Titanic task: Timmons must help curtail explosive back
Lawrence Timmons answers to "Law Dawg," and the moniker that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gave him in 2007 is now more than just a play on his name.
"He's the new sheriff in town," fellow inside linebacker James Farrior said. "I feel like it's his time this year."
The emerging Timmons figures to be a central figure Sunday when the Steelers try to corral Chris Johnson.
Johnson is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and the third-year running back is out of the blocks quickly in his quest to rush for 2,500 yards this season.
Timmons and the Steelers shut down Michael Turner in a 15-9 win over the Falcons, but Johnson, who gashed the Raiders for 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns Sunday, presents a different challenge.
"Both of them like to cut back, but the speed between the two is night and day," Timmons said a day after he registered 11 tackles, including three for a loss, in the Steelers' season opener. "(Johnson) is a guy that can take it to the house. Not saying Turner can't either, but speed kills."
The good news for the Steelers• They have held Johnson to 126 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in the two games they have played against the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder.
The not-so-good news: Johnson has cracked the 100-yard mark in 11 consecutive games and averaged 141.1 rushing yards per contest during that span.
Timmons, 24, will pull extra duty in Nashville when it comes to Johnson. He will shadow the 2008 first-round draft pick on passing plays.
"I definitely have my hands full," Timmons said.
The youngest Steelers starter on defense has the speed and athleticism to keep up with players such as Johnson in open space.
Those attributes along with his experience are why teammates and coaches alike have predicted a breakout season for Timmons.
"Lawrence," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, "is a playmaker."
Players to watch
Steelers NT Chris Hoke: Even if Casey Hampton (hamstring) is able to play against the Titans, the Steelers may need to lean on one of their most reliable backups in Nashville.
Steelers LT Jonathan Scott: With Max Starks (ankle) all but out for Sunday's game, the all-important task of protecting the QBs blind side falls to Scott.
Titans WR Nate Washington: Ex-Steeler had 88 receiving yards, the second-highest game total of his career, and a touchdown in 38-13 blowout of Raiders.
.500 -- Steelers winning percentage on the road under coach Mike Tomlin.
3 -- 100-yard rushers in a regular-season game that the Steelers have allowed since 2007.
9 -- Wins the Titans have had in their past 11 games.
47 -- Dennis Dixon's completion percentage on third down in his two NFL starts.
142.8 -- Vince Young's passer rating in the Titans' romp over the Raiders.
"Teams are going to test us. We're old and washed up. Teams are going to see if we can still play."
-- Defensive end Brett Keisel, tongue firmly in cheek, on the collective age of the defense.
"I think every game, especially with the win, it gives you confidence going forward. There's a lot to learn from when you watch the film. He can move forward from there and continue to grow."
-- Running back Rashard Mendenhall, on quarterback Dennis Dixon after the latter's second career start.
"I just hope both sides get it resolved. From a fan's perspective, when I was little once the season's over everybody can't wait for the season to start (again). Hopefully everything gets done, because you don't want to be a year away from football."
-- Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, on the specter of a lockout in 2011.