Steelers vs. Titans: Predictions and expectations for pivotal Week 9 matchup

Steelers, Kenny Pickett
Steelers, Kenny Pickett / Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, with both teams coming off contrasting Week 8 results. The Steelers struggled in a 20-10 loss to the Jaguars, while the Titans shone in a 28-23 win over the Falcons.

Rookie QB Will Levis had a stellar first start, with 238 passing yards and four touchdowns, showcasing the Titans' big-play potential. As Levis gears up for his second start, it's a chance for the Steelers to rebound even with concerns about Kenny Pickett's rib injury.

Will the Steelers' offense finally make a significant improvement this week?

The Steelers will face a tough challenge against a stingy Mike Vrabel' defense, and there's a pressing need for their offense to start strong. Nine weeks into the season, the Steelers' offense lacks any identity and has been hindered by inconsistency. Josh Rowntree's tweet shows how poor the Steelers offense has been in the first half this season:

Too often, the offense finds itself in unfavorable situations due to missed assignments, dropped passes, penalties, and missed blocks. Thursday's game needs to be a statement game for the offense, requiring them to find their rhythm early.

Establishing an effective run game or employing the short passing game on first downs can lead to more manageable second and third downs. They need to make the game easier for a young and struggling QB, capitalizing on Pickett's efficiency in play action to open up the offense. This tweet by Mike Frazer showcases how efficient Pickett is in play action:

How will the Steelers' defense cope without Minkah Fitzpatrick against Derrick Henry and the Titans' offense?

Defensively, the Steelers will face significant challenges. Without Minkah Fitzpatrick, they can expect the Titans to test their safeties and cornerbacks with Will Levis's arm. Communication remains crucial, as demonstrated by their lapses after Minkah's injury in the previous game. The primary concern, however, will be containing the Titans' dominant running back, Derrick Henry.

Given the Steelers' issues with the run defense, stopping Henry should be the top priority. Defensive coaches Teryl Austin and Head Coach Mike Tomlin need to employ stunts and blitzes to disrupt the running game at all costs. Teams are also becoming increasingly inventive in their strategies to neutralize TJ Watt's impact on games.

To do so effectively, they should persist in shifting him around the field in various ways, exploiting favorable matchups to their advantage. Expect to see him lined up on different sides of the field, even head-on with the center during Thursday's game. Given the Titans' use of play action against the Falcons, it's anticipated that they will employ a similar strategy.

Preventing the Pittsburgh pass rush from overwhelming the young QB in his second start is crucial. To counteract the pressure from TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith, screen plays and using Levis on the run are likely to be used.

Final thoughts and predictions

This game is likely to be another hard-fought battle. With two defensive-minded head coaches in Mike Tomlin and Mike Vrabel, both defenses will make it a challenging night for both offenses. Will we finally see a Steelers offense able to play a complete game? Probably not, but this is a primetime matchup at home and I like the Steelers chances a little bit more.

It won't be an easy task by any means, but I believe Mike Tomlin will find a way to extract just enough from his team to secure a victory.

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