Pittsburgh and Tennessee make for explosive opener

NFL fans in Cayman can rejoice tonight.

That is because the start of the 2009 NFL season is hours away.

At 7:30pm Cayman time reigning Super Bowl champions the Pittsburgh Steelers take on AFC rival the Tennessee Titans.

The game takes place in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field and is set to be aired on NBC (cable channel four).

At this point the forecast for the game is good with a 74 degree game-time temperature and a chance of rain (which shouldn’t affect the smash-mouth defense and running game that both clubs boast).

Tonight’s contest sees a pair of powerful clubs clashing who have little love for each other.

The last example of that fact was in week 16 last season. The Titans would blow out Pittsburgh, who came in with a chance to grab the NFL’s best record, courtesy of two scores in the fourth quarter.

Towards the end of the game Tennessee players would take the yellow towels Steelers are known to wave (called the ‘terrible towels’) and stomp on them on the sidelines.

In addition Tennessee players would taunt the Pittsburgh team in front of TV crews who caught the stomping on camera.

Tonight expect Pittsburgh to have that incident firmly on their minds in spite of their success.

Last year Pittsburgh had the better season. The squad went 12-4 during the regular season to win the AFC North division.

After an opening round bye, the number two seed in the conference took down the San Diego Chargers in the divisional playoffs and the Baltimore Ravens in the conference championship.

From there the squad beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl down in Tampa in February.

Meanwhile Tennessee surprised all with an NFL-best 13-3 record. The AFC South champions had the number one seed heading into the playoffs.

However Tennessee’s title run fell way short in the divisional playoffs as the side lost to a rugged Baltimore Ravens side.

Tonight’s game is a match-up of very similar styles of play. Pittsburgh prides itself on being physical on both sides. Its mantra on offense is run first (behind the likes of Mewelde Moore), pass second and wear down opposing defenders.

On defense it’s all about Troy Polamalu and company challenging receivers to make plays under pressure and intimidating quarterbacks.

Tennessee meanwhile is equally rugged on offense. With the one-two combo of Chris Johnson and Lendale White the Titans set up opponents with the run.

From there QB Kerry Collins burns defenders with deep passes to the likes of Justin Gage.

Defensively the team prides itself on clogging up running attacks with a strong core up front featuring Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown and Jevon Kearse.

From there the team gives passing attacks fits with a physical secondary featuring Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper.

The positives for both clubs should shine through tonight. Fans should brace themselves for a game featuring massive hits, lots of running plays and a tight low score.

It’s early in the season and Pittsburgh is coming off a title campaign but this reporter likes Tennessee in this game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured towards the end of training camp and his throwing strength is a question mark.

The fact that most of his running backs are coming off injuries late last season also casts doubt as to how effective they can be.

Granted the Titans have questions themselves, especially on defense. Albert Haynesworth, who was part of the vaunted front line, is gone to Washington and leaves an unproven Jason Jones in his place.

However the fact that their offense remains relatively the same and the other defensive pieces are in place leads this reporter to believe the Titans can play more aggressively and dictate the game’s pace.

If this reporter had to predict a score it would be 12-9 in favour of Tennessee’s stout defense.