Trap Game or Truth Game? Texans Humiliate Steelers 30-6 in Houston

The Pittsburgh Steelers flew to Houston and dropped a 30-6 loss to the Texans. The humiliation the Steelers suffered in Houston wasn’t as bad as the score suggests.

It was far worse.

Prior to the game NPR’s Jeremy Scott quizzed Jim Wexell on whether this matchup had “…all the ingredients of a trap game.”

Wexell’s response? “Absolutely.”

It is tempting to credit the Steel City Insider scribe for being clairvoyant. But is that what’s called for here? Because the question this scribe is asking today is this: Was this really a “trap game?” Or does this defeat expose the painful truth about this football team?

Let’s try to find an answer.

Jaylen Warren, Jaylen Pitre, Steelers vs Texans

Jaylen Pitre knocks ball loose from Jaylen Warren. AP via Tribune Review.

Did History Reverse Itself in Houston?

You can often peg the outcomes of football games, even blowouts, on a pivotal series or play. The Steelers loss to the Texans is no exception.

After logging the one of the worst first haves in recent franchise memory, the Steelers flirted with respectability to start the 2nd half.

Sure, the Steelers stalled in the Red Zone settling for a Chris Boswell field goal, but the defense forced a 3 and out, and then offense was right at it again, getting back to the Red Zone in just four plays. There they had to settle for another field goal. But that narrowed the score to ten, and the defense delivered on its next series.

It started off promising, with Najee Harris exploding for a 23 yard run. Kenny Pickett and Darnell Washington hooked up, giving the rookie his first NFL catch for 10 yards. Things bogged down after a catch by George Pickens on third and 18 netted 17 yards.

  • This brought up a make or break 4th and 1 situation.

Seeing the Steelers lining up in the shotgun immediately brought me back to the Steelers 2008 trip to Houston. That was the very first game Steel Curtain Rising covered, and on its first series on opening day, Houston coach Gary Kubiak went for it on 4th down. Here’s how it unfolded:

That was a bold move, worthy of an elite team, and rather brash, considering the pedigree of the Steelers run defense….

Perhaps someone should have reminded Kubiack of Bum Philip’s old dictum, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it. But just saying it don’t make it so…” because quarterback Matt Schaub, went for it, came up short, and Pittsburgh dominated thereafter.

Pretty ironic, isn’t it?

Given the game situation and field position, Mike Tomlin’s decision to go for it was pretty conventional. Now, had the Steelers converted that 4th down, right now we’d be praising Matt Canada’s play call as “bold.”

But instead we’re stick to a simple, objective observation:

  • Matt Canada’s play call was stupid.

Instead of trying to muscle out a single yard, Canada tried to outthink everyone, and we watched Jonathan Greenard push Broderick Jones aside to sack and injure Kenny Pickett.

  • For all intents and purposes, the game was over there.

The question is, did play just end the game for the Steelers? Or did it close the door to bigger and better things for the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers?

Down on the Defense?

The headline of this article leads with “Trap game or Truth Game?” To answer that, we’ll define a “trap game” as “A game where a good team under performs and loses against a team with inferior talent.”

The thinking going into 2023 were that the Pittsburgh Steelers were a team that might establish it as a contender whereas the Houston Texas were a club looking for respectability. In other words, to suffer a trap game a team needs to be good in the first place.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers really didn’t look a “good” team today and haven’t all season. Have they?

But appearances can deceive. The defensive side of the ball is perhaps illustrative here. The Houston Texans were playing a second sting offensive line against a Steelers defense that has terrorized quarterbacks all season long.

Yet, neither T.J. Watt nor Alex Highsmith got a sack, and the duo barley laid a glove on C.J. Stroud. Neither did any of the Steelers defensive lineman. While that’s concerning, there’s no reason to think that this is indicative of what to expect for the rest of the season.

And while the Steelers run defense didn’t give up a long run, it suffered death by a thousand cuts from Dameon Pierce. Stroud made some nice throws, but was basically a 50/50 passer.

  • But at the end of the day, there’s still hope for the Steelers defense.

That isn’t to say the Steelers defense will rebound to dominate the way they did in Cleveland, but they will rebound.

The irony is, the Houston Texans offense did what Matt Canada’s couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t

Is Canada’s Offense A “Couldn’t” Or a “Wouldn’t”

This morning in Steelers Nation you won’t have to look far to find calls to Fire Matt Canada. And that’s been true most Monday mornings since Canada took over.

Yours truly has declined to lean into such sentiment, at the expense of page views, because the Steelers offensive coordinator has been the most hated figure in Pittsburgh sports since George Herbert Walker Bush sat in the White House. And, taken in context, the struggles of Canada’s first two offenses were understandable.

  • But the Texans game is trying even my patience

During the first half the Steelers offense managed one interception and three punts. It failed to enter Texan territory. Exchange those for even a pair of field goal drives, maintain the two field goal drives that the Steelers opened the second half with, and you don’t find yourself in a do-or-die 4th down conversion situation with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.

But that was the situation. And instead of letting the offense try to impose its will, Canada got cute. And it blew up in his face.

  • And that’s been the story of the Steelers offense this season.

