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Steelers would rather forget the Titans

Jerry DiPaola

Win or lose, the Steelers will be happy to see the Tennessee Titans’ bus leave Heinz Field for the airport after their game Sunday.

“You love playing in these games because, after these games, everything else seems a little bit easier,” defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen said.

The Steelers hope that’s true, because if it gets any tougher than the Titans, look out.

The Steelers have lost nine of their past 11 games against the Titans. They just can’t seem to get a consistent handle on the Tennessee run defense or quarterback Steve McNair.

“I have notes from 1999, when I was coaching tight ends,” offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said, “that they fly around to the ball. Their intensity to the whistle is unbelievable. It hasn’t changed.”

Mularkey said the teams are evenly matched in terms of scheme and personnel. He believes the winner will be the team with the fewest mistakes, which is usually true. What Mularkey didn’t say is that the winner will be the team less affected by the other’s quarterback.

The Titans barely allowed Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox to complete half of his passes in two games last season, but McNair threw for 595 yards and ran for 53 more.

McNair could be the difference maker Sunday. It’s not just his completion percentage (57.9), passing yardage (2,073) or touchdowns (13) in 11 games against the Steelers. It’s his ability to escape danger in the pocket, with a combination of elusiveness and power.

“He’s like tackling a running back,” von Oelhoffen said of the 6-foot-2, 229-pound McNair. “When you’re in a pass rush and you’ve beaten one guy, it’s usually going to be you and just him in a wide space. You’re taking on a 230-pound man in a 10-foot radius and that’s hard to do, especially against a guy like that.”

McNair consistently slips tackles that appear to be clear sacks. The Steelers have put him on the ground only 10 times in 11 games.

“That’s what he brings to the table. That’s why he’s Steve McNair,” von Oelhoffen said.

Stopping McNair would prove to critics of the Steelers’ defense that it, indeed, has improved from last season.

Said von Oelhoffen: “The game will be a good gauge, like Kansas City was, to see where we’re at.”

One problem: The Steelers lost in Kansas City.

Notes: Center Jeff Hartings (ankle) and running back Verron Haynes (knee) were the only Steelers who missed practice yesterday. … The Titans are hoping that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (elbow), guard Benji Olson (hamstring), wide receiver Drew Bennett (shoulder) and tight end Frank Wycheck (concussion) will be able to play. All four players are listed as questionable, but coach Jeff Fisher said Wycheck and Haynesworth are improving. If he doesn’t play, Haynesworth, a 6-6, 320-pound run stuffer, might be the biggest loss to the Titans. “It won’t hurt my feelings (if he doesn’t play),” Mularkey said. … James Farrior has accepted losing his job to Joey Porter as the middle linebacker in the dime. “It was his to begin with,” said Farrior, who will come off the field on third down. “I understand the situation. It was fun being out there while I had the opportunity, but I knew it was going to come to an end sooner or later. I’m very happy to see Joey back.”


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