The Pittsburgh Steelers used an explosive second half to dispatch the Tennessee Titans, 40-17, on Thursday night. Pittsburgh moves to 8-2 and continues to solidify its place in the AFC North while Tennessee falls to 6-4.
The Steelers got on the board first almost immediately when Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown. The Titans answered shortly thereafter, but the score stayed close throughout the first half as both offenses struggled to get out of first gear. Pittsburgh took a 16-7 lead into halftime.
It was all Steelers in the second half. The Titans made things interesting for a bit when Marcus Mariota hit Rishard Matthews for a 75-yard touchdown, but after Tennessee got the score to 23-17, the Steelers stormed away, rattling off 17 unanswered points to put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger finished with four touchdown passes — including three to Brown — and 299 yards on 30-of-45 passing, while Mariota threw four interceptions in one of his poorest performances of the season.
5 things we learned
1. NBC’s Madden Cam is good ... but there are some issues
The big story heading into this game was NBC’s decision to use the overhead SkyCam as its primary TV angle. It prompted a lot of passionate debate — some people loved it, others hated it. I thought it was mostly fine, with a few reservations.
On the positive side, the camera opens up a whole new side of the game we don’t normally see. Full route trees, blocking assignments, defensive schemes, and the quarterback going through his progression are all things you see in real time, and it adds a real kinetic energy to the viewing experience.
That said, it’s far from perfect. The camera is more zoomed in than you’d see on an actual Madden playing screen, making things feel claustrophobic at times. The constant slow panning can be a problem for viewers with motion sickness. And the depth perception change can make down-and-distance hard to judge at first glance (NBC wisely switched to the regular camera on short-yardage situations).
Overall, there’s room for improvement, but it’s unique, and we should welcome more uniqueness in football broadcasting. We probably don’t need this as the new default camera angle, but it’s fascinating as a change of pace, and I hope networks don’t abandon the experiment.
2. The Steelers’ offense remains an enigma
It really was a tale of two halves for Pittsburgh. The Steelers came out hot on the opening drive and struggled for the rest of the first half, only managing field goals off the Titans’ two turnovers. For the most part, it was the same uninspiring performance we saw against the Indianapolis Colts last week.
Then the second half came along and the Steelers flipped a switch, burying the Titans with the kind of deadly offensive attack we’ve expected but didn’t always get this season. The obvious highlight is Brown, who scored two of his three touchdowns in the second half and had this beauty of a highlight.
If this Steelers offense shows up every week, they’d be much easier to take seriously as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
3. It’s time to commit to Derrick Henry
Despite falling behind early in the game, the Titans continued to feed DeMarco Murray the rock. The results were less than pleasant, while Derrick Henry kept showing tantalizing glimpses of his potential.
At the half:— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) November 17, 2017
DeMarco Murray: 6 carries, 3 yards, 0.5 YPC
Derrick Henry: 7 carries, 32 yards, 4.6 YPC
Things didn’t get any better as the Steelers pulled ahead. Murray finished with just 10 yards on eight carries, while Henry didn’t even get a single carry in the second half. At some point the Titans need to get serious about phasing out Murray, who’s 29 years old and has been lingering injuries all season. Henry is clearly the more explosive playmaker at this point, and the sooner Tennessee turns to his fresher legs, the better.
4. Titans cost themselves with poorly timed mistakes
The run game wasn’t the only reason Tennessee’s offense fell apart. Mariota was downright bad for stretches, throwing a handful of picks in the first half that killed the Titans’ chances of staying in the game early.
And halfway through the third quarter, Delanie Walker committed an absolutely brutal drop in the end zone, taking points off the board when the game was still winnable on Tennessee’s end.
The Titans now drop to 6-4 and are currently looking up at the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South standings. Drive-killing mistakes like the ones above are the biggest reasons why they let this game get out of hand.
5. Steelers remain in the hunt for a first-round bye
The Steelers move to 8-2 and, at the moment, control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They have a rather friendly schedule coming up, facing a Green Bay Packers team without Aaron Rodgers, then playing the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens before a critical showdown with the New England Patriots in Week 15.
All eyes will be on that latter game, but the Steelers just need to avoid any letdowns beforehand. Based on their wildly inconsistent play this season, that might be easier said than done. But Thursday night’s blowout win was an encouraging step forward for Mike Tomlin’s squad, and we know how dangerous this team is when it’s firing on all cylinders.