It does well for a few drives or parts of drives. Then it falls on its face at critical moments. Taken literally, and offensive coordinator’s job is to coordinate things so that the opposite occurs. Matt Canada is failing at his job.

Does Canada fail to grasp the value of physical football? Or does he ignore it because, like his predecessors Joe Walton and Kevin Gilbride, he wants to show the rest of the NFL he’s a genius? Or Canada actually doing the best he can with substandard offensive line and quarterback that we all overestimated?  Mike Tomlin, Hell Yeah, There's Going to be Changes

I don’t know, but Mike Tomlin needs to find the answer, quickly.

Trap Game or Truth Game Question Answered

Mathematically the loss brings the Steelers to 2-2, which is an OK place to be after week 4 in the NFL. But this is one case where the way the Steelers lost this tells us more than the outcome itself.

  • The Steelers failed the eye test today.

They didn’t look like a contender descending into “Any Given Sunday” territory against a lesser team. No. They looked like a team will be lucky to flirt with .500 – and that’s without knowing the severity of the injuries suffered by Dan Moore, Pat Freiermuth, DeMarvin Leal and Kenny Pickett.

When asked after the game if changers were coming, Mike Tomlin snapped, “Hell yeah. There’s going to be changes.”

Good. Because many things must change for 20/20 hindsight to transform this loss into a trap game.

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Steelers Report Card for Win over Texans – DeCastro Makes a Difference Edition

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher who is please to see his students stepping it up homework gets tougher, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2020 Watt Bowl win over the Texans at Heinz Field.

Eric Ebron, Steelers vs Texans

Eric Ebron goes up to catch a touchdown. Photo Credit: Karl Roser,

Ben Roethlisberger continued to look sharp in his third game back throwing 36 passes for 23 completions for 237 yards two touchdowns and no interceptions. Those are pretty good numbers and Roethlisberger suffered several drops. He also struggled to connect with wideouts on deep patterns, which isn’t entirely his fault. Grade: B+Steelers, Report Card, grades,

Running Backs
James Conner had his 2nd 100 yard game in as many weeks and this time it hinge on one long burst. He also caught four passes for 40 yards. Anthony McFarland Jr. got his first action and provided the perfect change of pace. Benny Snell Jr. was back and held on to the ball. His stat line isn’t impressive, but his third down conversion was critical. Jaylen Samuels ran once for 1 yard. Grade: A-

Tight Ends
Last week we noted that Eric Ebron was developing a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger and this week the duo took a step forward as Ebron led the team in receptions and made an end zone play to secure a touchdown. Vance McDonald was more active in the passing game, making a crucial 3rd down conversion and making a difference in the blocking game. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
JuJu Smith-Schuster led all receivers with 4 catches for 43 yards, including a walk off touchdown. That’s not impressive, but he also secured a 2 point conversion. James Washington was next with 5 catches for a very economical 36 yards. Diontae Johnson was targeted twice with zero catches and had one reverse for 8 yards.

James Conner, Steelers vs Texans

James Conner scores the go ahead touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Chase Claypool had a mixed day. On the one hand, he failed to catch some catchable balls and he fumbled the ball away. On the other hand, he made a crucial 3rd down conversion and drew a pass interference call. Receivers are doing OK on short and medium routes but struggling on long ones. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
David DeCastro made his return and the difference was obvious as the Steelers collective rushing average was 4.4 yards per carry and Ben Roethlisberger was only hit 4 times. The telling stat line of the Watt Bowl was J.J. Watt’s – 1 solo tackle and 4 assists. The Texans chose to keep Watt lined up across from  Chukwuma Okorafor, and the first year starter proved to be up to the task. Grade: B+

Defensive Line
Cam Heyward, who has been a veritable house of fire this season, had a quiet game as the Texans double teamed him all day. For this strategy to be effective, you must contain Stephon Tuitt. They couldn’t as Tuitt had 4 tackles, 4 QB hits and a key third down sack. Tyson Alualu continued his stout play up the middle as the Texans averaged 1.9 yards a carry. Grade: A

T.J. Watt led linebackers in tackles, had a tackle for a loss, 4 QB hits and a critical sack on the Texan’s final possession – making the Watt Bowl one of his quieter games of the season, until you factor in that his sack came on the Texan’s final possession.… Bud Dupree had a sack and a half plus two more QB hits. Devin Bush had an outstanding pass break up in the end zone while splitting a sack. Alex Highsmith saw enough spot duty to get a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: A-

Devin Bush, Darren Fells, Steelers vs Texans

Devin Bush breaks up a touchdown pass intended for Darren Fells. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

It was a tale of two halves for the Steelers pass defense. During the first half Deshaun Watson picked Pittsburgh apart. During the second half the Steelers defense completely shut him down. The only drive in the second half that didn’t end in a punt for Houston was the one that Mike Hilton ended with an interception. Minka Fitzpatrick led the unit in tackles and Joe Haden got a hand on a ball he perhaps should have caught. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Dustin Colquitt had his best day punting on the year, for those of you who keep track. The Steelers punt and kick coverage was exceptionally strong. Ray-Ray McCloud did well on both kick and punt returns while Diontae Johnson fair caught a punt he probably should have let bounce into the end zone. Chris Boswell was 2-2 on field goals and 2-2 on extra points. Grade: B


Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin press conference

Mike Tomlin addressing the press. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via

Randy Fichtner has an diverse arsenal of weapons at his disposal and with each week he’s attempting to make the Steelers offense more versatile. For the moment, the deep passing game remains a sore spot, but the Steelers are pretty effective in the short-and-medium range game, and against the Texans they ran the ball effectively.

