PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS HOUSTON TEXANS
The Pittsburgh Steelers went into the game 2-0. If they won, it would be first time since 2010 the Black & Gold started a season 3-0. Houston entered the game at 0-2 but played the two top teams in the AFC in the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. A good test to see how Pittsburgh responds to a talented team that is desperate to prevent an 0-3 start.
The Steelers entered the game extremely healthy including the return of David DeCastro at right guard. Another pregame story was the second consecutive year that the Steelers game would feature three brothers playing in the same game. Last year it was the Edmunds brothers at the Buffalo Bills game. This year it was JJ. TJ, and Derek Watt.
Heinz Field was devoid of fans for the Steelers second home game of the 2020 season. It was an odd contrast to walk around Heinz Field with empty lots and hardly anyone right around the stadium. A short walk to the river revealed crowds of people enjoying a beautiful sunny day in the Burgh. I staged my personal protest wearing a shirt saying, “Let Me In!” It was 100% peaceful.
Finally, The Steelers announced the latest inductees to the Hall of Honor. Kudos to Dwight White, Mike Wagner, Greg Lloyd, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu! I hope plenty of fans will be able to attend the induction ceremony later this season.
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game against the Texans. Matt wanted us to watch how the offense performs on first downs. Matt also directed us to see if the tight ends factored into the passing game. Then, Matt focused our attention on the defense bottling Deshaun Watson by maintaining rush lane integrity. For special teams, he noted Diontae Johnson and Ray-Ray McCloud for a long return.
Tyler Wise identified the key matchup to watch this week. Tyler focused our attention on Deshaun Watson versus Steelers defensive pressure. Houston gave up the most quarterback pressures through week two. However, Tyler dispels the notion that it’s an automatic advantage for Pittsburgh since Watson shows he can improvise scrambling and make great throws under pressure. Who prevails in this matchup? That will be the winner of the game. Give it a read!
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the five keys to a Steelers victory . First, defense keeps Deshaun Watson in the pocket. Second, prevent JJ Watt from sacking Ben. Third, stop the 25-game turnover streak. Fourth, Anthony McFarland touches the ball three or four times. Fifth, reduce the number of penalties.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Texans prediction. Alex foresaw a win if the defense dialed back on the blitzes, the giveaway streak ends, and net punting improves. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks get loose deep in the secondary, Texans linebackers stuff running game, and the defense miscommunicates their coverages. Alex predicts the Steelers losing 23-24. Oh Alex!
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
The Steelers offense drove to the end zone to start the game. But only scored three points. After a slow first quarter, the offense scores two touchdowns in the second to keep the game close.
FIRST DRIVE ENDS WITH FIELD GOAL
Ben Roethlisberger connected with JuJu on third and ten to keep their first drive alive. James Conner ran 13 yards for another first down. Anthony McFarland ran seven yards on his first touch wearing the Black and Gold. He took the Steelers into Houston territory. Officials called Houston for defensive pass interference to convert a third and three. Conner made another first down on a pass from Ben. Vance McDonald advanced the ball into the red zone to set up third and two at the 16-yard line. Jaylen Samuels was unable to reach the sticks on a short run to the right forcing the Steelers to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal. The Steelers lead early 3-0.
OFFENSE MANAGES TWO THREE AND OUTS TO FINISH QUARTER
Following a Texans touchdown, the Steelers start at their 23-yard line but Texans Charles Omenihu sacked Ben on third and five. Extremely fast play, Ben did not have time to set-up. Steelers punt away.
The offense got the ball back after defensive stand. They start at five-yard line after Diontae Johnson fair caught ball instead of letting it bounce into end zone. Benny Snell third running back to carry the ball. He gains three on first down. Steelers use first timeout and it is still the first quarter. Ben throws two straight incompletions targeting Diontae. Steelers punt again with 38 seconds left in the first quarter down 3-7.
TWO TOUCHDOWN SECOND QUARTER
McFarland carried the ball from the Pittsburgh 25 to the 45. He has a set of wheels. Ben connects with McDonald to cross midfield to the Houston 40-yard line. Conner runs twice for nine yards to set up third and one at the 31. Jerald Hawkins checks in as the eligible tackle. This time Ben hands off to Benny Snell who gains the needed yard. Ben hits Ebron for 17 yards and another trip to the red zone at the 13-yard line. Diontae Johnson runs around to the left end for nine yards. Unfortunately, Diontae rung his bell on the play and does not return due to a suspected concussion.
Hawkins checks back in on second and one. Conner to the one for first and goal. Texans defense stiffens and stops Snell for no gain. Ben goes to pass but throws it out of the endzone. Officials call intentional grounding. Yoi! The loss of down creates a third and goal from the ten-yard line. Ben finds Ebron in the right corner for a touchdown. The score draws the Steelers within four. 10-14.
