Steelers enjoy role of hunter at season’s start
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during a preseason game.
PITTSBURGH – If Ben Roethlisberger were a card player, he’d be the guy sitting at the end of the table, a smile on his face despite the fact his chips are running low.
Why would Roethlisberger be smiling?
Despite the Steelers going 0-4 in the preseason, he’s pretty sure he has a winning hand, one that will get him and the Steelers back into the playoffs in 2013.
“I really don’t care about winning or losing preseason games,” Roethlisberger said. “I couldn’t tell you what the preseason record is in my career. That’s why it’s the preseason. You want to get some work in and let young guys get a chance to make a team, if you ask me.
“We’re excited about it and we’re ready to get back to football.”
The Steelers will get that chance today against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.
After an 8-8 season in 2012, an offseason where Pittsburgh replaced three starters on defense and three on offense – though tight end Heath Miller is expected to return soon from a knee injury – and a winless preseason, some might say the Steelers are playing with a losing hand.
Few are picking the Steelers to do much more than match last year’s record.
“We’re very under the radar,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s fine with me. I like being the hunter.”
Pittsburgh has won 10 consecutive regular season home openers, the longest current streak in the NFL. Six of those wins have come under head coach Mike Tomlin.
But with so many new faces – 16 total – Tomlin’s not about to compare this season to any other.
“It is a new cast of characters legitimately every year that is just the nature of today’s NFL,” Tomlin said.
Last year’s group couldn’t beat Tennessee. The Steelers gave up 10 points in the final 4:19 in Tennessee last season, dropping a 26-23 decision to the Titans.
The Titans did a lot of talking on the field during that game and got under the skin of many of Pittsburgh’s defensive players. They didn’t need much to remind them of that.
“We see the film and guys talking, mouthing off after certain plays,” said safety Ryan Clark. “That’s the great thing about football. You get to correct that.”
The Titans know they are going into a hornets nest of sorts.
”It’s a huge test,” said Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak. “Most of them usually are on the road, in the opener. You don’t know what to expect sometimes just because you can’t really go off a lot of preseason film and what you see on there.”
The Steelers aren’t exactly sure what to expect from Tennessee, either, especially on defense. Longtime NFL defensive coordinator Greg Williams was brought in by the Titans in the offseason to help.
Williams, who was suspended in 2012 for his involvement in paying players bounties while with New Orleans, is known for his aggressive, blitzing style.
With a young offensive line playing its first full game together, the Steelers know the Titans will test them with blitzes and stunts.
“We’ve watched a lot of film. We watched last year’s game, we’ve watched preseason stuff and we’ve watched Saints’ stuff,” said Roethlisberger. “We don’t know what to expect, so we’re preparing a little bit for everything. I would have to expect a lot of what we saw when we played the Saints a couple of years ago – a lot of crazy blitzes and different looks and stuff.”
Roethlisberger enters the game needing 156 yards to become the first Pittsburgh quarterback and 28th in NFL history to throw for 30,000 in his career. … California University’s Tommie Campbell starts at cornerback for the Titans. … This will mark the sixth consecutive season the Steelers and Titans have met. Pittsburgh has won three of the five previous meetings and has not lost to Tennessee at home since 2003.