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Familiar Foe Helps Offset Changes in Routine

Posted Oct 10, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans have tweaked practice schedules and other routines this week as they prepare to host the Steelers at LP Field Thursday night.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said coaches began doing prep work for the upcoming game last Thursday and Friday so that they could treat Monday like a normal Wednesday and Tuesday like a normal Thursday.

“When they came in (Monday), it was like a Wednesday routine for them, as far as what we covered on first and second down and getting ready for Pittsburgh,” Munchak said. “Physically, it was more, we did the same amount of reps, it was just that physically, we did it more as a walk-through or not quite the tempo of practice that we did inside.”

The Titans also changed the time of Tuesdays practice and scheduled a walk-through Wednesday evening at LP Field.

This will be the fourth Thursday game for the Titans in the past seven seasons and first since Dec. 9, 2010. It will be the ninth Thursday appearance for the Steelers in seven seasons, and Pittsburgh is 7-1 in those contests but 1-1 in road games. Those totals include the 2009 season-opener between the teams in Pittsburgh, a 13-10 overtime win for the Steelers.

Matt Hasselbeck, a 14-year veteran who is preparing to make his second straight start in place of injured second-year pro Jake Locker, said he welcomed the quicker opportunity to start working on the next game and move past Tennessee’s 30-7 loss at Minnesota.

“We weren’t proud of the performance we put out there on Sunday,” Hasselbeck said. “I was sick to my stomach the whole day and flying home. The only good thing is that we started on Pittsburgh immediately the next morning.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said during a conference call that playing on Thursday is “really kind of nothing new for us.”

“We’ve probably been in as many of these as anybody over the last four or five years,” Tomlin said. “We’re comfortable with our schedule. The preparation is more mental, as opposed to physical. We’re a veteran team in some ways so it’s less of a concern in some instances, but more than anything, we respect the process, we’re trying to get right mentally. We’re trying to preserve our bodies as best as we can and show up ready to play.”

The Titans and Steelers are in agreement that mental preparations are more important than physical preparations in a shortened week because of limitations as players’ bodies recover from last Sunday’s games.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said during a conference call that he spent most of his Tuesday morning in the film room.

“(Tuesday) is usually a day that you’re resting and getting treatment and healing up from the car wreck that is a Sunday game,” Roethlisberger said. “Being such a quick turnaround, you’ve got to get your body healed up, and then offensively, dealing with a new defense, trying to figure out their tendencies, figure out their blitzes, what they do. It’s just a lot of, as Coach Tomlin likes to say, a lot of above-the-shoulders preparation.”

Players said familiarity between the organizations can help expedite the mental preparations, even though Tennessee’s defense has experienced significant overhaul since 2008. This will be the 75th meeting between the franchises and fifth straight year in which the teams have met, with Pittsburgh claiming a victory in each of the past three seasons.

Titans safety Michael Griffin, however, is the lone defensive player remaining from the 2008 Titans squad that got the last win against the Steelers. Griffin recorded a pair of interceptions on the day, including one he returned 83 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.

“I’m very familiar with them, being the fifth year in a row, but other guys, like I said, it’s a mostly new team,” Griffin said.

Griffin is one of three Titans, along with Kamerion Wimbley and Jordan Babineaux, who started at Minnesota with more than five years of experience and at least 45 career starts apiece.

Tennessee’s starting lineup at Minnesota had a combined 515 games and 355 starts, but Griffin, Wimbley and Babineaux accounted for 222 of those starts.

Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said he is enjoying coaching the young players, but once they log more game experience, “they’ll know what to decipher, what not to, and then they’ll go play a lot faster.”

Conversely, Pittsburgh has one of the most experienced defenses in the NFL, with 1,199 games and 927 starts among its first teamers. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley and S Troy Polamalu are not expecting to play Thursday, but Pittsburgh has more than 1,000 games and 750 starts logged by its probable starting defense.

Titans cornerback Jason McCourty made his NFL debut in the 2009 season-opener against Pittsburgh. He said familiarity with Pittsburgh’s system should help make up for the lack of study time.   

“That’s huge, just for the fact that, personnel-wise, we know them and have gone against them and those receivers,” McCourty said. “We’ve gone against the quarterback and running back (Rashard Mendenhall), so that definitely helps.

“It’s not like you’re going against maybe an NFC opponent that you see once every four years, so you have some familiarity with them,” McCourty added, “but each year something is different, so you’ve got to make sure that you’re studying. In your short week, I think film session is going to be more important because you’re going to miss some of that time on the practice field.”

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