The defense forces Houston to punt and Ray-Ray returns the punt to the 37-yard line with 2:38 left in the half. The Steelers reach midfield just after the two-minute warning on a six-yard JuJu Smith-Schuster reception on third and three. From the no huddle, Ben passes to Conner for 12 yards. Ben goes left again to Ebron for six yards. James Washington goes another six to the 26-yard line. Ben passes to JuJu for the touchdown! But 1:14 remains on the clock.
LEFT TOO MUCH TIME
The 17-14 lead is short-lived as the defense gives up a quick (50 seconds) Texans touchdown. The offense gets the ball back with 24 seconds left and Ben kneels knowing he will have the ball back to start the second half in a 17-21 game.
Steelers score just three in the third quarter. But a touchdown off a turnover and a game ending drive in the fourth quarter preserves a Pittsburgh Steelers victory.
THREE POINT THIRD QUARTER
The Steelers offense took the kickoff and drove the ball from their own 30 to the Houston eight-yard line. McFarland was featured in the first four plays of the drive. He made one first down but no gain on third and one. Conner enters and converts on fourth down. Ben just overthrew James Washington at the end zone on second and three. Ben then scrambled and extended the ball, but the referees placed the ball where his knee touched down. Mike Tomlin challenged the play which everyone agreed would result in a first down. Not sure what the officials were smoking but they upheld the bad spot. On the second fourth down play of the drive, Ben threw to Chase Claypool in the middle of the field. Officials called Bradley Roby for holding Claypool’s arm. Good call.
The penalty gave Pittsburgh the ball at the ten-yard line, but Alejandro Villanueva cost the team five yards by going too far downfield on the next play. Ben threw two incompletions before connecting with Conner for seven yards. Pittsburgh kicks the field goal to draw within one. 20-21.
The offense finished the quarter with two three and outs. The Texans sacked Ben on the first set of downs to put them in a deep hole. Washington’s 15-yard reception was a yard shy, so Dustin Colquitt punted on fourth and one from near midfield. Ben missed Claypool on two deep passes on the other so Colquitt punted again.
TURNOVER TURNED INTO SEVEN
Mike Hilton’s interception gave the offense the ball at the 21-yard line. Ben and Ebron hooked up on a 14-yard passing play on third and five to get the ball moving. Conner punished the Texans on two runs for 19 yards and the ball was in Houston territory. Snell converted a tough third and one play. Ben went deep to Claypool again for yet another miss. On third and two, McDonald catches the ball over the middle for 14 yards. Steelers are in the red zone. I want touchdowns not field goals. James Conner delivers on a tough 12-yard run by Chuks Okorafor at right tackle. JuJu comes up with Ben’s pass to complete the two-point conversion. The men are up 28-21 but six minutes thirty seconds to play.
OFFENSE SEALS THE DEAL
The defense holds and the offense is back with 4:47 left to play. On the first play, Conner peels off 25 yards. Conner and Snell each run for four yards setting up a third and two. Conner goes up the middle, but the Texans have the line of scrimmage plugged up. Texans take their first timeout on fourth and one with 3:11 to play. Ben passes for first down with a pass to James Washington. Houston takes timeout two after Snell goes two yards. Texans stop Snell for a loss, and it is third and nine, but Houston has used all their timeouts. Ben goes to the Claypool well gain and this time draws water. Claypool loses the ball, but it is knocked out of bounds as he approaches the goal line. No worries. The huge first down has the Steelers in the victory formation to finish the final two minutes.
Steelers defense look good at times but yield 21 first half points.
DEFENSE GIVES UP EARLY TOUCHDOWN
The defense looked amazingly fast and aggressive and force a three and out on Houston’s opening drive. However, after the Steelers go up by three, the Texans answer right back with a touchdown. David Johnson could not find running room. But Deshaun Watson found Brandin Cooks for twenty yards on third and three with Steve Nelson in defense. Then he connected with Will Fuller for 17. He missed Cooks long but connected with Randall Cobb who beat Mike Hilton for a 28-yard touchdown. Watson has been staying in the pocket but connecting. It’s now 3-7.
TEXANS USE FAVORABLE FIELD POSITION
Colquitt kicked from his end zone. The ball travelled 47 yards and only returned one yard, but the Texans had the ball at their own 46-yard lines to start the second quarter. Johnson still has nowhere to run the ball, so Watson goes to the air. Watson passes deep to Johnson who gains 20 yards before Minkah Fitzpatrick pushes him put of bounds. On third and six Watson evades two tacklers and hits another deep pass for 20 yards to the 12-yard line. Another completion and the Texans are by the goal line. Johnson’s two yards enough to put the Texans up 14-3.