Keith Butler’s defense has some issues in the first half, allowing as many touchdown drives as they forced punts. But credit “The Butler” (and Tomlin) for making the necessary half time adjustments to pressure Deshaun Watson while keeping him contained and completely smothering the run.

  • Mike Tomlin took the Steelers 2-0 start to the season in stride, acknowledging both the victories and areas that needed improvement.

He took that same attitude into this game, and his locker room followed his example. To use Tomlin’s words, “There was no blink in this group.” Most importantly, on two separate occasions during the Steelers final possession Tomlin remained aggressive when he could have played it safe and in both cases his players delivered. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
The Steelers defense started slow in the second half, as noted above. There was one player who was full speed from the get go who started off one series with the first sack of Watson and then began another by dropping David Johnson for a loss, and for those efforts Vince Williams wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Texans.

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Los Pittsburgh Steelers martirizaron a los Houston Texans venciéndolos por 34 a 6

La 16° semana de la temporada 2017 de la NFL ya es historia para los Pittsburgh Steelers, quienes apalearon sin compasión a unos muy remendados Texans, por un comodísimo 34 a 6 y mejoraron su marca a 12-3
Entrados a esta semana, y viniendo de la muy dolorosa derrota a manos de los Patriots, todavía la Nación Steelers no ha podido desembarazarse del trauma de la “atrapada incompleta” de Jesse James que les hubiera significado la victoria y el seguro de la ventaja de localía en un eventual duelo de postemporada. Para colmo de males, como daño colateral a la derrota, el mejor WR de la Liga, Antonio Brown, debió dejar el campo de juego temprano en el partido por una lesión en su pierna izquierda que lo tendrá fuera de acción por un tiempo aun no determinado
Durante los días posteriores a aquel juego, comenzaron a aflorar varios interrogantes sobre el futuro inmediato de los Steelers.
La pregunta que más me inquietó la formuló el ex pateador de los Baltimore Colts y los NY Giants (con quienes ganó el Super Bowl XXI) Raúl Allegre  , hoy devenido en comentarista para la cadena ESPN en español.
Raúl se preguntaba cómo el equipo iba a absorber el impacto de semejante derrota. Teniendo en cuenta la historia reciente, en donde los jugadores se sumergen en una especie de enajenación que desdibuja sus talentos cuando se enfrentan a equipos de menor calidad y con marcas perdedoras, y la conocida inconsistencia en el juego (entre partidos e incluso dentro de un mismo juego), ese interrogante se corporizó de manera amenazante.
A poco de reflexionar sobre la actualidad del equipo, uno caía en la cuenta de que esa duda no venía sola.

¿Cómo iba el cuerpo de entrenadores a compensar la ausencia de Antonio Brown, quien no solo completa yardas y anota touchdowns sino que también suele absorber dobles marcas, facilitando mucho el trabajo del resto de los receptores?

¿Cómo iba a influir el regreso de Joe Haden luego de estar fuera por lesión, en la alicaída defensiva profunda de los Steelers?

Vayamos analizando el partido, a ver si encontramos las claves que respondan esas preguntas.


Lo primero que hay que admitir es que estos Houston Texans (4-11) distan muchísimo de aquellos del inicio de la temporada, cuando contaban con JJ Watt y DeShaun Watson. Este equipo ha venido en caída libre desde la semana 6 en que vencieron a los Cleveland Browns. Hasta allí ganaban y perdían de manera alternada. De los siguientes 8 partidos (9 con el de hoy), solo han ganado uno. Si alguna esperanza de mejorar la temporada tenían estos Texans, estas se esfumaron cuando entre la semana 8 y 9 se lesionó el QB Watson, quien quedó fuera por el resto de la temporada. Los primeros 2 mariscales de campo (el mencionado Watson y Tom Savage) están fuera por lesión. De manera que T J Yates y Talor Heinicke, son el 3er y 4to QBs del equipo. Viendo el partido de hoy quedó evidencia clara de que este equipo tiene muy limitado el juego aéreo.
El partido se resolvió en la primera mitad. Si se quiere, se puede agregar también el 3er cuarto. Parte del 3ero y el cuarto fue “garbage time”. De manera que las estadísticas totales pueden engañar.
Tan así fue que al finalizar la 1era mitad, solo habían pasado para 8 yardas (sí, no me equivoco. Ocho yardas) en 2 de 7 intentos. Dónde sí estaban mejor era en la ofensiva terrestre. Acarrearon en los 2 primeros cuartos un total de 115 yardas. Los Steelers tuvieron 14 primeros downs mientras que los locales sólo 4. El tiempo de posesión favoreció también a la visita: 17:54 min a 12:06.
En la primera mitad los Acereros recuperaron dos balones a traves de una intercepción de Artie Burns en la propia zona final y Bob Dupree que recuperó un fumble generado por Cam Heyward. Hasta ese momento los Steelers estaban al frente 20 a 0.
Pero, qué hay de nuestra primera pregunta? Iban los Steelers a sobreponerse, desde lo anímico, a la derrota de la semana anterior. Haciendo la salvedad de que el rival fue muy inferior en calidad, la respuesta es Sí aunque a medias. Respondió el equipo de manera satisfactoria ante este rival. Repasemos algunos datos:
Siete de 12 conversiones de 3er down (casi 60% de efectividad).
– Cuatro de 6 en zona roja y
– Dos turnovers generados
– Más de 30 puntos anotados.

