Pittsburgh 30 – Houston 23
With all the talk about a flawless record in Prime Time, it wasn’t looking as if the Steelers had much hope for maintaining their win streak on Monday Night Football during the first two quarters of last nights match-up with the Houston Texans. After a few mistakes and miscues by the Texans, the Steelers were sitting pretty in the catbird seat and took full advantage of their opportunities. Sparked by a 28 yard scamper by Le’Veon Bell with 1:46 left in the first half, Big Ben then hit rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant on a 35 yard touchdown lob for the Steelers first touchdown of the game. What happened within’ the following 87 seconds would take the Steelers from a 3 point deficit to a miraculous 24-13 halftime lead. The defense came to life a bit on this night, causing three crucial turnovers which helped contribution to what has been a struggling offense in the red zone. A sound win in Prime Time with plenty of nifty highlights thrown in for good measure.
It was looking as if it was going to be another redundant, uneventful, unproductive offense outing with drives resulting in 3 point endings, as usual. That is until the 1:46 second mark of the 2nd quarter when all hell seemed to break loose. On 1st and 10 at their own 37 yard line, Le’veon Bell slipped off left guard into the flat as if to block the linebacker, Big Ben tossed a quick hitch just as he was about to get flatted by the rush, then Bell was off to the races. Bell scampered to the Texans 35 yard line which set up the play you always like to see on 1st down. Big Ben drops back under a heavy blitz, steps up beautifully in the pocket and launches a perfect strike to rookie receiver Martavis Bryant for the first TD.
After two successive turnovers by the Defense which put the Steelers in prime scoring position, they cashed in cashed immediately on both possessions. From the 3 yard line Ben tossed a pitch to Antonio Brown in what looked like an end around, AB stopped on a dime, pivoted back and launched a perfect strike to Lance Moore who had slid across coverage. It should be pointed out that Moore, due to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was wearing bright pink knee high socks. Apparently Moore chose the leotards to wear under his football pants, as I believe players have the option to select which pink gear to wear. Two weeks after a stern reprimand by Coach Tomlin for excessive chest pounding, Lance decided to do his best Rockette’s dance interpretation, complete with what looked like a Village People riding man step. It’s difficult to say whether Tomlin will issue a stern warning regarding that celebration, he was rather giddy himself after the scoring play. Perhaps Tomlin could at least recommend the next time Lance chooses that celebration dance, he does it in a less feminine outfit, maybe the bumble bee throwback uniforms would be more appropriate attire for a spectacle such as that.
The second touchdown before the half was on 2nd and 2 with 58 tics on the clock, Le’Veon Bell went in motion and headed for the pylon, the Texans never made the adjustments and Big Ben pinned a gorgeous back shoulder dart which Bell snared like a champ. Three TD’s in less than 3 minutes, more offense productivity than had occurred in the last three games. Of course, the Offense was able to only muster two fields goals in the second half reverting back to their lackluster ways. At least they got some momentum and sense of purpose with those golden opportunities, which is exactly what they’ve sorely missed.
Just like the Offense, the Defense got off to yet another abysmal start, giving up a cake easy 94 yard touchdown drive in which Houston running back Arian Foster churned out 60 yards and an easy score. Playing without starting nose tackle Steve McClendon, with Bryce McCain starting for the struggling Cortez Allen, it looked as if it was going to be a long, long night. Fortune smiled however on this team tonight, and it was actually the Defense forcing three turnovers putting the Offense in a position to score, and score again. It’s safe to say there was marginal improvement from this unit as the game unfolded, though slight, still improvement.
Nose tackle Daniel McCullers finally had the opportunity to suit up and get in a real game, he will be a work in progress just as second round pic Stephon Tuitt is. At least they’re both in the game and getting real time experience, versus just sitting in class studying Dick Lebeau’s 500 page playbook. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who has not shown the dominance from late last season, had a rare strip of Arian Foster at the three yard line. However, his reaction was to immediately stand up and pound his chest, he didn’t even realize it was a fumble. Thanks to the keen awareness of middle linebacker Sean Spence, the Steelers were able to get the turnover after the officials reviewed the play. Did this team learn nothing from the same incident in the 2010 playoff game against the Ratbirds? Terrell Suggs stripped Big Ben in the same part of the field, then starting preening and pounding his chest. Given that the whistle hadn’t blown, it was the Ratbirds defensive tackle who realized the ball was still live then ran it into the end zone, which was exactly what Spence had the good sense to do.
We would be remiss without mentioning the NFL’s favorite beard, Brett Keisel tipped an errant pass by Fitzpatrick then had the smarts to turn and follow the path of the ball. The pass doinked off the helmut of Lawrence Timmons right back to Keisel, who then began to rumble towards the goal line for 16 yards, getting pushed out at the 8. A heads up play by a savvy veteran and a much needed turnover, the Steelers scored two plays later. It’s also very good to see Mike Mitchell making plays, he took a good angle on a Texan receiver and stripped the ball which was quickly recovered by Troy Palomalu. More importantly, no chest pounding after the play.
Kick offs and punt returns are still mired at a stand still, Tomlin has now instructed speedster Dri Archer to take a kneel down whenever possible, the blocking is just not there. The Texans caught the Steelers flat footed on a fake punt which picked up 4 yards, Sean Suisum was 3 for 3 for the night. Good hustle on the late game onside kick, which was actually a scrum that could’ve gone to either team, tight end Michael Palmer came out of the pile with the ball and that was the game… Whew!
We’ll stand up and applaud Todd Hailey for coming up with some snazzy new red zone twists, as we’ve talked about in the past, use the talent you got to their fullest. The great Dick Lebeau, still can’t seem to come up with a plan to stop opening drives that result in touchdowns. Lebeau was able to bring more pressure in this game, and that was the perfect way to attack a veteran journeyman scrub like Ryan Fitzpatrick.
I’m still not seeing where Coach Tomlin has his team pumped up, motivated, and ready to hunt bear. But certainly getting in a groove finally helped put the players in the right mindset, now if they can only continue their winning ways, they’ll at least have a fighting chance further down the road.
Good execution, turnovers, marginal improvement, all things to be applauded. The main thing is, JJ Watt didn’t kill anybody, especially Big Ben. Not a lot of time to celebrate or get too happy, next up is Andy Luck. Luck is on fire this season, their defense is very sound too and will present a huge challenge, even while playing at home. Then Big Joe and his fellow chest pounders come to town the following week for another prime time matchup, the game Mean Joe Greene chose to have his Jersey retired. Big Joe is having the best season of his career, and with newly acquired wide receiver Steve Smith also having a break out season, this game should be a real dog fight. Keep your fingers crossed, we desperately need W’s in these next two match-ups.