NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Pittsburgh Steelers may have picked the right place to start winning on the road when they visit the punchless Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.
The Steelers (2-2) have two home wins and two road losses, and with running back Rashard Mendenhall back in the lineup to complement Ben Roethlisberger, they hope to pound away at a defense that has allowed more points than any other team in the league.
“If we are going to be a competitive type of team, the type of team we aspire to be, you have to go into hostile environments and do the job,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We haven’t done that. Thursday night in Nashville, we anticipate it to be hostile. We anticipate a certain level of urgency coming from these guys.”
Urgency may be putting it mildly. The Titans (1-4) come into the game off a 30-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a game in which quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was ineffective replacing the injured Jake Locker and Chris Johnson was held in check with 24 yards on 15 rushes.
Even with safety Troy Polamalu missing his third game with a strained right calf and linebacker LaMarr Woodley possibly out with a strained right hamstring, the Steelers are looking to begin a winning streak.
“We’ve just got to play good football,” Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor said. “We’re 0-2 on the road, that’s what the resume says about our 2012 season.”
Ryan Mundy is expected to replace Polamalu again, though Will Allen might get more playing time. Linebacker James Harrison returned last week from a left knee injury. And through the injuries, the Steelers are still fifth in the NFL, allowing 280 yards a game.
The Titans, meanwhile, are 30th in rushing at 65.4 yards a game, and Johnson added to his struggles by losing a fumble in last week’s loss. The former 2,000-yard rusher is averaging all of 2.9 yards per carry with 210 yards and no touchdowns.
Hasselbeck is starting his second straight game with Locker sidelined with a dislocated left shoulder. The good news is receiver Kenny Britt is healthy, and has practiced the past couple days. He is returning from a torn right knee ligament last season followed by a sprained left ankle last month.
The Titans are ready to get back on the field early after last week’s loss.
“Having no time to really harp on all the stuff the last couple weeks, it’s good,” Titans left tackle Michael Roos said. “It’s going to be a physical fight. Everyone here’s played against them before in the offensive line. You know what’s coming. Just get ready for it.”
The Steelers have dominated this series between the former AFC Central rivals, winning three straight and six of their last nine with Tennessee.
Having Mendenhall back after a knee injury in January should help. He debuted against Philadelphia and averaged 5.8 yards a carry.
Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,111 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception, and he has been fine on the road, too, with six TD passes and his only interception. Roethlisberger is a big reason the Steelers convert an NFL-best 53.2 percent of their third downs, and now he gets to face a defense giving up an NFL-worst 36.2 points per game.
“I don’t think that their defense is an indication of their record,” Roethlisberger said. “I think they’re a lot better than that. We have to prepare accordingly, because I think they are a good defense.”
The Titans have gotten little help from the offense. Tennessee trailed 14-7 at halftime before losing 38-14 in Houston, and 13-0 at halftime in Minnesota.
“It all comes down to one simple thing,” Johnson said. “We’re not making plays. We’re not staying on the field, not sustaining drives. And at the end of the day, no matter how good our defense does … they can’t keep going out there and making plays when we keep leaving them on the field like that. We have to do our job as an offense.”
The Steelers routed Tennessee 38-17 last season in Pittsburgh and forced seven turnovers in their last trip to Nashville in a win in 2010.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said he knows from experience the Steelers likely will have 30,000 fans in the stands. Needing a win playing Pittsburgh is never easy.
“It’s been a couple of weeks, and it’s been two long weeks,” Munchak said. “Hopefully this week will change that.”