NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Titans can reclaim the top spot in the AFC with a win in Pittsburgh Sunday.

The Titans (9-4) passed the Patriots (9-5) Saturday night when the rival Colts beat New England 27-17.  They trail Kansas City (10-4) but would pass them with a win over Pittsburgh because of their win over Kansas City in Nashville.

The big question for both teams is can they protect their quarterback?  Titans QB Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 37 times and he is facing a Steeler defense led by TJ Watt and his 16 sacks.

Sacks Per Game-

  1. Minnesota- 3.2
  2. Pittsburgh- 2.8
  3. Tennessee- 2.5

“They are a talented defense,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “They fly around, aggressive linebackers, Minkah Fitzpatrick is all over the field. I was with him [Fitzpatrick] in Miami, and I respect him. He is a really good player,” said Tannehill.

“Their front is fast and aggressive [T.J.] Watt is coming off the edge, [Cameron] Heyward on the onside, just an overall tough defense. They play a bunch of different fronts in base defense. They are going to give you every look in the book and make it tough on communicating and (identifying). They are physical. I think that is what it comes down to is they are a physical defense that wants to make it tough on you,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The Titans can make it tougher on the Steelers if they can run the football.  They will have to do it without left guard Rodger Saffold who has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

Once again the Titans will lean on a three-man attack with Derrick Henry still on injured reserve. D’Onta Foreman obviously is not Henry, but his 4.4 yards per carry is slightly better than Henry’s 4.3.

  • D’Onta Foreman- 55-240, 1 TD
  • Dontrell Hillard- 25- 179, 1 TD
  • Jeremy McNichols- 26 – 85, 0 TD

The Steelers have struggled against the run this season giving up 139 yards per game and a whopping 5.0 yards per carry.

In the passing game, the Titans have Julio Jones back for the second game in a row, but they will need more from him than the 4 receptions for 33 yards he got in his return against Jacksonville.

Tannehill says it is coming along “ I am seeing some good things from him. I am excited to have him back out there, hopefully, we can have some opportunities to connect those downfield throws,” said Tannehill.

Defensively the big news comes with the return of Bud Dupree. The former Steelers star officially came off injured reserve Saturday after successfully practicing all week.

Earlier this season, the Titans were able to apply pressure with just their front of Dupree, Harold Landry, Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autry.  Landry and Simmons are having career years with 11 and 7.5 sacks.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is glad to have Dupree back,  “I think it has been good to get out and have enough guys to where we can actually practice and not be where we were a few weeks ago in kind of a walkthrough mode. Obviously, we will have to do that next week, but this was good for him to be able to get out there and practice and move around,” said Vrabel.

Vrabel’s defense also adds linebacker Zach Cunningham this week after grabbing him off the waiver wire last week.  Vrabel said he will play on special teams and situationally on defense this week.

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Meanwhile the Titans secondary will have its hands full with a very talented receiving corps led by Diontae Johnson. 

  • Diontae Johnson- 81 Rec. 990 yards, 6 TD’s
  • Chase Claypool- 47 Rec. 753 yards, 1 TD
  • James Washington- 21 Rec. 249 yards, 2 TD’s

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 30 times this season and the Titans’ ability to torment Big Ben could determine if it’s a long day or short one for the Titans’ secondary.  

The Titans come into this one battled tested.  The Steelers are the 8th playoff team they have faced, so far they are 7-0.