Two 5-0 teams squared off today in Nashville, Tenn., and the Steelers walked away with the win in a game that may have shown us who this year’s Super Bowl champion will be. Tennessee nearly mounted a late comeback, but their chance at a win was spoiled when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 46-yard field goal with 14 seconds left. The Titans, however, were plagued all afternoon. Here are the key factors that led to Tennessee’s loss.
Pittsburgh Dominated Time of Possession in the First Half
The Steelers won the time of possession battle by holding onto the ball for 36:37, but they were especially dominant in the first half. Pittsburgh took a 14-0 lead to start the game by executing drives of 9:18 and 7:05 while Tennessee was only able to go three and out. The Titans only had one possession last longer than 1:21, a 12 play drive that led to their first touchdown, and Pittsburgh held the ball for 19:56 in the first half. A key factor that led to the dominance in time of possession was…
Tennessee Couldn’t Stop Pittsburgh on Third Down
The Steelers went 13-for-18 on third down, including making their first 10. Entering this game, Pittsburgh was riding a 23-game streak in which they did not score a touchdown on the opening drive, a streak that ended because the Titans allowed Pittsburgh to convert four third downs on the drive. It didn’t seem to matter whether the distance was short or long, Pittsburgh got the ball into the hands of their playmakers and they did what they needed to do to convert. By comparison, the Titans were just 5-for-13 on third down.
Tennessee Failed to Capitalize on Mistakes
Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, but things could have been a lot worse for the Steelers. Vic Beasley forced James Conner to fumble on the opening drive and Chase Claypool fumbled a reception in the backfield on Pittsburgh’s following drive. Tennessee failed to recover either fumble (and reasonable had the chance to recover both) and the Steelers scored a touchdown on both drives. Meanwhile, Tennessee only scored a field goal off of the three takeaways, though, to be fair, one of Roethlisberger’s interceptions ended the half.
Pittsburgh Contained Derrick Henry
Tennessee’s Achilles heel will always be being put in a position where they have to play from behind as it game scripts the centerpiece of their offense, Derrick Henry. Henry couldn’t wear down Pittsburgh’s defense like he has against other opponents all season. He only rushed for 27 yards in the first half and was stuffed numerous times for no gain or for a loss of yards. He scored the touchdown that brought the game to 27-24, but only Buffalo contained him to less rushing yards in a game where Tennessee had such a large lead that they didn’t need to lean on him. Out of Henry’s 20 carries, only two were for 10-plus yards, while seven were for no gain or for a loss of yards. Stopping the run is critical for opposing defenses as it also stifles the bread and butter of Tennessee’s passing game – the play-action pass.
Gostkowski Missed the Kick
Despite what was very much Tennessee’s worst game of the year, they were still in position to send the game into overtime with a 46-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Instead, Gostkowski hooked it a little too much to the right and Pittsburgh walked away with the win. Gostkowski made a 51-yard field goal earlier in the game and has been reliable when it mattered most this season – late in the game, but nobody has been as hot-and-cold as Gostkowski this season. Since going 6-for-6 on field goals against Minnesota, he’s converted just one of four field goals. Oddly enough, he is a perfect 5-for-5 beyond 50 yards. Gostkowski was a reliable kicker in New England, but at some point, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel needs to decide if he wants to continue to employ a kicker who is currently dead last in the league in field goal percentage and 26th in extra point percentage.
Not all things, however, were bad for Tennessee. Despite starting backups at both tackle positions, they handled the Steelers pass rush, which is one of the best in the league, reasonably well, allowing just two sacks and six hits on Tannehill and it says a lot about the team that they did not just tuck their tail between their legs and take their beating when down 27-7. Tennessee has been fortuitous throughout the season with late-game comebacks, so it was only a matter of time until their luck caught up with them. The Titans have room to improve and will look to correct their mistakes as they prepare to face the Bengals.