Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Post-Houston thoughts

I've been doing this for a long time and have never seen a game turn so dramatically in such a short period of time.

The Steelers went from dead in the water to up 11 points at halftime before the Texans had time to realize what had happened.

Right after the Steelers kicked a field goal with just over three minutes remaining to cut the Texans' lead to 13-3, I tweeted that the best thing to happen at that point was that Houston was going to have to forego the run from its own 20 if it wanted to put more points on the board.

To that point, the Texans had rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries in the first half.

That's exactly what they did as Arian Foster was stopped for a two-yard gain on first down and the Texans attempted passes on second and third down, resulting in a sack and incompletion.

The Texans took just over a minute off the clock and punted the ball back to the Steelers.

Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Martavis Bryant for his first career catch, a 35-yard touchdown. And just like that, the momentum had turned.

Momentum in football is funny. And unlike any other sport, it's tough to stop once it gets rolling.

In basketball, you can call a timeout to try to change the momentum. In baseball, you can change pitchers. But in football, it has a tendency to feed into itself.

We've seen that a couple of times already this season happen the other way for the Steelers, who have gotten overwhelmed by a wave of momentum in losses at Baltimore and last week at Cleveland.

This time around, however, it was the Steelers who were riding the wave and the Texans who were rolled over.

@ It was interesting to watch the Steelers make changes on defense and with their receivers like a hockey team doing line changes.

They rotated defensive linemen freely, alternating between a nickel and base defense regardless of what package Houston had on the field - attempting, it seemed, to dictate to the Texans what they would do on offense.

And the receiver pairings were interesting. Often times on third downs, the Steelers would take Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton off the field to bring in Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Only Antonio Brown was a constant.

@ A week after being targeted 11 times at Cleveland and coming up with four receptions, Wheaton was targeted just two times and did not catch a pass.

@ Arian Foster rushed for 73 yards on seven first quarter carries. He had 29 yards on his next 13 attempts.

The defense, as a whole, played much better after that first quarter. In fact, 59 of Foster's yards came on five carries on the opening drive.

@ Bryant made an impact in his first game. The Steelers tried four deep passes to him, connecting on just the 35-yard touchdown pass.

But those deep balls helped free up Le'Veon Bell underneath. The Texans tried to cover Bell one-on-one with a linebacker and he made them pay to the tune of eight receptions for 88 yards.

@ That was a gutsy effort by the Steelers offensive line.

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert left in the second quarter with a concussion and Kelvin Beachum and Marquise Pouncey also suffered minor injuries later in the game only to return.

While linebacker Wesley "Ming the" Mercillus was active and made a couple of plays on Roethlisberger with a pair of sacks, J.J. Watt had just three tackles and a sack.

So much for putting Watt in the Hall of Fame by the end of the game, as announcer John Gruden, the king of overstatement, said early on.


D said...

Nobody's up right now on the EST but I live in AZ so wait diligently for the comments. I am still beside myself with an inability to possibly fathom how any coach or player cd reasonably assess that throwing that fade/ deep ball instead of taking the clock down with a run with 3 mins left was the right call was not possibly one of the worst decisions I have ever seen, but a win is a win. That game was going to OT if useless dhb "effort" was taking advantage of... With all that negativity spewed, bell is a legit MVP rb and AB is a top 5 player, not just wr, but total player in the nfl! He is easily this squad's MVP and it isn't close.

Dale Lolley said...

I'm up, D. I didn't have a problem with going for the TD there. They were already in FG range. A TD there takes the Houston touchdown and then an onside kick out of the equation

Tim said...

The problems I had with it were that it was only 2nd down, and it was not disguised at all. The play they ran made it a likelihood that the clock would stop and we'd face 3rd and long. I'd have preferred a surprise pass, or a safer pass, or a surprise run. And if you don't feel like being surprising and you're going to make it obvious, then make it a run and at least take 40 seconds off the clock.

They mishandled it, but they've made MUCH worse decisions in the past. At least they mishandled it aggressively.

On the bright side, Ben and Tomlin chose not to spike it from the goal line near the end of the half. That's impressive, given their history ;-)

Anonymous said...

Good win.

Really glad to see the coaches try all the lineup changes at WR. Wheaton and Justin Brown had done nothing to justify their spots. DHB and Bryant deserved some shots.

Noel said...

One small moment that stood out for me was McCullers marching the Center straight back...and the right on past the QB running with the ball. Pretty good considering Thomas was usually being marched backwards the exact opposite way when he has been in there. McCullers did play high but he's obviously strong enough to warrant some playing time.

Anonymous said...

I also saw McCullers manhandle the Texans center at one point. I think it might have been their backup center but it was still impressive. Maybe the guy has a future after all.

Anonymous said...

