Titans vs. Steelers: 5 questions with Behind the Steel Curtain

Al Messerschmidt

Neal from Behind the Steel Curtain was nice enough to answer 5 questions for us about his Pittsburgh Steelers.

1. What is going on with at the running back position?  Who will we see this week and how long is Le'Veon Bell out?
The same that's always going on with the running back position of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The presumed starter is injured, and another guy will start this week. It's Isaac Redman's turn in Running Backs Roulette, and with him, you get a powerful runner without great speed. Considering the Steelers spent this offseason preparing an outside zone concept, it will be interesting to see how well Redman runs in it. I don't think anyone's accused Redman of having outstanding vision, but he can break tackles and fall forward. 
Bell himself has said he wants to be ready for Week 2, although I'm not entirely sure I see that happening. It may be until Week 3 or 4 until he makes his regular season debut. He was drafted to start and carry the ball 20-plus times a game, and is really the center point of a team that's really trying to establish itself as a run-first squad. 
2. How much will losing Mike Wallace hurt this team in 2013?  Are the other receiver ready to step up and replace his production?
The back-handed compliment of the night would be there are plenty of receivers who can match Mike Wallace's production from 2012. Fewer big plays, more underneath stuff and a general lack of the kind of production he had in his first three seasons with the team marked a somewhat bitter - but completely expected - departure this season. 
I don't see any receivers they currently have putting up the kind of big play numbers he's had, mostly because few, if any, in the NFL can match them. However, Emmanuel Sanders has shown some ability to make plays down the field, as has Antonio Brown. Rookie Markus Wheaton has good speed, and is dangerous in the short field. 
The thing with the NFL today is you pay for that top-end speed and big play potential. Not every team can afford it - although some, like the Steelers and Titans (with Kenny Britt) are able to draft it and keep it on the relatively cheap for a few seasons. And when those guys go, you modify your offense accordingly. 
3. How will the Steelers defense look in 2013 with the loss of a guy like James Harrison?  Who are some of the guys that are going to step up that we haven't heard of?
Harrison is one of the best outside linebackers to play for this franchise and that says a lot. The mark he's left on the team and the league won't be forgotten, or even replaced. There was not a better run-stuffing outside linebacker in the NFL during his starting time with the team. 
I'm not sure what a team can do to prepare for the loss of a player like him, except to change around what they're doing. Their defensive ends are going to crash on tackles and slant a bit more frequently than they have, and I think the goal is to get players in gaps more often, instead of relying on Harrison to hold down the edge and let everyone else flow to the ball. 
As far as players you haven't heard of, I'd say nose tackle Steve McLendon will be pivotal in this. He signed a three-year contract extension after he allegedly met with the Green Bay Packers during his restricted free agency period. He's very fast, and can move laterally much better than Casey Hampton could at the end of his career. Having a nose tackle who can penetrate on the play side can help alleviate the pressure placed on the outside defenders. He's an outstanding player who will be better known by the end of this season. 
4. It seems that the Steelers have been looking for offensive lineman for the past 5 years.  Is this offensive line improved over the last couple of years?
Their scouts have certainly passed along evaluations of offensive linemen recently. An offensive line's whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and while they have two first round picks (C Maurkice Pouncey and RG David DeCastro) and two second round picks (LT Mike Adams and RT Marcus Gilbert), the real value in all of them is their ability to move in space and create lanes in a zone concept. 
Has the line improved over the last few years? I hate to even answer that, but I will say, considering they've changed offensive coordinators, OL coaches and invested heavily in the personnel of the position (including a new contract for LG Ramon Foster), I really hope it has, and it's something that's obvious on Sunday. 
If not...we'll probably all collectively reach for another beer. 
5. What will the headline be in Monday's Tennesseean about this game?
Steelers 26, Titans 10: Steelers defense gets back to playmaking ways as run game dominatesBy Whomever 
The Steelers are in the bottom third of the league in takeaways, and 17th in sacks over the last two years. Their running game fell to the bottom 10 of the NFL last season. They brought players in and emphasized a different scheme this offseason in order to bring both of those areas back to prominence. While Tennessee's interior offensive line presents a challenge, I think the the Steelers' added athleticism in their pass rush (a healthy LaMarr Woodley and the addition of Jarvis Jones) will make them be able to get after the quarterback much more successfully than they have the last two years. 
The plays will come if they're able to do that. 
As far as the running game...they've based their offense around it this year. Whether it's zone or power, successful or otherwise, they're going to run 30 or more times. It's gotta work one of these years.

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