Titans, Steelers have similar objectives
Maybe Jeff Fisher was only kidding. Maybe, though, there was more than a kernel of truth in what he said.
When Fisher, the Tennessee Titans’ coach, spoke to western Pennsylvania reporters last week via a telephone conference call, the subject, of course, turned to Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.
How can the Titans put the brakes on the Bus?
He has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past four games.
He is third in the AFC with 550 yards rushing, a figure that would lead the NFC.
And, after all, the game between the Steelers and Titans is Monday night at Heinz Field (9 p.m. kickoff) in front of more than 65,000 people and a national television audience. With apologies to Point Park College graduate Dennis Miller, Bettis rules Monday night. In nine games before ABC-TV’s prime-time cameras, Bettis has gained 1,010 yards, missing the 100-yard mark only once.
The Steelers, who have won eight in a row at home on Monday, are 6-3 with Bettis in their backfield.
Actually, the Titans are Bettis’ least favorite team to run against. The Steelers have lost seven in a row to the defending AFC Central champions, and Bettis has only one 100-yard game in 10 career games against Tennessee.
Fisher knows the secret to beating the Steelers and stopping Bettis: Sell out to the run, and make quarterback Kordell Stewart try to beat you.
“If there was a way to put more than eight or nine (defenders in the box near the line of scrimmage), then we’ll find it this week,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s comment, spoken only half in jest, speaks to his respect for Bettis, and his reluctance to consider Stewart a threat. Fisher recognizes Stewart’s running ability, but he made no mention of a Steelers passing game that has produced only one touchdown pass from its quarterback.
“You have Kordell running around and doing all kinds of fancy stuff on one down and then you have the offensive line, the fullback, the tight end flat-heading you and running right at you the next down,” Fisher said.
Fisher is impressed by Stewart’s won-loss record (4-1), but he says, “He may not be doing it all by himself. But he’s got a good supporting cast and they’re converting third downs and they’re running the football.”
Fisher and the Steelers have the same idea on how to stop the other’s offense. Like the Titans, the Steelers will try to gang up on the running back (Eddie George), keep a watchful eye on quarterback Steve McNair, who has run for 141 yards on only 22 carries, and hope the wide receivers don’t catch fire. Kevin Dyson, who is coming off a serious knee injury, is the Titans’ leading pass catcher among wide receivers, but he is just fourth on the team with 13 receptions.
“You’ll see a lot of guys for both teams around the line of scrimmage,” Fisher said.
No one knows the Titans better than Steelers backup safety Mike Logan, who lost five of his last six games against Tennessee when he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-nosed game and they were going to give the ball to Eddie George and let him pound it up the middle,” Logan said. “And Steve McNair was going to do his magic. It always seemed to work against us in Jacksonville.”
The Steelers enter the game in the unusual, but enviable, position of leading the AFC Central, with the assurance that no matter what happens tomorrow night against the Titans (2-3), they’ll still be in first place Tuesday morning.
At 4-1, the Steelers lead the Cleveland Browns (4-2) by a half-game and the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) by a game-and-a-half. The Browns are off today while the Ravens and Bengals play the Jaguars and Detroit Lions.
“I’m sure we surprised people,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. “That’s fine. But I’m not ready to make any statements about anything because we really haven’t done anything. Our biggest hurdle has yet to happen.”
Bettis knows that hurdle could rise out of the North Shore tonight.
“In order to get to where we want to get,” he said, “(the Titans) are the No.1 team to beat.”
The feeling appears to be mutual.
“There are no secrets to this ballgame,” Fisher said. “It’s just a matter of playing with your head and your heart and your fist, and that’s what (the Steelers) do.”