TEXANS 50 SECOND TOUCHDOWN
The Steelers offense scores and the defense forces a three and out to make the score 14-10. Devin Bush and Bud Dupree combined to sack Watson on the truncated drive. The Steelers two-minute offense scores to put Pittsburgh up 17-14 but they left 1:14 on the clock. Yoi!
On first down, Terrell Edmunds tackles Cooks after an eight-yard reception. Watson then targets Cobb in the middle with Mike Hilton in defense. 18-yard gain. Houston takes a timeout with 47 seconds left. Short pass for 20 yards and another timeout. Watson and Cobb connect to take the ball to the 14-yard line where Watson then hits Fuller for the touchdown. Three straight first downs and a touchdown leaving 24 seconds to spare. The Texans sliced through the defense like butter.
The defense shuts out Houston in the second half coming up with a crucial turnover.
TEXANS HELD TO TWO THREE AND OUTS IN THIRD QUARTER
Pittsburgh down by one after a field goal. The defense needs to step up and does on the first two Houston drives. David Johnson goes no where on his first two rushing attempts. Watson tries throwing him the ball, but Terrell Edmunds tackles him four yards short of the sticks. Houston must punt from their 32-yard line.
Houston gets the ball a second time with the same one-point lead. From their 20, Watson scrambles for five yards. Stephon Tuitt stops David Johnson for one. Then Tuitt bursts through the line on third and four to sack Watson for an eight-yard loss. Houston punts again.
DEFENSE STOPS ONLY DRIVE WITH INTERCEPTION
Houston gets the ball for a third time at the end of the third quarter. Alex Highsmith dropped Johnson for a loss. But Watson finds Fuller over the middle for a first down. Watson scrambling but Bud Dupree catches him for no gain. On third and two, Watson completes a 34-yard pass to Cobb. Texans are in Pittsburgh territory with a first down. I check my Fitbit and my resting pulse count is 77. TJ Watt drops Cooks for a five-yard loss bringing up third and 15. Watson scrambling right, under tremendous pressure from Watt, he throws for Stills, but Mike Hilton is there to intercept the ball at the 13 yard line. Hilton returns the interception eight yards before wisely sliding down at the 21. This was Houston’s only sustained drive of the second half and the offense took the turnover in for the go ahead score.
THE FINAL THREE AND OUT
Houston had the ball for one final possession with 6:24 left. The defense had a 28-21 lead to preserve and stepped up. First, TJ Watt sacks Watson setting up second and awfully long. Joe Haden defends a pass intended for Cooks. Third and 21 turns into third and 26 after a false start. Minkah holds Stills to a 16-yard gain and Houston punts from their own 25. The offense finishes the game with a long clock killing drive
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goal kicking and blocking field goals plus any missed PAT attempts.
Chris Boswell kicked off six times. Half his kicks were touchbacks. DeAndre Carter returned three for 57 yards. He reached the 26-yard line twice. Boswell kicked one short to the 12-yard line, but Marcus Allen tackled Carter after just a four-yard gain giving Houston the ball at the 16.
Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked off four times. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the first 19 yards to the 23-yard line. The next two were touchbacks. McCloud returned the last one 28 yards to the 30-yard line. Advantage Steelers.
Dustin Colquitt punted four times averaging 44.3 yards a punt. Houston returned three of the four. His first two punts were from deep in his own territory. The first travelled 48 yards but Carter returned it eight yards before Ola Adeniyi tackled him at their own 42-yard line. The second went 47 yards but Will Fuller managed just a yard. Still Houston had great field position at their own 46 and would score on the subsequent drive. His third punt disappointed me. Punting from his own 46, he only managed 34 yards before Robert Spillane downed it at the 20. This was a missed opportunity to pin the Texans deep. Colquitt’s final punt traveled 48 yards which is his range in the air and Carter returned the ball eight yards to the Houston 15. The return yardage knocked his net punting average to an even 40 yards. An improvement over the first two games but not particularly good.
I believe Jordan Berry has a stronger leg and is capable of directional punting which has not yet been displayed by Colquitt.
Bryan Anger punted six times averaging 48.5 yards a punt. Ray-Ray McCloud returned two punts for 25 yards, so Martin’s net average was 44.3 yards a punt. Diontae Johnson helped Anger’s punting average by fair catching a 54-yard punt at the five-yard line instead of letting it bounce into the end zone. Diontae may have intended to return the punt and changed his mind at the last second. If that is the case it is better, he caught it than try to get out of the way and have it hit him for a live ball. The question now is will Ray-Ray become the return specialist for both kickoffs and punts? Both are dangerous returners. Advantage Texans.
