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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
September 7, 2005
Season Ticket
Thur 9 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
Sun 1 PM SEA at JAC NYJ at KC STL at SF Mon 9 PM
DEN at MIA CIN at CLE   GB at DET Times ET

Prediction: Tennessee 7, Pittsburgh 17

The schedule was not kind to the Titans. Rebuilding after a 5-11 season, they have to travel to Pittsburgh where no visitor won last season. There is a chance too that the Steelers defense is even better and the Titan offense even worse. The only factors keeping this game in check are the injuries to Bettis and Staley, and the unveiling of a new offense directed by OC Norman Chow for the Titans. This would be the upset of the week if the Titans won. No need to worry.

Tennessee Titans (0-0)
1 Sep 11 @PIT 10 Open Bye
2 Sep 18 BAL 11 Nov 20 JAC
3 Sep 25 @STL 12 Nov 27 SFO
4 Oct 2 IND 13 Dec 4 @IND
5 Oct 9 @HOU 14 Dec 11 HOU
6 Oct 16 CIN 15 Dec 18 SEA
7 Oct 23 @ARI 16 Dec 24 @MIA
8 Oct 30 OAK 17 Jan 1 @JAC
9 Nov 6 @CLE . . SAT
TEN Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Steve McNair 0 0 200,1
RB Chris Brown 60 10 0
TE Erron Kinney 0 30 0
WR Drew Bennett 0 60 0
WR Tyrone Calico 0 40 0
WR Courtney Roby 0 20 0
WR Brandon Jones 0 30,1 0
PK Rob Bironas 0 FG 1 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Titans enter into 2005 with an odd mixture of old and new. Steve McNair returns to reclaim his old form and Chris Brown hopes to be healthy. But Derrick Mason is now gone and Drew Bennett pairs with Tyrone Calico in the new offensive scheme. It could be a fun offense to watch which is more than you can say about the Titan defense.

Quarterback: Steve McNair returns and like so many other players, claims to feel better than ever and is ready to get back to business. McNair will direct the new offensive scheme and the early returns so far say the players all love it, including McNair as the old dog learning new tricks.

Billy Volek offers one of the best back-up quarterbacks in the league and he was wildly productive last season when facing some very bad defenses. The Titans feel much more comfortable knowing Volek can step into the starting role and the offense should not suffer much.

Running Backs: The Titans hope Chris Brown can avoid the durability issues that have plagued him in the NFL and his turf toe has healed though not 100%. He'll play but the team took out a valuable insurance policy on him by grabbing Travis Henry from the Bills. Problem is that Henry is now injured with a turf toe problem himself.

In the new offense yet to be seen, the expectations are that both Brown and Henry will mix during games with Henry primarily being used on short yardage plays and to help run out the clock at the end of games with his battering style. Both backs should see use (when healthy) and that only serves to likely diminish what either will do this season.

Since Henry is still a question to play this week, I am just projecting for Chris Brown. Pittsburgh is hardly the place to start a new career with a team as a running back anyway.

Wide Receivers: Derrick Mason bolted for the Ravens and leaves behind one of the biggest surprises of 2004 in Drew Bennett who turned in an astounding 1247 yards and 11 scores. This from a player tabbed to be battling with Tyrone Calico when the season started. What remains to be seen is how well Bennett will make the transition to being a #1 and not having Mason there to concern the safeties. Bennett also rolled up monster yardage and scores against the Chiefs and Raiders last year. His season was actually rather nondescript other than a three game tear that produced 517 yards and eight touchdowns.

Tyrone Calico missed all of last year after a horse collar tackle blew his knee out. The third year player returns for only his second season and already is the #2 by default. Beyond those two are a trio of rookies drafted this April who will be developing as the season progresses. Brandon Jones will likely serve as the #3 at first but Courtney Roby will challenge him. This new offense may make some nice use of wideouts this season and with a soft defense, the Titans will be forced to throw in most games. There could be more nice surprises from the Titan wide receivers in store for 2005.

