Running the ball 42 times against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field qualified as a win inside of a win for Tennessee on an afternoon that ended with a 16-9 victory and a 1-0 record.
Tennessee has three new offensive line starters and two new backs to supplement Chris Johnson. All of it combined to push and push at Pittsburgh, which didn’t give up a run longer than 11 yards, but allowed Tennessee enough at key moments that the Titans could keep running.
Forget Jake Locker's two kneel downs to kill the clock, and nine of the Titans' 40 runs were for no gain or a loss. Those sorts of runs helped put them in bad situations during last year’s 6-10 campaign. But they didn’t get discouraged here and being ahead for 30:44 of the game was a big help.
"I think we had just enough on some of the longer runs, where a lot of those third-and-1s, or third-and-2s or second-and-2s,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “We were getting them just past the line markers. No long breakaway runs, but it doesn’t really matter as long as we stay out there and keep the defense fresh and let them do what they did today, which is play amazing defense.”
Said tight end Delanie Walker: “They’ve got a great defense, they’ve got some physical guys up front. We just kept pounding it. We never lost faith in our run game and showed it. We just kept trying them and trying them.”
Shonn Greene was signed to supplement Johnson, particularly in short-yardage. He hurt his right knee early on and his replacement, Jackie Battle, converted a fourth-and-1 and scored the game's first touchdown.
Green said his injury isn’t significant and he doesn’t expect to miss time.
He was excited by what the Titans did. So was the Titans' most expensive free agent, left guard Andy Levitre.
“We’ll have some that go for no gain and we’ll pop a couple 7 yarders,” he said. “I think we did a good job later in the game effectively moving the ball. And that’s something we’ve talked about since we got here in the spring, being able to run the ball and then throw it when we feel like throwing it.”
The Titans ran the ball on two-third of their offensive plays while the defense made it so the Steelers couldn’t be balanced and only ran 28 percent of the time.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was not happy.
“They were able to run the ball at times on us, particularly in that red area,” he said. “Just not acceptable.”
Not every game will afford the Titans a chance to be so committed to the run. But when they are in the meeting rooms talking about their intentions, they'll have this one to point to.