Many thanks to Don Spagnolo, who founded and operates Mondesi's House, one of the most popular Pittsburgh sports blogs, for participating with Total Titans in this question and answer exchange.
Thanks also to our readers Markus and Dave for suggesting two of the questions we asked. Part One of this exchange consists of our questions and Spagnolo's answers.
Total Titans: Markus wants to know, "Last year, Mendenhall was injured and Fast Willie couldn't get anything going against the D. Will the Steelers still test the d-line or come out passing? Can Mendenhall and Parker be a lot like White and Johnson?"
Mondesi's House: I think the Steelers will come out passing, but it will be more quick routes. Look for the newly-paid Heath Miller (who had a career high 8 catches for 69 yards in the last meeting) to be the recipient of a few of those. If that loosens up the D, I'd expect to see a lot of Parker based on Mike Tomlin's comments on his workload this year. He's in the last year of his contract and I think they're going to run him until his wheels come off this season.
TT: Pittsburgh's o-line was suspect last year. Heading into this season, it appears to be even worse. Four starters return, so there's no upgrade there, and the fifth starter is on IR, replaced by a backup lineman. How concerned are you about the o-line and what are you hearing? How much do you think this dropoff will effect the play calling?
MH: Well, with the extension they just gave Justin Hartwig, they've now committed over $56 million to 3/5 of that line over the past offseason. So they must have more hope in it than the general public. I think they actually got better as the season progressed and they jelled as a unit, and I do think they get a bit of a bad rap. Big Ben's style of play lends itself to the occasional sack that isn't the line's fault; of course, it also lends itself to extending plays that have no business being extended, which is a good thing. I don't think they'll dominate the Titans' line by any means, but I don't think they'll be embarrassed, either.
TT: There will be several outstanding individual matchups with All-Pros and Pro Bowlers going head to head against each other. Roos vs Harrison. Mawae vs Hampton. Ward vs Finnegan. The Titans o-line vs the Steelers front seven should be another great matchup. Which matchups (among those or others) do you like for the Steelers? Which matchups concern you?
MH: This game should be a football fan's dream, because it's power on power. All of the matchups will be close. Going on the past game's results, the Steelers did not run the ball well against a unit that was playing without Albert Haynesworth, so that's somewhat of a concern. But it's hard for me to pick against Harrison, Hampton, Ward, etc., in any individual situation. I know Ward lives for games like this. He had 7 catches for 109 yards and a TD in the last meeting, and I fully expect another strong game on Thursday from #86. Of all the players you mentioned, I'm betting on Hines to come through the most.
TT: Prediction time. What's Mike Tomlin's strategy? Who wins the game, and why? And the final score will be....
MH: I'm thinking somewhere in the ballpark of 24-17, as the Steelers avenge one of last season's most disappointing losses. It really was one of the Steelers' most frustrating games: Roethlisberger had six turnovers, the Steelers could not run the ball, they managed only one sack of Collins, and they allowed 300 yards of offense for the first time all season - which is saying something when you consider that they faced the Colts, Giants, Eagles, Patriots, and Cowboys during that streak. The Steelers have actually never beaten Kerry Collins, as he's 3-0 in his career against them. So that's a weird stat to overcome as well. But I think a mix of passing to set up the run and a more focused defensive effort with the backdrop of an emotional night will carry this team to victory.
TT: Although it doesn't have anything to do with the game, fans of both teams want to talk about LenDale White and the Terrible Towel. Dave asks, "Do Steelers fans really think the towel stomping is some huge disrespect? Or do you think they realize that they shouldn't have brought it into our house (and that those fans who did bring them, waved them and then left them for trash after taking a beating, was far more disrespectful and they got what they deserved)?"
MH: Yes, Steeler fans truly believe stomping the Terrible Towel is incredibly disrespectful. First of all, it's much more important to the fans than to any player, Steeler or otherwise. It's more symbolic of the fanbase, since they're the ones who wave the towels, so obviously they're going to be upset if a guy stomps on it. And there's also the fact that the proceeds from the sale of the Towel go to the Allegheny Valley School, which provides care to 900 people with mental retardation and physical disabilities, including late Towel creator/former Steeler announcer Myron Cope's autistic son. But I'm guessing LenDale White probably doesn't know that (or doesn't care).
Thanks again to Don for joining us in this Q&A exchange. Stay tuned for Don's questions and my answers.
Reminder: We'll be liveblogging the Titans-Steelers game here on Total Titans Thursday night. As usual, Tom will be doing most of the work but Drexel and I will probably chime in from time to time. Please join us and take part as we enjoy a great game!