Watt found himself going against 2-3 lineman it seemed like every snap I watched of him. The Steelers did a really good job passing him off to the next lineman. There's no denying the impact Watt had on that game as he was always around the football and is an athletic freak. As good as he was that's as quiet a night you'll see from him. Credit to the Steelers.

Anonymous said...

Regarding McCullers: surprise surprise the biggest guy on the field was able to hold his own at the point of attack. I realize he's susceptible to being cut blocked but so is any linman on this team or any other for that matter. It is refreshing to have a mammoth presence on the D-line, although I'm not sure he's gonna get to keep his hat once McClendon comes off the DL...

adamg said...

Although it's tough to see the OL/DL play on TV, I did notice on one stretch run McCullers pretty much created a big pile up in the middle of TX' OL.

After watching the Steeler offense, I'm now convinced there is nothing that will make it smooth, not a new OC, not BR calling the plays or a full time no huddle.
As long as BR is the qb, the offense will move in fits and starts because that's the kind of qb he is, good plays and great plays are always offset by bad plays and poor decisions. I know this comes from BR's desire to make a play regardless of circumstance, but at this point in his career, he's not going to change. I think Haley probably has the best plan, to get a decent running game going and at least give the opposing defense something to think about and to give BR options whether he takes advantage of them or not.

Anonymous said...

Hey a Flash Gordon reference. Good to see Prince Vultan join the effort with the deflection and INT. Tho it's becoming more and more evident Flash a-ah Archer is not the savior of their universe.

deljzc said...

Not sure if it was skill or luck this week, but sometimes the game looks easy when you get turnovers in their red zone and convert those red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Two big things that have been missing from Steelers football recently.

marc said...

defense won that game. seemed they got much more aggressive after the first quarter or so. also seemed they were holding their cut back lanes much better as well. kudos to Mitchell for the strip fumble.

offense, imo, was rather poor. good job converting turnovers to TD's. but take away starting inside the 10 yard line, twice, and the offense put up 16 points. two long drives (60 and 70 yards) resulted in FG's. only one drive over 38 yards in the second half. #7 is his own worst enemy.

btw, that long fade near the end was stupid. if you want to go for a TD there, at least run a play action since everyone is looking for you to run the clock down. not to mention a terrible pass.

I tried hard to watch the d-line. cam Thomas is horrible. I believe on more than one play he just stood up and barely pushed the blocker, playing as if "I'm doing my job by occupying this guy". I would have benched him on the spot.

mcullers did ok. he got push at times. other times I thought it was too easy for the blocker to turn him. regardless, I think he did enough to warrant more snaps. man is he big.

DHB and Bryant also earned more playing time.

#1 priority for this team in the offseason should be a CB, whether that is thru free agency or the draft.

Noel said...

I think a starting front of McClendon, Tuitt, and Heyward would be the ticket. Keisel is at his best on third downs and spot duty and McCullers at least seems capable enough to not give the opposing team the green light for a series of successful runs. Cam Thomas has been terrible all season and it's time for him to go or at least be held back. They can put him in a glass case," in case of emergency, break glass for Cam."

Anonymous said...

That had to be the strangest 3 minutes of Steelers football at the end of the half that I’ve seen. Up until those 3 minutes, I thought it was just another bad performance by the Steelers. At half time, I asked myself what just happened? I think it might be karma for when the Texans beat the Steelers while only getting 50 yards of offense. Keep in mind that those sort of things happen once every 10 years or so, so don’t expect a repeat next week. It was great, but the Steelers are going to have to play football without the gifts to beat the Colts.

BTW, kudos to Patrick, you called it by a touchdown. Also, passing with 3 minutes left was a mistake, taking time off the clock should have been the priority.

qwikdoc said...

McCullers needs to be in on every 3rd and short and goal line stand. He is immovable, and one on one the center or guard has no chance. Big Dan can move them at will. The pass play where he pushed the center right past Fitzgerald not withstanding, He collapsed the middle of the line into the backfield on every short yardage situation. Good bye Cam.

By the middle of the second quarter I was resigned to the fact that our linebackers just aren't very good, which is fatal in Lebeau's scheme. Then all of a sudden they became a pro bowl unit against the run for the rest of the game. WTF?

At first glance it looked like Cortez was getting burned by AJ consistently, but that was more the fault of a pathetic pass rush. Given enough time, even Fitzgerald can look like an elite passer.
Our lack of pressure by the LB's is concerning and the eventual return of JJ doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the rush will improve.

Greg W. said...

While I didn't love the play call going for the TD instead of running more time off the clock, I think I can understand it. Maybe they didn't trust the defense to stop the Texans (twice!) and thought it best to try putting the game impossibly out of reach (instead of just reasonably out of reach). After all, it took the Texans only 1:33 to score their last TD (with no timeouts) and if not for some lucky bounces on the onside kick, they would have had the ball at the Steelers' 36 and enough time on the clock to throw a few times at Cortez Allen.