Pero recordemos, además, cómo funcionan los Steelers en los llamados trap games. Los partidos los pierden los Steelers, no los gana el adversario.

Este podría haber sido uno de esos partidos. Tranquilamente. T. J. Yates podría haber lucido como, digamos, Dan Marino. Aún siendo Yates…

Pero parece que por hoy, al menos, ese hechizo se rompió.

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown, <a rel=

La segunda pregunta hacía referencia a cómo Todd Haley y Mike Tomlin se la iban a ingeniar para reemplazar a Antonio Brown. Uno hubiera pensado denle el ovoide a Bell más de 30 veces, que lo acarree y ya.

Pues no. Entre LeVeon Bell y el recien arribado Stevan Ridley, acarrearon en 14 y 9 ocasiones, respectivamente. Veintitrés acarreos en total.
Si se analiza por posiciones, a los WR Ben les lanzó 17 pases (att y no pases completados); a los RB, 8 pases y a los TE 6.
Tampoco se lo utilizó a Bell como receptor más que lo habitual ya que en el resto de la temporada se lo buscó un promedio de 7 veces por partido.
Los receptores que fueron buscados hoy más que en el pasado fueron: Vance Mc Donald, JuJu Smith-Schuster e Eli Rogers.

La primera conclusión que se puede sacar es que
1 – No se acarreó más que lo habitual (22 toques por partido): hoy 14 más 9 de Ridley. Total 23 acarreos.
2 – McDonald acaparó casi todos los intentos de pase destinados a la posición de TE. Y además se lo buscó 5 veces en lugar de las 2 veces promedio por partido. En cambio Jesse James fue casi ignorado en el dia de hoy.
3 – Quien está mejorando su nivel es Martavis Bryant: hoy atrapó el 75 % de los pases que se le lanzaron cuando en el resto de la temporada promedia un 56% de atrapadas

Es decir: NEXT MAN UP

Joe Haden

Por último queda analizar si el reingreso de Joe Haden marcó diferencias

El mejor receptor de Houston (y el segundo mejor de la liga) es DeAndre Hopkins y se lo busca un promedio de 12 veces por partido, logrando atrapar el ovoide 6,5 veces por partido. Hoy se lo buscó en 6 ocasiones y atrapó 4. Seguramente las limitaciones del QB al lanzar explica en parte esta diferencia entre lo que es habitual y lo ocurrido en el día de hoy.
Pero la primera atrapada la consiguió cuando restaban 32 seg. para finalizar el 3er cuarto. Y quien estaba asignado a la marca one-on-one era Haden. El ex Brown de Cleveland logró imponerse durante gran parte del partido. La excepción fue la atrapada de TD de Hopkins de otro planeta al comenzar el último cuarto y que marcó los únicos 6 puntos del local.

Entonces la tercera pregunta se responde afirmativamente también: Joe Haden marcó la diferencia, al anular durante 3 de los 4 cuartos al segundo mejor receptor de la liga.

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Steelers vs Browns Test of “Pittsburgh Plays Better on Tape Delay” Theory….

As regular readers know, Steel Curtain Rising is written out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Watching the NFL from South America’s “Dagger pointed at heart of Antarctica” has its pros and cons.

When I first moved here that meant only being able to see 2-3 games per year, and even then it required getting up at 2 or 3 am (and having to get up for work the next day.) Night games are hell, particularly after the US goes “fall forward.”

  • The flipside is, it is relatively easy to watch Steelers games on tape delay without knowing the ending.

This is of course theoretically possible to do in the US, but a lot harder to execute in practice. I’d imagine it would be dam near impossible for someone living in Pittsburgh to pull this off, and even for the legion of Steelers fans in Steelers Nation, it would still take a fair amount of discipline, cooperation from friends (and enemies) and a fair amount of luck.

And while the rational side of my brain reminds me that there’s no connection between when I watch and how the Steelers play, the sentimental side of my brain is wont to give into superstition.

  • And the Steelers generally do well on tap delay.

My first experience with tape delay was good: the 2001 Steelers beat the Titans and Ravens at Heinz Field. In 2002 the Steelers followed up their Dread the Spread season opening loss to the Patriots by laying an egg vs. the Raiders, the later of which I saw on tape delay. Yet, later in 2002, the Steelers beat Peyton Manning and the Colts on Monday Night Football.

  • 2003 wasn’t so kind as the Steelers dropped Prime Time games to the Browns and 49ers on tape delay.
  • Ditto 2005 where tape delay had the Steelers losing to the Colts on Monday Night Football.

Since getting Direct TV in 2008, the Steelers record on tape delay is quite good. They beat the Cowboy at home on the strength of Deshea Townsend pick six. A year later, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace with just 5 seconds remaining to beat the Packers at home.

