The Steelers ended the preseason down two quarterbacks and down toward the bottom of the AFC North pecking order in the eyes of some observers.
Today, they are all alone atop the division — and they are still down two quarterbacks.
Yes, we have come to praise the Steelers' defense, which has saved the day as Pittsburgh tries to slug its way through a four-game stretch without QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is serving a suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy.
The Steelers have not scored an offensive touchdown in regulation time this season, but their defense has allowed only one, and that came with a 16-point lead and less than a minute left at Tennessee, which had long lost its best chance to win.
For the second straight week, the Steelers' shut down the opposition's running game. They held vaunted Titans RB Chris Johnson to 34 rushing yards on 16 carries. Also, Johnson fumbled once, setting up a Pittsburgh field goal. (A long TD run by Johnson was nullified by a holding penalty.) QB Vince Young struggled so much that he was pulled for Kerry Collins. Overall, the Steelers' defense forced six of Tennessee's seven turnovers on the game.
Johnson's fumble came when he was hit by RILB Lawrence Timmons, who is emerging as an all-around star in his fourth season and leads the AFC with 26 tackles. Pro Bowl ROLB James Harrison, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles of his own vs. the Titans, recovered one of the fumbles. If it seems that Harrison (20 tackles) has been all over the field in these first two weeks, you would be correct. The 2008 PFW/PFWA Defensive Player of the Year could be on his way to his finest season yet.
On the back end of the Steelers' defense, SS Troy Polamalu once again made a major impact, intercepting a pass for a second consecutive game. He also notched three tackles for loss, the most memorable coming when he leaped over the Titans' line to tackle QB Kerry Collins for a one-yard loss late in the game. There is no doubt that Polamalu's return to the lineup after missing most of last season with a knee injury has solidified the secondary. Instinctive and fast, he is an offense's worst nightmare.
The Steelers needed their defense to be extraordinary at Tennessee with the offense gaining only 127 yards. QB Dennis Dixon, who showed promise in the Week One win vs. Atlanta, was lost to a knee injury that reportedly could keep him out multiple weeks, meaning either Charlie Batch or newly re-signed Byron Leftwich could start Sunday at Tampa Bay.
A victory would put the Steelers 3-0 heading into an Oct. 3 showdown vs. Baltimore. Then comes the bye week, when this strong, star-laden defense gets a needed rest. It has done much more than its share thus far.