Matchup: Steelers @ TitansWednesday, October 10, 2012
Thursday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Tennessee
Rashard Mendenhall's Week 5 return sparked Pittsburgh's previously anemic ground game with fast, physical running nine months removed from last January's ACL tear. The most impressive Steelers skill-position player against Philadelphia, Mendenhall got skinny through tight spaces and embarrassed rookie LB Mychal Kendricks with open-field shake on his second-quarter 13-yard touchdown. Mendenhall's burst jumped off the tape to the point that it's fair to wonder whether he might be better coming off the ACL. Mendenhall always possessed premier talent, but has been an inefficient back who ran impatiently and tended to hesitate when he should accelerate. I thought Mendenhall excelled in those two areas against Philadelphia, and would start him with confidence against the Titans' No. 28 run defense. ... Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace had rough days at the office against the Eagles. Each of them dropped two passes, although the former kept fantasy owners happy with 86 yards on seven catches. Both Steelers receivers remain top-25 per-game fantasy scorers at their position and have favorable Thursday night matchups. Tennessee ranks 25th versus the pass and has a 12:3 TD-to-INT ratio against. Fire up Wallace and Brown.
On top of the lowly pass-defense ranking and scoring binge being silver-plattered by the Titans' back end, they've allowed a league-high 74.6 percent of passes against them to be completed. Only the Raiders have surrendered a higher opposing QB rating. Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for a career-high 628 attempts in first-year OC Todd Haley's pass-happy offense and is a strong Thursday night fantasy play. Roethlisberger is top-ten in per-week quarterback points and a mid-range QB1 in this matchup. ... Due to chronically poor safety play, Tennessee's defense is getting obliterated down the middle. Enemy tight ends have combined for 46 receptions, 459 yards, and a whopping eight touchdowns through five games against the Titans, equating to an average weekly stat line of 9-92, and nearly two TDs. Heath Miller won't put up quite those numbers on Thursday night, but he's a solid bet to score. ... Big Ben's target distribution on the year: Brown 39, Wallace 30, Miller 25, Emmanuel Sanders 23, Isaac Redman 6. ... Sanders is an effective slot receiver, but he's yet to find the end zone this season and is averaging 29 yards per game. He's a WR6.
It would be irresponsible, juvenile even, to blame a 53-man football team's problems on just one player, but Chris Johnson's spineless running and attitude have played a leading role in the 1-4 Titans' 2012 incompetence. Unsustained offense has forced the Titans' defense to be on the field more than any team's in football through five weeks, notwithstanding the obvious sabotage of Tennessee's offense and any unquantifiable locker-room effects. Johnson runs when he wants to run, and that happens if and only if he sees expanses of green grass in front of him, cleared by the offensive line. I wouldn't bet on Johnson getting many running lanes against Pittsburgh's No. 11 run defense. ... Matt Hasselbeck is a mid-range to low-end NFL backup at age 37. Father Time has stripped Hasselbeck of his passing velocity, and defenders get their hands on his passes as they float through the air. He's interception prone. Even with SS Troy Polamalu (calf) and OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) out Thursday night, the Steelers' defense is a quality fantasy start.
Two Titans skill-position players are worth serious fantasy consideration in Thursday night's affair. The first is Kenny Britt because he's nearing full strength in his ankle recovery and liable to go off at any time. The second is Jared Cook. Hasselbeck and coach Mike Munchak both expressed post-game regret for not getting Cook the rock enough in last Sunday's 30-7 blowout loss to the Vikings, which suggests correcting that mistake may be a part of Tennessee's Week 6 game plan. You could do much worse as a bye-week tight end option. ... Munchak also promised more field time for Britt after he played just 28 snaps at Minnesota. Steelers RCB Ike Taylor poses an obstacle, but we've witnessed a healthy Britt beat up on better corners in seasons past. In terms of sheer talent, Britt is a top 5-10 receiver. Conservative owners can put Britt on a "wait-and-see week," call it a plus if he plays well despite leaving him on the bench, and confidently trot Britt out in next week's more favorable matchup with the Bills after a ten-day layoff. ... Kendall Wright leads all rookie wideouts in catches and yards, but he hasn't gotten anything going deep and is getting a large majority of his production on bubble screens and quick slants. He's a back-end WR3 option in PPR. ... Nate Washington has cleared 55 receiving yards in 1-of-5 games despite consistently playing more snaps than Wright. Washington is not a featured player in this year's Titans offense.
Score Prediction: Steelers 27, Titans 14
Fantasy Fix: Thursday Night
Is Rashard Mendenhall suddenly a must start? Should Kenny Britt be considered a bye-week option? And what's the situation with Mike Wallace. Kay Adams (@heykayadams) and Matt Stroup (@mattstroup) take a fantasy look Steelers - Titans.
Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.