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2023 NFL season, Week 9: What We Learned from Steelers' win over Titans on Thursday night

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 5-3-0
Tennessee Titans
2023 · 3-5-0


  1. Kenny Pickett gutted it out and did just enough. Pickett has been a slow-burn quarterback this season, often struggling to find a rhythm early before getting hot late. It didn’t quite go that way Thursday night against the Titans. Pickett actually led a strong opening TD drive, but he and the passing game sagged much of the night until a fourth-quarter touchdown proved to be the game-winner. Pickett’s best stat Thursday was his zero turnovers. His accuracy was scattershot early, with overthrows to Diontae Johnson and George Pickensand underthrows to Calvin Austin III and Allen Robinson. That left a lot of meat on the bone, but Pickett can’t be blamed for a pretty throw that Pickens couldn’t catch inbounds for a would-be TD. And his toughness isn’t in question. When Pickett was knocked out of Sunday’s game with a rib injury against the Jaguars, it was hard to imagine him starting four days later. Was he great against the Titans? No. Was it good enough to move the Steelers to 5-3? Yes, it was, and it’s right in line with where our expectations should be for him.
  2. Will Levis impressed in his second start, but first INT ends Titans’ chances. There’s little shame to what Levis did Thursday night, even if it ended with a pick in the end zone in the final moments of a four-point game. Levis got away with two potential INTs (including a clear drop by Steelers cornerback Darius Rush) on the final drive, which was extended by a defensive hold. But he wouldn’t get away with it the third time, as Levis floated a ball into heavy traffic and into the arms of Kwon Alexander with 11 seconds left for Levis’ first NFL interception. Prior to that, Levis had several impressive moments – mostly in the first half. He routinely flashed his strong arm and threw off some awkward platforms effectively, but he had trouble in the second half, especially when it came to finding DeAndre Hopkins (no catches on four targets after halftime). Levis’ night was a mixed bag on the whole, but it would be tough to walk away from this game being down on him. The highs were impressive, and he took a pounding from Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt. And after all, rookie QBs are now 1-13 against Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.
  3. Titans hit hard by injuries in the loss. The Titans have been snake bitten by injuries the past few years, and Thursday night felt like a microcosm of that. The scariest of the injuries was wide receiver Treylon Burks going down on the sideline after an incomplete pass just before the 2:00 warning in the fourth quarter. Burks was placed on a backboard and carted off, giving the crowd a thumbs up on his way off the field. He was alert after the game and walked out of the locker room without any assistance. Tennessee’s offensive line was also hit hard. It was already down right tackle Chris Hubbard coming into the game, and his replacement, Nicholas Petit-Frere, was flagged twice and then left the game with a shoulder injury. Rookie left guard Peter Skoronski was banged up in the second quarter, missing a few plays. Left tackle Andre Dillardmissed a few, too, having his right leg rolled up on. Aaron Brewer was the only starting offensive lineman to play every snap in the game. The defense wasn’t spared, either, with CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (thumb) leaving in the first quarter.
  4. Steelers’ offense still searching for its true identity. Embattled Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada called plays Thursday night from the sideline for the first time in his career. Pittsburgh won the coin toss and – surprise! – it took the ball. When the Steelers drove 83 yards on 10 plays on their opening TD, Canada was out there slapping high-fives with his players, and all was right in the world. It was the Steelers’ first opening-drive TD since Week 15 of last season at Carolina. The run game also flourished at times, as Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for six rushes of 10-plus yards. But Kenny Pickett missed some throws, and George Pickens finished with two catches for negative-1 yard. Pickens was awfully casual on his two short catches, had at least one big drop and couldn't get his feet down in the end zone, costing them points. On the bright side, Diontae Johnson broke out of his protracted TD slump (his first score in 668 days). With Pickett banged up, the run game stepped up at the right time. Will this performance suddenly launch the Steelers into the next gear? Probably not, but it does feel like Warren’s growing role has added a dimension, even when other ones aren’t flourishing.
  5. Steelers defense makes enough stops late to close it out. The Steelers’ defense got off to a shaky start against Levis and the Titans, committing 40 yards' worth of penalties on the opening field-goal drive, then allowing 73- and 57-yard scoring drives before the half as Tennessee led, 13-10. The Steelers had three first-half sacks and knocked Levis around a bit, but he hung tough and didn’t turn the ball over against the Minkah Fitzpatrick-less unit. Losing linebacker Cole Holcomb early on to a knee injury clearly had an effect, as Derrick Henry started doing work after Holcomb left. But Pittsburgh would finally take the ball away on the final drive – one of three shots they had at picking Levis off down the stretch. Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt set the tone with pressure, and Elandon Roberts made a few big stops late. Having Cameron Heyward back for the first time since Week 1 probably didn’t hurt, either. It wasn’t the prettiest performance ever, but the Steelers got it done when they had to, stopping Tennessee on all three fourth-quarter drives.


Next Gen stat of the game: Will Levis was pressured on 20 of his 44 dropbacks and was sacked four times (45.5% pressure rate).


NFL Research: Derrick Henry is the first player in Titans franchise history to score 85 career touchdowns (82 rushing, three receiving).

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