Tight Ends: The team has big plans for Ben Troupe, but he's been on the PUP list thanks to foot surgery. He's due to come off the PUP but won't be ready this week. When he does regain health, he could be a surprise as well. Erron Kinney will take the starts until Troupe is ready.

Match Against the Defense: The Titans have to travel to Pittsburgh and face one of the toughest defenses in perhaps the toughest venue for visitors. As if that were not enough, Travis Henry and Ben Troupe are likely not to play. While the new offense has promise of some big games down the road, they are not likely to start here. Shelve all your Titan players if you can. There was only one 100 yard rushing effort against this defense and only eight rushing scores given up in all of 2004. Whatever success Tennessee will have has to be passing but with so many new players in a new scheme, there is no reliability here that even average numbers will be produced.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)
1 Sep 11 TEN 10 Nov 13 CLE
2 Sep 18 @HOU 11 Nov 20 @BAL
3 Sep 25 NE 12 Nov 28 @IND
4 Open Bye 13 Dec 4 CIN
5 Oct 10 @SDC 14 Dec 11 CHI
6 Oct 16 JAC 15 Dec 18 @MIN
7 Oct 23 @CIN 16 Dec 24 @CLE
8 Oct 31 BAL 17 Jan 1 DET
9 Nov 6 @GBP . MON SAT
PIT Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Ben Roethlisberger 0 0 190,1
RB Verron Haynes 40 10 0
RB Willie Parker 100,1 10 0
TE Heath Miller 0 30 0
WR Hines Ward 0 60,1 0
WR Cedrick Wilson 0 40 0
WR Antwaan Randle El 0 30 0
PK Jeff Reed 1 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Steeler defense led the way in 2004 along with the best rushing attack in the league - it just took several players to produce that. Problem is - the principal contributors of Staley and Bettis are banged up already and may not play. Ben Roethlisberger was a pleasant surprise in his rookie year and although he seemed to regress a bit as the season wore on, he still was under center for more wins than any other rookie quarterback ever.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger enters his second season and his biggest challenge is to avoid the "sophomore blues". One of his main targets - Plaxico Burress - is now gone and has been replaced by Cedrick Wilson. The team drafted Heath Miller to provide a receiving tight end into the mix but it has been years since the team has used the position for more than blocking. This is a big running and defense team and Roethlisberger just has to avoid mistakes.

Running Backs: Jerome Bettis has a calf injury and is not expected to play this week. Bettis was a big part of the "old guy" revolution last year at tailback in the NFL and is an instrumental part of short yardage and goal line runs. Duce Staley missed several games last year with a hamstring strain and already is injured this season. He too is not expected to play this week.

The second year player Willie Parker has gone from undrafted rookie to being a week one starter now that Bettis and Staley are sidelined. Parker has great open field moves and good quickness. He is effectively a very young Staley. Verron Haynes can help out as well but has fallen from favor in spite if being re-signed in the offseason.

Wide Receivers: Hines Ward finally got that new contract and chances are he will earn every penny. With Burress gone, the flanker spot goes to Cedric Wilson from the 49ers and Antwaan Randle El will take the slot while everyone waits for him to step up his play for the fourth straight season. Wilson was brought in with a four-year, $8 million contract while Randle El is still playing out the final year of his rookie contract. Money talks and it does not say the Steelers are dying to sign Randle El to a long-term deal.

Tight Ends: The Steelers have not used the tight end spot in years - there were many games last year where they did not throw even one pass to the position. But Heath Miller is slated to change all that and with his size, he'll help compensate for the loss of tall Plaxico Burress in the endzone. It remains to be seen but Miller was the first tight end drafted this year and the Steelers fully intend on using his strength - catching the ball on the far side of the goal line.

Match Against the Defense: While the Steelers have injury problems in the backfield and potentially a lesser receiving crew than last year, they probably could not ask for a nicer opener than to host the Titans. Expect the speedy Willie Parker to go where so many have gone before him - into the Titans endzone after amassing 100 yards on the ground. This will not be a high scoring game, the Steelers defense won't allow it and their offense isn't built or staffed for it as well. But this should be a solid win for Pittsburgh predicated on the standard - rushing and defense. The names are just changed this week at tailback.