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Titans are tonic for Steelers' road woes

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Raiders' Philip Wheeler recovers a fourth-quarter fumble by Steelers reciever Antonio Brown at O.co Coliseum on Sept. 23, 2012.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 11:18 p.m.
 

Casey Hampton doesn't know when it happened.

Maybe it was when an aging Peyton Manning took over in Denver or when James Harrison was out. Maybe it was when the awful Oakland Raiders dictated to the Steelers in the second half rather than the other way around.

“I don't know, man,” Hampton said. “If I knew that, we'd be back.”

Hampton said it's time for the Steelers to get back all they've been missing away from Pittsburgh — their personality, physicality, the we're-the-Steelers-and-you're-not mentality — starting with their Thursday night game at Tennessee.

To him, beating the Eagles, 16-14, Sunday in a more-typical Steelers game in which the running game was featured, big plays were minimized and hard hitting was maximized was a start. But Hampton seeks more.

Hampton wants the defense is be more difficult for quarterbacks to decipher — he said coverages are getting signaled too early — and harder to score against. He also wants the return of the days when the Steelers acted like the home team on the road, right down to their abundance of fans in the stands.

The Steelers (2-2) have dropped their last three on the road and four of five, a reversal from their 7-1 record away from Heinz Field in 2010.

Hampton, in his 12th and possibly last season at age 35, is tired of peeling off his jersey and wondering how yet another game got away from a team that once took pride in bullying opponents in their own stadiums.

“We're the Steelers, but we definitely have not played up to expectations,” Hampton said. “I think everyone in this room will tell you that.”

The 34-31 loss to the Raiders, who have scored only 33 points in their other three games, illustrates the Steelers' recent road woes. Had they won — they led by 10 points late — the Steelers would trail Baltimore (4-1) by only a half-game in the AFC North. Instead, they're 1 12 games back.

Tennessee would seem to be a good place to regain their road edge. The Titans (1-4), while playing a difficult schedule, are the NFL's most scored-upon team and also one of its lowest scoring.

Chris Johnson, the running back who once made their offense hum, is 26th in rushing with 210 yards. A defense that is allowing 140 yards-plus per game more than the Steelers' is in the bottom fourth in scoring, total yards, rushing, passing and sacks.

The Titans were outscored, 140-44, in their four losses, a number that should light up the eyes of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is a 300-yard game away from breaking Terry Bradshaw's team career passing record.

But he sounded much like Hampton in assessing the season.

“We're 2-2, and obviously we'd like to be better than that,” he said. “We're doing some good things. There are some things we need to improve on.”

Winning away from home would be one of them.

“We're 0-2 on the road,” left guard Willie Colon said, “and it's something we're not proud of.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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