'Thursday Night Football' time, schedule, picks: Your need to know for Titans-Steelers

The two biggest surprises for the Steelers this season are that a) the offense isn't dominating opponents on a weekly basis and b) the defense is not only among the best units in the league but routinely carries the aforementioned offense.

We saw this last Sunday when the Steelers trailed a hapless Colts outfit 17-9 before a fourth-quarter Ryan Shazier interception sparked Pittsburgh's comeback. After years of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell having their way with the rest of the league, it's weird to watch this defense, which ranked 11th the last two seasons but was 30th in 2014, according to Football Outsiders, return to the form that helped the team to three Super Bowl appearances from 2005-2010.

So what gives for an offense averaging 20.8 points a game this season after averaging 24.9 in 2016, 26.4 in 2015 and 27.3 in 2014?

"We're just getting the job done," Brown explained this week. "It's not as fashionably well as the way we want it, but a win is a win. And that's our business, winning."

The Steelers, by the way, are 7-2, and not only atop their division but currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

And while it hasn't always been pretty to watch, the offense has been efficient this season, and relatively consistent with recent Steelers' offenses. Here's a look at where the unit has ranked the last four seasons, according to Football Outsiders:

  • 2014: 2nd overall, 1st in passing, 12th in rushing
  • 2015: 3rd overall, 5th in passing, 4th in rushing
  • 2016: 7th overall, 8th in passing, 7th in rushing
  • 2017: 6th overall, 6th in passing, 12th in rushing

And even though, on the surface, Roethlisberger hasn't been great -- he has 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, his worst TD-to-INT ratio since 2008 -- the advanced metrics tell a slightly different story. He ranks seventh in QB efficiency, sandwiched between 2017 MVP candidate Carson Wentz and 2017 MVP Matt Ryan.

Last season, Big Ben was eighth in QB efficiency, and fifth and first in the two seasons prior to that. By the way: Back in 2008, when Roethlisberger completed 59.9 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

Put another way: Perhaps the expectations coming into the season were unrealistic and it's not quite as bad as it seems.

"I think a lot of different reasons," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said this week, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "No. 1, we've been playing some really good defenses."

This includes the top-ranked Jaguars, who forced Roethlisberger into five interceptions.

"They're looking like one of the best defense in the league," Haley continued. "And we've got some new guys in the lineup, guys like Vance McDonald, Justin Hunter for a couple weeks' worth, JuJu [Smith-Schuster] is a young guy in the lineup. Skills guys who are different or new always take time and there's a process there with everybody getting on the same page or Ben and those guys getting on the same page. That's what we're looking at daily."

Smith-Schuster appears to have found his niche; he's the team's leading receiving the last two games, and that includes a 97-yard touchdown reception against the Lions in Week 8. We'll have to watch and see if it all clicks against the Titans on Thursday night, where the Steelers will face a defense that isn't among the league's best (they're 23rd overall; 24th against the pass, 14th against the run) but are led by a familiar, formidable adversary.

Which brings us to this ...

Dick LeBeau is coming back to Pittsburgh

The Titans' 80-year-old defensive coordinator has spent more than a half-century in the NFL and twice served as the Steelers' defensive coordinator, most recently from 2004-14. This will be the first time he's returned to Pittsburgh since leaving the team. And given that he was the mastermind behind some of the best Steelers' defenses this century, the expectation is that the godfather of the zone blitz will bring it against his former team.

Coach LeBeau is always doing something different," said Keith Butler, the man who replaced LeBeau in Pittsburgh. "I guarantee you it will be something. I guarantee our offense will see something we haven't seen before."

Roethlisberger added: "He's going to get the best out of his personnel, and he's going to do what's best for his team and what he has in terms of secondary, linebackers, D-line. He's the best at what he does. He'll find a way to get his team in the best situations possible with the players he has."

'Madden' is coming to Thursday Night

Fog forced NBC to use its dual Skycam technology for the Week 7 Falcons-Patriots game and it was such a huge hit with fans that the behind-the-quarterback point-of-view will be featured in the Titans-Steelers get-together. 

Here's an example of what it looked like in Gillette Stadium:

"We are excited to present a game with the majority of live-action coverage coming from SkyCam," NBC Sports executive producer Fred Gaudelli said earlier this month, adding: "After pivoting out of necessity to Skycam in the New England fog, we've been aggressively planning and testing with the intent of utilizing the system for a full game. ...

"We'll still have our full complement of cameras and will revert to traditional coverage when situations dictate, but the primary viewing experience of the game will come from the Skycam angle."

So why the aggressive push to realize the dual Skycam angle?

"Younger generations of NFL fans have grown accustomed to watching football from this angle through their love of video games," Gaudelli explained. "This telecast will have a look and feel akin to that experience."

Dispatches from Fantasy Island

CBSSports.com fantasy expert Jamey Eisenberg says you should add Titans rookie reciever Corey Davis and Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant:

Davis has the potential for some big games coming up after facing the Steelers in Week 11 on Thursday, and he should be added in all leagues. He then faces Indianapolis in Week 12, Houston in Week 13, Arizona in Week 14 and San Francisco in Week 15. Davis just had 10 targets to lead the Titans in Week 10 against Cincinnati, and he had four catches for 48 yards, including nearly catching a touchdown. I'll say what I've been saying for weeks – Davis will be a big difference maker for Fantasy owners down the stretch. He's worth at least 15 percent of your FAAB dollars.

....

Bryant returned from his one-week banishment in Week 10 at the Colts and had five targets for three catches and 42 yards, including a two-point conversion. He's still behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well as Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, but Bryant could be a great stash candidate in case he starts to get more targets toward the end of the season. Bryant is worth 3 percent of your FAAB dollars.

Big Ben is the latest player to weigh in on Thursday football

"It's miserable, it's terrible, they need to get rid of this game I think," Roethlisberger said this week during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan, a CBS Sports Radio station in Pittsburgh. "Just play on Mondays and Sundays. It's so tough on guys, you're beat up, you're banged up. It's a very violent, physical game we play."

Who ya got?

Four of six CBSSports.com experts think the Titans will cover the 7-point spread though all six experts expect the Steelers to win the game.

"This is a game between two good teams, two potential playoff teams. The Steelers just haven't looked right on offense this season, but this is a great chance against a Titans defense that is ranked 22nd in scoring defense. Look for a big night from Ben Roethlisberger." -- Pete Prisco, who has Pittsburgh winning, 30-20

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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