And so comes the Steelers 2015 season closer vs. the Cleveland Browns. This is one game that the Steelers will have to work to lose, which as last week’s loss to the Ravens reveals, they’re capable of doing it. But with Browns coach Mike Pettine reportedly already set to be fired, the Steelers should win this one in a walk.

  • So no tape delay assist (should be) needed.

However, Steelers vs. Browns is not the only iron Steelers Nation has in the fire as the 2015 NFL season closes. As EVERYONE knows, if Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills upset the New York Jets, the Steelers will make it to the playoffs….

…On paper the Jets should clobber the Bills.

But Rex Ryan has already upset his former employer. Doing so twice in one season, especially with the playoffs on the line for the Jets and the Bills only playing for pride is an uphill battle.

In other words, a perfect test for tape delay. Go Steelers!

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Steelers Report Card for Win vs. Texans @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has become more than a little gun shy of rewarding the upsides of a very sporadic student, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Report Card, Texans, Grades

Statistically speaking, Ben Roethlisberger had a strong night, with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a solid 265 yards passing. While those numbers are solid, Roethlisberger again put the ball on the ground, and missed on a key throw when the team was trying to kill the clock. These types of mistakes are becoming too common. Grade:  B

Running Backs
For two straight years, no running backs were selected in the NFL Draft. If Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray continue to produce at the level they’re producing that will change. Bell only had 57 yard rushing, but two long receptions by him sparked the Steelers first two scores. LeGarrette Blount only managed 9 yards on 7 carries, but made a critical grab. Dri Archer had one nice run and one poor run. Grade:  A

Tight Ends
Heath Miller only had one catch but it was good for 13 yards and effectively positioned the Steelers for their first score. Miller got no more catches or targets, however he was held back to block far more frequently than in the past. Grade:  B

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown is making his case as one of the NFL’s best receivers, with another 9 catch performance which included some tough ones. Markus Wheaton had two targets and no catches. Martavis Bryant made good in the end zone on his first NFL catch. Darrius Heyward-Bey had one catch for 17 yards and Lance Moore had two catches including a touchdown. Overall a good night for the receivers, but they’re still somewhat out of sync with their quarterback. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
Mike Adams stepped in for concussed Marcus Gilbert, and did an admirable job. Overall the line performed well and contained JJ Watt. Run blocking could have been more consistent. Grade B-

Defensive Line
Brett Keisel, interception, Steelers vs. Texans, Monday Night FootballThis unit got a new look, as Stephon Tuitt got his first start and Daniel McCullers saw his first NFL action. McCullers looked good in his playing time, as did Tuitt. Cameron Heyward helped set up the Steelers first touchdown by stopping Arian Foster. The real hero of the unit was Brett Keisel, who batted away two passes and took caught the deflection to set up the Steelers 3rd TD in 0:73 seconds. The line struggled in the first quarter, but bounced back quite well. Grade:  B

Lawrence Timmons was everywhere, getting one sack making two tackles for a loss, and laying in another quarterback hit. Jason Worilds forced a fumble and had a strong night. Arthur Moats got in a quarterback pressure while James Harrison got in 3, although Harrison’s roughing the passer penalty helped Houston make a run at coming back in the end. Grade:  B

For the second straight week, Michael Mitchell forced a fumble and appears to be settling in on the defense. Brice McCain started at corner, and his name was not heard much during the night – which is good in this case. William Gay was solid. Cortez Allen, however struggled at times. Troy Polamalu recovered a fumble but gave Houston a free timeout with his goal line leap. Grade B-

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was perfect on the night place kicking and his kickoffs had good depth. The Steelers got nothing from their kick return game, although Brown’s punt return helped spark the Steelers first touchdown. Brad Wing had a solid night punting, and for the first time all year, managed to pin Houston down deep. The kick return coverage team was excellent. The unit did give up a fake punt. The final on-sides kick was touch and go, although there is an “X-Factor” that goes with on sides kicks.  Grade:  B

Let’s be honest, the Steelers looked dazed and confused at the beginning of the game. During the first quarter it looked like the Steelers would not only lose their first home at on Monday Night Football since 1991, it had the makings of a blow out.

But to Mike Tomlin’s credit, the Steelers did not flinch. First the defense buckled down, then the offense got on the board in workman like fashion, and then it exploded.

Dick LeBeau’s defense is not going to be a Steelers-shut down unit. He sacks, turnovers and, at the end of the talent, to do that. But perhaps it is capable of growing into a bend-but-don’t break group, which isn’t so bad.

While Todd Haley’s offense was “above the line” it still has issues, as suggested by its 5-14 effort on third downs and inability to put the game completely out of reach, either by scoring, or by burning out the clock. The reverse turned pass by Brown worked, but was touch and go. The Steelers can’t afford such risks vs. the Colts. Grade:  C+

Unsung Hero Award
The Steelers sputtered badly to start the game, but the defense quickly bore down. The Texans efforts to rally at the beginning of the second half were halted in large part but a couple of big stops from a linebacker who might be making his last start. If it is, he redeemed some of his early missteps and more with those tops and a fumble recovery, and for that Sean Spence is the Unsung Hero of the win over the Texans.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for other Steelers Report Cards. Or, click here to follow Steel Curtain Rising on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

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Confidence: The Key to Turning the Steelers Victory over Houston into Something More…

The 3-3 Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the 3-3 Houston Texans at Heinz Field last night on Monday Night Football in a game that Steelers Nation had hoped would provide a little clarity to what has been a topsy-turvy season.

