23 upset on Thursday night. Ultimately, Pittsburgh may end up being the better team, but they weren’t on Thursday.
Here are five facts that may have led to Tennessee’s victory.
Pittsburgh couldn’t run the ball, but Chis Johnson could. Neither one of these squads has very good running games. Chris Johnson’s difficulties have been well documented this season, but Tennessee was actually able to get him going on Thursday. CJ2K ran for 91 yards on 22 carries to lead the Titans to victory. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s running backs couldn’t get out of their own way.
The Steelers entered the week ranked 31st in rushing yards per attempt, despite having an Offensive Hog Index in the top ten. The rushing woes continued for the black and gold, as Steeler running backs managed a meager 56 yards on 22 carries.
The Titans defense had its best game against Pittsburgh. One reason I thought the Steelers would go into Tennessee and win is because of the terrible Titan defense. Before this week, the Titans had failed to give up under 30 points in any game, and their average points per game against was an abysmal 36.2.
Pittsburgh’s inability to find the end zone was something new for Titan opponents this year. Not only was the Steeler’s scoring total a good seven points below Tennessee’s second best defensive effort, it feel nearly two touchdowns below the season average.
Rashard Mendenhall was a non-factor. Given the deficiencies in the running game this may have been obvious, but given Mendenhall’s performance last week it was significant.
The Steelers’ featured running back came back from injury last Sunday to make his season debut. He provided a major spark for the offense, piling up 101 yards from scrimmage and scoring a crucial touchdown. No such production came from him on Thursday, as he only managed six rushing yards on six carries and caught one pass for 11 yards.
The Titans were the more efficient team. It might not have been by much, but in a close game where touchdowns were hard to come from, the discrepancy wound up being a major factor. First off, the Titans won the crucial third down conversion rate battle. Tennessee managed to pick up a first down on 56 percent of its third downs. Meanwhile, the Steelers only did so 47 percent of the time.
The Titans also won the kicking efficiency battle. Shaun Suisham kicked three field goals for Pittsburgh, but his one miss ended up being the difference in the game. On the other side, the Titans got a vintage performance from Rob Bironas, who connected on all four of his field goal attempts.
The home team is 4-1 on Thursday nights. This may be the ultimate deciding factor. The Steelers will probably wind up being a better team than the Titans this year, but that doesn’t seem to matter on Thursday night games. Traveling on a short week is proving to be extremely difficult.
Thus far, two seemingly superior teams - the at-the-time undefeated Cardinals and now the Steelers - have fallen victim to the Thursday night travel.