Steelers Versus Texans: An All-22 Primer

By Alex Kozora

Your weekly All-22 primer before the Coaches Tape comes out for the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans.

– The first half will allow a good opportunity to watch Ben Roethlisberger handle a muddy pocket. Not just with his mobility within the pocket or ability to escape out of it but subtle things like maintaining his base, going through his progressions, and having his eyes and feet connected. It’s not a concern with Roethlisberger – we’ve seen him do all of those things before. But it presents another chance to watch Big Ben buck the stereotype of him only being a threat outside the pocket.

Still want to continue and see what the issues between Markus Wheaton and him are. Probably more on Wheaton than it is Ben.

Martavis Bryant received 22 snaps in his career game action. That’s enough of a sample size to get at least a general idea of the route concepts he was asked to run and how fluid he is out of his breaks. Two other aspects to watch are his blocking and the effort he gave on plays where he didn’t see a target.

Mike Adams looked ugly early on but credit to him. It appears he smoothed out as the game wore on. Difficult task to be given. The Texans identified him as the weak link and weren’t shy about attacking him. I don’t think it was a “good” game by your typical offensive lineman’s standards. But he survived. For Adams, that is a sincere positive.

David DeCastro might have had his worst game of the season and not all of the ugly plays came against JJ Watt. I remember Ryan Pickett beating him once. Had to have been some technique issues. Talent isn’t the issue.

– One of the most frustrating parts of the night was allowing Texans’ OLB Whitney Mercilus to record two sacks after he came into the game without one in 340 defensive snaps. Both appeared to come on stunts. Could be pinning the blame on Ramon Foster for failing to pick up the looper.

– He’s a player who don’t talk about very often but Matt Spaeth played 24 snaps. He’s just a glorified blocker but let’s see how good that blocking really is. From the surface level, I thought he’s struggled to stick to his blocks lately.

– Is Heath Miller getting open? He was never one to create a lot of separation but has it regressed? Are the route concepts not friendly to him or is he just catching some bad breaks with Roethlisberger not looking his way? Miller only has three catches for 32 yards the last two weeks.

– I’ve been riding him harder than anybody else but Cam Thomas had his best game of the year. He had an ugly showing on the first series but rebounded nicely, moving laterally, and gaining leverage. Ditto for Daniel McCullers who seemed to get the best of veteran center Chris Myers. That means McCullers is gaining leverage and that is an extremely encouraging sign.

Cam Heyward quietly dominated. He’s s a stud and proved it again last night. Thought it was one of his stronger performances.

Stephon Tuitt played 24 snaps. Great chance to watch him flow laterally versus stretch runs. And how the rookie handles getting chipped and bounced around. It’s not a power scheme but it’s still pretty rough. Getting chipped, cut, base blocked. Football’s version of the washing machine.

Sean Spence looked terrible early missing two second level tackles that resulted in large runs. But he seemed to bounced back and had a stuff on Arian Foster early in the second half. What is his overall grade? What adjustments did he make?

– Does James Harrison have the strength to rip through the tackle when he dips the edge? The stat sheet shows he had 3 QBs hits. Let’s see how they happened.

Mike Mitchell with perhaps his third straight positive game. He’s caught a lot of criticism. Now he should be getting praised. No passes over his head, either. Can’t forget about that.

Brice McCain got to play 98% of the team’s snaps. Chance to watch him in run support and overall coverage. That isn’t an easy task either. A guy who was forced to play outside and then move inside in nickel. Have to be mentally tough and prepared to handle that.

– Speaking of nickel, I’m nearly positive the Steelers ran more subpackage football yesterday than any other week. Based off of snap counts, it was about 66% of the time. Against a ZBS, that might be best. Take a slow nose tackle off the field, keeping Thomas fresh when he did play, and let the Steelers stick Troy Polamalu in the box. A welcomed change to improve the run defense. Statistically, I’m curious how the numbers tease out.

– I want to sit back and enjoy watching Antwon Blake and Ross Ventrone scream down the field on coverage units. That’s called playing with “your hair on fire,” as Mike Tomlin would say.

– The kick return game is obviously still an issue. Dri Archer hurt himself by running laterally across the length on the field once but the blocking is likely still suspect. That’s what happened last week. Maybe it’s time to shake up some of the pieces.

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