Thank goodness they scored on the gadget play from Brown to Moore. I really hated that play call--a slow developing play with lots of stuff that can go wrong, especially with a guy like J.J. Watt ready to blow it up. I'd love to know if they executed it like they drew it up. It looked like it was supposed to go to the right side but Watt was in the backfield there ready to devour Brown. Credit to AB for turning on a dime and making the perfect throw on the run to Moore. I love Ben, but I can't think of many teams with franchise QBs who would run this kind of gadget play that close to the end zone. Can we really not trust Ben to make a play here?

I think this game may be a microcosm of what we can expect for the rest of the season: a roller coaster with phenomenal plays by AB and Bell mixed in with some pretty JV play calling and execution.

Go Steelers!

DD said...

Greg.....this "I think this game may be a microcosm of what we can expect for the rest of the season: a roller coaster with phenomenal plays by AB and Bell mixed in with some pretty JV play calling and execution." spot on! This is a feast or famine team on both sides with more famine than feast for sure. They will be in most games, get killed in a few more, and win a few more they probably shouldn't given how completely inconsistent they are and will be. The play/pass by Brown was a terribly designed play that works MAYBE 2-10 times.

marc said...

based on blocking and receiver routes, the play was designed to go left - not to mention brown is left handed. I liked the play call. will it work the majority of the time - no. but it was on first down, mixes things up, and now gives future opponents something more to think about. when things aren't working you need to go outside the box sometimes.

you're right though, this season will mirror this game.

dale, your thoughts on the d-line for the game?

joe said...

"roller coaster" yes, that is this team. the changes brought mostly good results, some negative as should be expected. 2 minutes of crazy football doesn't change the fact that this team has issues though. (besides cam thomas!)

maybe that gives them some confidence though, same with allen making a play at the end for once.

wth timmons ? sick, nerves ??

Anonymous said...

Big shout out to the Black and Gold for hanging in there and getting the 'W'. We still don't look like world beaters but, who does in this NFL. Here are my early post game thoughts before seeing any tape:

- Big Dan performed well - he held his own, pushed the line and has earned some more playing time.
- I would like to see more Vince Williams. I thought he performed well last year for a rookie and he always seems around the ball. Spence seems always step behind, especially in pass coverage.
- LVBell - keep that train moving forward! Hope to see more screens out of the backfield or even a shuffle pass or two. No LB can cover him and need to take advantage of the mismatch. It's kinda how NE would create their TE mismatches.
- Maybe it's just me but, don't like Lance Moore's personality on the field. I thought he was a seasoned veteran and he seems to want a be a "show boater". Some may disagree but, I like what Justin Brown brought the first few weeks. He is a rookie and has shown some promise, plus I like his size. Think about it, we may have the tallest WRs we ever had not including AB. (DHB, JB, MB all over 6'3).
- Regarding AB - he continues to amaze me. For all the Colbert haters, 6th round draft picks aren't supposed to play like that.
- Tuitt looks like he earned more playing time especially as #99 looks great in situations like 3rd down.
- Didn't see any "Olay" moves from Mike Adams so that's a positive.
- TE's were kinda quiet last night.
- Dri Archer from the backfield is not promising. He needs to run out of the slot or flanker to get any separation. Can we try him on a few bubble screens? His kick returns are yet to be desirable.
- Ventrone keep it going my man! He brings something special to STs. We need to make room for him when Shark gets back.
- Please research Cortez Allen snaps. It seems he plays maybe better in press than in zone. Or, I could have it backwards. He has the tools, just something isn't adding up.
- Would still like to see the return of the hurry-up we ran first half of CLE #1.
- Timmons and Worilds played well, but not as consistent as we need. For this defense to work, we need ALL 4 LBs to play above the line every play. I think Shazier's speed will help when he returns.

qwikdoc said...

I liked the aggressiveness that Adams displayed. He didn't seem hesitant and it looked like he was really trying to impress the coaches. Having Adams turn into the lineman he was expected to be would be a huge plus for this offense.

BlackNGold said...

Anon 12:29

If you think Spence isn't good in pass coverage, Williams is is worse. He is a 2 down LB because he's a liability in coverage

adamg said...

IIRC, Allen is fairly new to football. I don't think he even played until he was at The Citadel - not exactly SEC type competition to develop against.

Anonymous said...

DeCastro looked horrible

BlackNGold said...

DeCastro is definitely better at run than pass blocking

joe said...

on watt, not that i want to see anyone injured, but the play where he got injured was a bit of instant karma. that was a clear late hit with no flag.