It's Not Just Derrick Henry the Steelers Defense is Concerned With

Noah Strackbein

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Tannehill has come up in conversation all week, but unlike the other five quarterbacks the Pittsburgh Steelers have faced thus far, when asked about the Titans' QB, the answers are about the Titans' QB. 

Baker Mayfield was ignored. No one had a plan to stop him because the Steelers wanted the game to be put into his hands. Daniel Jones and Drew Lock, the same thing. And even if Deshaun Watson was the gameplan, the Steelers still wanted to make the Houston Texans prove themselves from the pocket. 

For Tannehill, it's different. Pittsburgh's defense wants the football in his hands, but they understand the Titans can still win the game if it is. 

"He's a real good quarterback," Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "He's smart with the football. He's an accurate passer. He's very athletic. He played receiver in college and he has some escapability out of the pocket."

Fitzpatrick spent a season with Tannehill in Miami. Despite the change at quarterback halfway through the season, Fitzpatrick said Tannehill checked a lot of boxes that showed he's capable of winning in the NFL. 

"He's still a great quarterback. He's got a good team around him," Fitzpatrick said. "Not too much has changed from my first year playing with him."

Through five games, Tannehill has a 69% completion percentage, has thrown for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns to only two interceptions. 

"We have to be able to get around [Ryan Tannehill] and make him feel us a little bit because what he's done a good job of in my opinion, he's gotten the ball out on time," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "When he doesn't is maybe when you try to put a little pressure on him, but he's done a great job of quarterbacking that team. It's not just Henry. It's the quarterback too. He's somebody that's going to be tough for us to stop, especially with the combination of the running game and the play-action they have. We have to try to get them behind in terms of their numbers. That's been very difficult to do for any of the defenses they've played to do that to them. They're always kind of ahead. As a consequence, their play-action pass is a lot more effective."

That's where the difference lies. For the first time this season, there is a concern that shutting down the running game - all 250-pounds of Derrick Henry - won't be enough for this defense. And instead, they need to eliminate both threats to the Titans' offense. 

Of course, assuring Henry doesn't rush for another 200-plus yards is priority one. Mike Tomlin compared him to Bud Dupree running the football, and frankly, it's spot on. 

The Titans can change the course of the game with one breakout run. Henry showed that when he took off for 94 yards against the Texans in Week 6. 

"We have nobody that can mimic that besides Bud [Dupree]. Bud can run like him," Butler said. "He's not as big as he is. I think Derrick [Henry] is 250 or something like that. That's what we have him listed as. He really builds speed, and when he does that, he's really dangerous. We know we have a real challenge ahead of us this weekend."

From there, they are concerned with the passing game. Eliminating Henry will do wonders for the play-action and also force Tannehill to sit in the pocket and use his own abilities to win the ball game. 

Will it be as difficult as stopping Bud Dupree running the football? No. But for the first time this season, the Steelers do have a concern about an entire offense and not just the running game. 

"They're second in the league in offense," Butler said. "We're second in the league in defense. It's going to be a good football game. We have to bring our best game to the table."

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

Register today for free or log in to access this premium article.

GM Report