I spent a decent chunk of my evening yesterday writing this piece for SB Nation about how Vince Young is no longer worthy of ridicule, at least for his play on the field. The shirtless clubbing, suicidal disappearing acts and punching people because they flash him an upside down "Hook 'Em Horns" gesture, however, are still fair game.
The Steelers have only played the Titans twice since VY was drafted in '06 and both have come in the last two seasons when Kerry Collins was enjoying his final stint as a starting quarterback in the NFL. While this could present an advantage for the Steelers, since Young has yet to go against Dick LeBeau's vast array of blitzing packages, the unfortunate recent history the Steelers defense has had against running quarterbacks like Michael Vick has me a little concerned that that negates that edge.
Young had the top passer rating of all QBs last week in manhandling the Raiders. He even hit dropsyhands Nate Washington for a nice 56-yard touchdown to notch the Titans first score in the opening frame. While he did lose a fumble,
Of course, stopping Young and possibly everything short of Dennis Dixon not repeatedly turning the ball over is secondary to trying to stop Chris Johnson. The Steelers held Cop Speed to 15 carries for 57 yards in the 2009 opener, which would up being his second worst performance of last season, his worst being a nine-carry, 34 yard performance against the Colts in Week 5.
The key to those figures is that they both came with Collins as the starter at QB. Not only is Young playing better than he has at any point in his pro career, his ability to run makes it more difficult to defense the Titans running game. With Collins, you can stack the box on pretty much any formation where the team isn't spreading its receivers and you're not going to get burned particularly badly. Casey Hampton will probably be out and be missed some, but Chris Hoke always proves a more than capable back-up when Big Snack is gone. Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle, however, is a scenario I'm a lot more worried about.
As it was last week, the key to the Steelers winning is not allowing touchdowns. Roddy White might have had a huge statistical game, but Matt Ryan's rating was significantly lower throwing to him than any of his other receivers. The same principle is true this week. The Steelers would obviously much rather deal with VY breaking off the occasional 15-yard run than Chris Johnson beating them for a 76-yard touchdown. Johnson will likely get his numbers, but as long as they don't come in huge scoring chunks like they did last week, this is a game the Steelers can win.
Dixon struggled with all of his sideline passes last week and was finally able to start moving the offense when the playcalling focused on working the middle of the field. Oh, and not skipping passes into the dirt. I wouldn't be surprised if forcing sidelline throws weren't a huge part of the Titans defensive gameplan.
That said, I think this is the most difficult game the Steelers face in Roethlisberger's absence. Even more so than the Ravens in two weeks. I can't say I'm expecting a win, but I see the possibility of one if things fall the right way. Maybe Dixon can shake off some of the jitters he admitted to having at the beginning of last week's game and put together an entirely solid performance. While Vince Young is improved, he isn't exactly an elite QB yet either. He's capable of being forced into costly mistakes. Turning him into the VY of old and the Steelers could put themselves in amazing position to start their season.