Scout's take: How the Titans can handle the Steelers' pass rush

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s a clash of two old AFC division opponents, and very few things have changed.

The Steelers are still built with a tough, physical defense that relies on pass-rush and opportunistic turnovers.


The Titans are built on a physical run game, look to control time of possession with the purpose of staying close enough in games to have the ball last when the game is on the line and use that run game and fresh offense to wear down the opponent.

How will the Titans handle the Steelers pass rush?

The Titans will be without their best and most athletic offensive lineman with left tackle Taylor Lewan out for the season with an ACL injury.

The replacement for Lewan will be important. Going into the Steelers game I feel the team will stay with veteran backup Ty Sambrailo at left tackle and veteran Dennis Kelly at right tackle. This will cause fewer mix-ups and potential blown assignments against a very complex defense.

Titans rookie first-round draft choice Isaiah Wilson is not ready for prime time, and if he had a shot to change anything this week it disappeared when he missed Wednesday and Thursday practices because he was sick.CallahanBinkley263x196 2

He has proven to be very immature during his short time with the Titans and he couldn’t have been trusted in a starting role against such a productive and veteran defensive front-seven.

When a team drafts a first-rounder, he is supposed to be an immediate starter. The impact of the player is determined by the strength of the draft, but being a starter is very important to the value of the pick and player.

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt is a rusher that uses a full arsenal of moves to win against his opponent. He also plays with a high motor and effort that makes him even more effective and productive.

Watt uses an outside rip and rake on his outside speed rush, he gets inside on rushes after setting up his tackle throughout the game. He also has enough power and force with his quickness off the snap to power rush a big tackle and combo his power into an outside speed rush.

Power-to-speed rushers are the most difficult to block for even the most talented pass protectors.

Kelly will have his hands full with Watt. Watt is also very good at playing with his eyes and tipping balls at the line of scrimmage. Kelly uses his hands and size to engulf rushers and works hard to win on every two- to three-second snap during the play.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree usually lines up over the left tackle and is a combination rusher with the ability to press the outside and turn his speed outside rush into a bull and power. Dupree has size, strength and speed and is very effective with a snatch and shed with his hands.

Sambrailo is a technician at the tackle position, using his hands and correct foot placement to wall off and position block against rushers. He will need to be patient and look to hold up against the talented Dupree.

The pass rush doesn’t end with just the outside rushers. The Steelers have two outstanding interior players who have the ability to win vs. one-on-one blocks. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are both, big, long and powerful upfield attackers. With Sambrailo and Kelly needing help, the Titans’ interior offensive lineman will also need help.BeddingfieldLabel

Both guards Roger Saffold and Nate Davis are better run-blockers than pass-protectors but need to hold up so center Ben Jones can help along the front focusing on the most dangerous threat.

What do the Titans do to slow down the rush?

Screen game, outside runs, play-action, quick horizontal passes to Cameron Batson and match the tight ends against Spillane and Williams, which will be a mismatch in the Titans’ favor.

Impact of the loss of Devin Bush

The Titans do get a break with the season-ending ACL injury to inside linebacker Devin Bush. Bush was the wildcard for the defense with outstanding speed, but also very good timing on his blitz. With him out that one aspect of their defense is lost.

The Steelers two inside linebackers, Bush and Vince Williams, are total opposites. Williams is the captain and aligns the fronts, making adjustments. He is a very proficient tackle-to-tackle run-down player. His instincts and intelligence allow him to make the occasional play against the pass, but he isn’t a man-to-man cover LB like Bush.

Bush is undersized but has outstanding speed on a LB blitz or running with backs and tight ends.

His replacement is undrafted free agent and former Titan Robert Spillane. Spillane is a significant downgrade against the run and pass for the Steelers.

He has adequate size, strength and athletic ability and will struggle in man coverage on RBs and TEs.

Derrick Henry vs. Steelers’ run defense

The Steelers are second in the NFL against the rush, only giving up 66 yards per game. Part of this is due to the Steelers having leads in games and putting opponents in pass mode. They are also eighth in the league against the pass.

Henry will need to be a major factor in this game to wear down the defensive front and force the Steelers pass rushers to play a heavy dose of run.

How to rush Ben Roethlisberger

Jeffery Simmons will need to be impactful.

The lack of edge rushers for the Titans this season will force Tennessee’s defense to blitz.

Last week, the Cleveland Browns had success blitzing the nickel back and outside corner to push Roethlisberger up in the pocket and forced him to get the ball and out of his hands quickly.

The key to rushing Roethlisberger is to force him to throw quickly and use check downs instead of allowing him time to scan the field and deliver accurate passes.

Big Ben lacks the ability to escape pressure and can get boxed in inside the pocket. He is also at the point in his career like a lot of veteran QBs where they do NOT want to take extra hits. He does now tends to throw into traffic to avoid a sack or hit.

Key matchups

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva vs. Harold Landry: Landry is a speed rusher with bend around the edge. Villanueva is a tall (6-9) tackle with a stiff lower body with only adequate lateral foot quickness and slide. Physically and athletically this should be a favorable matchup for Landry. Villanueva benefited from former Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak’s teaching and hasn’t been the same since Munchak left for Denver.

Right guard Kevin Dotson vs. Jeffery Simmons: Dotson is a rookie fourth-round draft choice and starter. Dotson has very good size and strength in his lower and upper body. Simmons has been disruptive especially in the run game, also providing pass pressure when blocked one-on-one.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster vs Titans’ nickel corner: Smith-Schuster aligns mainly as a “big slot” WR. This will match him vs.one of two rookies, Kristian Fulton or Chris Jackson. This matchup will favor the veteran Schuster because of his combination of size, strength and route running.

Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor vs Jadeveon Clowney: The Steelers have also had injuries along their offensive line, losing two starters in guard Stephon Wisniewski and right tackle Zach Banner for the season. Okorafor has very good size, but has average redirect and recovery ability with his feet. He tends to block tall in pass protection. Clowney is an undisciplined pass rusher with very few defined moves, but he does have the quickness off the snap and the size and length to be disruptive vs. a tackle with very little playing time.apple icon 144x144 precomposed

A.J. Brown vs Steelers corners: All three Steeler corners are undersized from a height and weight standpoint. Brown will have a significant strength and size advantage against this group. Corners Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson are good match and mirror corners but will lose 50-50 throws at times. Haden is suspectable to holding and grabbing calls against more physical play.

The game comes down to which team can dictate the tempo and force its game plan. The Steelers need to successfully rush the passer and not allow pressure on Roethlisberger. The Titans need to rush the ball and win time of possession.


Blake Beddingfield was a Titans' scout for 19 years, through the 2017 draft. He was the team's director of college scouting for his final six years. Follow him on Twitter at @BlakeBedd. He’s brought to us by Callahan & Binkley, who can help you with personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

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