Instead, the Steelers found themselves out scored 23 to 9 during 58:47 minutes of the game, while outscoring the Texans 21-0 during the intervening 1:13.

  • Yes, when you add those totals, up, the Steelers come out on top 30-23.

The win improved he Steelers to 4-3, but the importance boosting the Steelers “W” tally by one will pale  in comparison if Mike Tomlin ensures that this win boosts the team’s confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday Night Football, Texans,A Question of Confidence

Confidence. Here’s how Webster’s defines the word:  “A feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something.”

Confidence can be a curious concept. Sometimes, people come to it naturally. In 1969 a young rookie lined up for his first foray into Chuck Noll’s dreaded Oklahoma Drill with a chip on his shoulder. A few minutes later the entire offensive line lay discarded to the side, while the young rookie remained standing, hungry for more.

  • Joe Greene’s natural confidence grew in proportion to his unnatural abilities.

While his example inspires, Greene is the exception and not the rule.

Confidence is something which most often must be built, particularly on the team level, and especially in football the ultimate team sport. In football, confidence can’t completely compensate for a lack of ability, but the right dose of confidence can propel a team far beyond the limits of how far its talent is supposed to take it. (See the 1989 Steelers.)

On the flip side, the absence of confidence will utterly devastate a football team. (See Steelers secondary’s poor play during 2009 losing streak.)

  • The question of confidence is particularly important to the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Behind the Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong offered this takeaway from the Steelers loss to the Browns:

Cam Heyward and Sean Spence were dominant in this game early. The defense, as we’ve probably forgotten thanks in part to a complete meltdown in the second quarter, was playing very well early. Six plays run for -8 yards, and a defensive front-seven that looked powerful against a good offensive line. It seemed like the big play to Jordan Cameron really shook the defense up. They didn’t play with the same sense of confidence after that.

Coolong’s right. While talent is an issue (see Cam Thomas getting blocked to kingdom come here), After the field goal fiasco, the Steelers played as they were the Little Engine the Couldn’t.

Before the Frantic 73 Seconds…

Steelers began playing the Texans as the same confidence-challenged unit that struggled for 3 quarters against the Browns. Arian Foster had 99 yards in the blink of an eye. Brad Wing was getting a work out. Truth be told, the Steelers were lucky to only be down 7 at the end of the first quarter. It looked to be a long night.

  • The short hand version of this story would have you believe that the Steelers did nothing until suddenly springing to life at the tail end of the 2nd quarter. 

Truthfully, that’s not quite what happened.

First, the defense went into “Bend but don’t break” mold, and forced the Texans to settle for two field goals. Second, Ben Roethlisberger began to get into a bit of a groove. Throwing from his own 14 he hit Le’Veon Bell who exploded for 43 yards. The Steelers couldn’t convert this into a touchdown, but they got on the board 3 three.

Next, the defense did its part, as Cameron Heyward held Roster for a 2 yard loss and Lawrence Timmons sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick. The two minute warning stuck, and Houston had to punt….

Steelers, Antonio Brown, Touchdown Pass, Texans, Red Zone73 Frantic Seconds of Steelers Football

Regardless of how the 2014 turns out, the final 1:22 of the second quarter vs. Houston will go down as one of the most eventful 82 second bursts in Steelers history.
And so it should.

Teams do not score 21 points in the space of 73 seconds. Forget about football teams – basketball teams are not supposed to score so quickly.  But it happened.

And For a second straight week, Brett Keisel made a play that 36 year old defensive lineman are not “supposed to make.”

That’s 1 week’s worth of highlights in less that 2 minutes.

…After  the 73 Frantic Seconds

The poetic way to spin the story would be to say that after going on its scoring binge, the Steelers methodically closed out the game, and that after the 21 barrage the final result was never in doubt.

  • But this was a football game, not a Hollywood movie, and these are the 2014 Steelers.

The truth is the remainder of the game offered both reasons for Steelers fans to hope and worry.
In two more red zone opportunities the Steelers settled for two more field goals
The outcome was in doubt late in the game

But to put that into context, one must also accept that Antonio Brown was robbed of a touchdown when his feet were clearly in bounds. And the Steelers defense did end one Texan possession when Michael Mitchell forced a fumble, a welcome sight for a turnover starved defense.

Remember, Houston’s rally was aided by a failed end zone shot when a run or a high percentage short pass could have kept the clock running and by a foolish roughing the passer call by James Harrison.

Neither factor serves as an excuse, but both issues are correctable.

Tomlin’s Test

At the end of the day, the real meaning of this win has yet to be decided. 21 points in 73 is nice, but the Steelers aren’t going to score 3 touchdowns in 73 seconds against the Colts and Ravens. Neither are they going to score 3 touchdowns in 146 seconds against Indy and Baltimore.

By the time those teams arrive at Heinz Field, the ink on that impressive stat will have long since dried.