FIELD GOALS AND POINTS AFTER TDS
Chris Boswell made both his field goal and both extra point attempts. The field goals opened the scoring for the Steelers in both halves. Pittsburgh also made a two-point conversion which put the Steelers up by seven in the fourth quarter. Fairbairn made all three of his extra point attempts. Advantage Steelers.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW
- Defense keeps Deshaun Watson in the pocket. The rush lane integrity failed at times and Watson completed some passes to keep drives alive. However, he only gained five yards on one run and his interception came outside the pocket. Overall Mission accomplished.
- Prevent JJ Watt from sacking Ben. JJ recorded no sacks nor any quarterback hits. Mission accomplished.
- Stop the 25-game turnover streak. Ben threw clean balls and the only fumble went out of bounds during Claypool’s reception that sealed the victory. Mission accomplished.
- Anthony McFarland touches the ball three or four times. Randy Fichtner featured him in the first four plays to open the second half alone. McFarland finished with six rushes for 42 yards and a reception for seven. Mission accomplished.
- Reduce the number of penalties. Last week the Steelers committed ten penalties. This week just two. Ben threw a TD to redeem his intentional grounding penalty just a play before. Al Villanueva penalized but the Steelers still scored a field on that drive. Mission accomplished.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 1006 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Ross McCorkle kept us informed with live updates as we chirped our comments.
Kingribel liked the Steelers short passing game. “This dink and dunk is fine.” Rob agreed saying, “It is effective!! One thing from Todd Haley they should have kept”
The single play that received the most comments involved Jaylen Samuels run on third and two. Goldrush got agreement with “This all goes back when we were third and one and decided to run parallel to the line then FG. Poor play call there gives the Texans energy. Now we are playing from behind.”
Tom White also got a lot of likes with “This is why games will always be close with this coaching staff. 3rd and 1 and you give it to our worst offensive skill player and then settle for a FG despite the numbers that say to go for it on 4th down. So dumb.”
GrumpyHighlander on the same theme: ” 1 yd…let’s run parallel to the line….these are the calls that peeve me off with whoever” With Tom White further explaining, “Yep you can mark that sequence right now if this game ends close and we are on the losing side. Give the ball to our worst offensive player and then don’t go for it.”
Surprised that the end of the half scoring was not more popular. Nothing against Chris Boswell, but Steelers Depot respondents expect touchdowns not field goals during visits to the red zone. Steelers down 17-21 at half.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
We slowed down in the second half. Comments decreased to 958 in the 2nd half live discussion. It was a tight game. Respondents may have been focusing their attention on transmitting positive play to the Steelers through their screens instead of commenting.
In a particularly bad moment, Jaybird claimed the “best comment” with “Looks like I picked a bad week to quit sniffing glue.” Nelsonator762 pointed out, “That is every week this year so far”
Officials did not throw too many flags. But we were there to help them. Mrn6 noted “I don’t like to complain about the refs but that hold on Claypool was bad.”
PaeperCup did not like the outcome of the review on Ben’s attempt to reach for a first down. “I’m still mad at that review, I don’t see any reason for missing that call.” FranchisePunter responded “Vegas called that one in.”
Agustin-ARG liked Chuks Okorafor play: “Okorafor deserves the ball game.”
Mrwirez concluded, “TJ > JJ” which may be related in part to Okorafor’s performance.
Once Chase Claypool made the first down at the two-minute warning. We could all relax … until next week.
The defense looked vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks who can throw on the run. Keith Butler deserves credit if he made the halftime adjustments. The Steelers give up 21 first half points but zero in the second half. The front seven look very solid especially shutting down the run. The secondary is ok but cannot cover forever when a quarterback extends the play. It is also impressive that the Steelers threaten sacks from all the units on the field.
The offense kept the Steelers in the game in the first half. The last drive of the half looked easy. Different players stepping up when called upon. Nice to see the speed that McFarland brings to the backfield. Conner looked solid. The more Ben plays with his receiving weapons the more dangerous this offense will become as the season wears on.
Ray-Ray McCloud may become an all-purpose returner if Diontae does not stop making bad decisions such as fair catch at the five-yard line. The coverage units are reliable tacklers and not making silly penalties. A little concerned that Dustin Colquitt no longer has the range or control of his punts.
The lack of penalties is very refreshing. I hope both the players and officials keep the game flowing without constant interruptions by penalties that don’t impact the play on the field.
Visiting Heinz Field for a home game with no fans allowed in is surreal. I hope October brings fans back into the stadium.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. No fans in Heinz Field for the second time. I never went away. I just want in. Here is I Hear You Knocking by Smiley Lewis.