You can’t catch lighting in a bottle. Instead, the key to sustaining the win over the Texans lies in looking at what made it possible: Confidence.

  • The confidence allows a quarterback to lop a ball 35 yards down field with the faith that his receiver will both be there and make the play
  • The confidence that drives a defender to make a play on the ball, because he knows even if he can’t recover it, his teammate will
  • The confidence that young players like Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt gain from seeing that staying in their gaps and sealing their corners, really can shut down an All-Pro rusher

Ultimately, it’s about the confidence it takes to look at being down by 2 scores early and believing – knowing you fight back if you can remain focused.

If Mike Tomlin can use this game to coax this kind of confidence out of his young team, then the importance of this victory can grow beyond a single “W.”

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Steelers Defeat Houston Texans 30-23 @ Heinz Field – Rapid Reaction

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Houston Texans at Heinz Field facing as much of a “must win” situation as any 3-3 team could face. While the Black and Gold were officially favored, Houston had going for it:

their zone rushing scheme with Adrian Foster would test Pittsburgh’s shaky run defense
JJ Watt had scored more touchdowns his season than the Steelers offense had in the last two games
the Steelers were facing accusations from Bill Cowher that they’d gone soft and were a finesse team

Steelers, Texans, Antonio Brown, Pass

For the first 28 minutes it looked like Hines Ward and Cowher were right. The Texans were running at will, and the Steelers were settling for field goals. Yet, just inside the two minute warning, the Steelers showed why you never take your foot off of the gas pedal.

Truthfully the Steelers would find fewer moments of glory in the second half, as the offense only managed 6 points (although Brown got screwed out of a touchdown), but the defense held the Texans to 10 points, and the Steelers walked away with a 30 to 23 victory.

The Steelers most certainly need to raise their game vs. the Colts and then again vs. Baltimore. But for a team that limped to a 3-3 record and was facing a hostile fan base, the Steelers got a much needed victory to begin their 3 game home stand.

It’s already 1:16 am here in Buenos Aires, and work looms tomorrow morning. Check back for more later.

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Steelers Suffer Practice Squad Roster; Tuitt Likely to Start, McCullers to get Helmet…

The Pittsburgh Steelers gamble with Wesley Johnson coupled with additional injuries suffered during the loss to Cleveland have forced additional roster changes.

To replace Ross Ventrone on the practice squad the Steelers signed defensive back Jordan Sullen. To provide additional insurance now that Steve McLendon is injured, the Steelers signed defensive end Ethan Hemer. Taking Johnson’s space, figuratively, is offensive lineman Adam Gettis.

The moves cost Derek Moye his spot on the practice squad and also forced 5th round pick Shaquille Richardson to the injured reserve list, ending his season before it began.

For Good or For Ill, Defensive Line Shake Up Coming

2nd round pick out of Notre Dame Stephon Tuitt should get his first start this week vs. the Texans.

As Cam Thomas has shown he is no Al Woods both fans and the press have been calling for Tuitt to get more time. Thomas however will start at nose tackle, but Dan McCullers will likely be activated this week as he is the lone nose tackle.

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Has the NFL Neutered the Steelers?

Prologue -December 7th, 2005

In just 3 weeks Pittsburgh has fallen from 7-2 to 7-5. Crucial losses to AFC contenders Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati rob the Steelers of their swagger. The final game ends egregiously, with Chad Johnson taunting the Heinz Field faithful by wiping his cleats with a stolen Terrible Towel.

The morning after the Post-Gazette speculates as to whether Jerome Bettis was second guessing his decision not to retire and, worse yet, fans learn that the Steelers could run the table yet fail to make the playoffs.

That Wednesday morning the Steelers return to the South Side to a surprise. Bill Cowher announces a practice in full pads. Long time veterans cannot remember a full pads practice this late in the season. But order it he does, and the Steelers go on an 8 game winning streak that ends on the podium in Detroit at Super Bowl XL….

Does This Impact the Steelers?

Ask Mike Tomlin how this affects the Steelers and he’d likely dismiss any impact, pleading lack of concern, as long as the rules apply to everyone….

Sounds like common sense, but the Steelers, more than many teams, have established a foundation in being physical.

The new CBA between the owners and the NFLPA stipulates that during the 17-week regular season, teams are only permitted a maximum of 14 padded practices. Moreover, coaches can practice in pads 11 times during the first 11 weeks with a single two-padded practice permitted once during that span.

During the final six weeks of the season, only 3 padded practices are permitted.

Those are the restrictions. How might they be impacting the Steelers?

Neal Coolong, of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTWC) offered this assessment in a personal email following the Trashing in Texas.

The direction of this game is becoming an absolute joke. We are [explicative] year because we cannot practice with pads on, and our defenders are so freaked out about getting fined every game they aren’t hitting. Add that with the lack of practice time on the things, you know, you DO IN THE GAME YOU’RE PLAYING, you have a weak team that [sic] supposed to be physical.

In other words, they’ve Steeler-proofed the NFL.

Look at that screen play [vs. the Texans] on third and long in a must-stop situation for Pittsburgh’s defense. Polamalu doesn’t want to hit Foster the way he’s supposed to be hit, because that involves the helmet and could lead him to a penalty, or another fine. Instead, he literally jumps on top of him and lets gravity do the rest.

Pittsburgh is facing a running concept they hadn’t seen much of, and they can’t practice in pads to truly replicate what it feels like in the trenches when guys are cutting you. Because of that, every team is doing it to them, and they can’t keep up…. Their practice time in pads has been reduced 200 percent, and the physical defenses (Pittsburgh, Jets, and yes, the Patriots).

Our offensive line is in the same position. When will you get to know a person better, when you spend a day with them or when you exchange instant messages? Not being in pads and hitting their opponents during the week hinders their ability to learn each other’s tendencies and work together on their weaknesses. They could last year, which is why they kind of held up despite all the injuries. Same amount of injuries, most of the same guys, completely different results.

Neal’s logic flows flawlessly and he makes quite a compelling argument. But as Yoda might say “Reality not always does coherent logic add up to.” Aristotle argued that if you drop two objects the heavier one will fall to earth first. It made so much sense that no one thought to challenge him until Gallieo tested it from the Tower of Pisa and discovered Aristotle was wrong….

Neal was hardly the first fellow member of the blogging community to comment about the dramatic reduction of physical contact in NFL practices, so I thought it best to bounce his observations off of someone who has been watching the Steelers practice for decades. In his weekly PG Plus chat of two weeks ago this was how Gerry Dulac responded:

Clearly Dulac doesn’t think new rules on contact in practice are an issue. I don’t want to wade too much into a shadow debate between a friend and a serious journalist whom I respect. At this point Steel Curtain Rising will lay both issues out and comment that this is a story that will continue to develop.

The issue of how teams coach their players to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits is another issue.

The ironic thing about this is that after the Texans game Mike Tomlin reportedly ordered is two-pad practice and the Steelers rebounded with their best and most physical game of the year by far vs. the Titans.


The issue of the lack of contact was discussed on CBS both before and after the game. The exact flow of the conversation escapes memory, but Bill Cowher clearly said that were he still coaching, he’d want an extra padded practice in his back pocket.

One can imagine he would, if for no other reason than his famous full-pads December practice that sparked his Super Bowl run wouldn’t be possible in 2011.

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Watch Tower: The Story Behind Max Starks Signing, Running Game, Woodley

It has been anything but a slow news week for Steelers Nation in light of the Thrashing in Texas giving the Watch Tower plenty to focus its bright lights upon.

A Stark Reminder

The biggest news of course was the return of left tackle Max Starks. Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette get kudos for breaking the news, or at the very least he got his story that the Steelers were “close” to resigning Max Starks up before any of the other major competitor sites did. Good for your Gerry.

The story then took a couple of complicated twists.

During his PG Plus chat Dulac did his best to put the Stark into context, first explaining:

No, nor do they think he is the answer. But they need some players in their offensive line who know what they’re doing, and Chris Scott was too young and Jamon Meredith is too new.

The questions, of course kept coming, to which Dulac clarified:

Well, I expect to see him uniform on Sunday, but only as an extra lineman. And the reason he will likely dress is because LT Jonathan Scott is not fully recovered from his ankle injury, even though he will likely start. Otherwise, Starks faces the very real possibility of being one of the two O-linemen who typically sits out each game. [Emphasis Added]

All of that made sense. After all, the Steelers just a week ago had committed themselves to playing with the men they had.

A short time later, however, Ed Bouchette dropped a bomb on PG Plus, revealing that Max Starks had taken snaps with the first team. Of course now the word is that Starks will likely start.

The football element of this – that someone could come off of the street after 11 months of inactivity to start an NFL game speaks for itself. But it also calls into question who was feeding Dulac this information about Starks role and why he seemed so sure of it.

Running with the Colts

The Steelers inability to run the ball (not to mention stop the run) has been at issue all season. A little tid-bit came to light after the Colts game, when Ed Bouchette revealed:

One source on the team said the run calls against the Colts looked nothing like the ones they practiced the week leading up to the game.

The curious part of this is the “one source on the team.” Enquiring minds of course want to know “who.” Of course we won’t find out now. But this is the job of the beat writer – to find out what is happening behind the scenes.

Its way too early to make too much of this kind of a “leak.” It could be that the offensive staff simply shift its game plan based on the looks the Colts defense gave it.

However, we know that, in contrast to his first few season, Mike Tomlin has been less shy about overruling his offensive staff. In fact, Bruce Arians almost decided to leave because of it.

Again, this might mean nothing. But if the Steelers fortunes do not improve it will be interesting to see if anonymous sources releasing similar pieces of news.

Laying the Wood on Woodley

This was not a good week for LaMarr Woodley. He looked stone footed against the Texans and easily had his worse game in a season where he’s done nothing to justify his status as the highest paid player in defensive history.

The first to take aim was Behind the Steel Curtain’s Michael Bean (full disclosure, the Watch Tower’s alter ego also writes for BTSC), who devoted an entire post to critiquing Woodley’s performance against the Texans.

Bean got company, although that was a little slow in coming. As mentioned here before, Steel Mill Blog’s column “After Further Review” on the Tribune-Review is one of the best we features out there.

What was curious was that none of the Tribune Review’s writers updated the blog with any new content for several days after the game.

However, when “After Further Review” did get published, it spared no quarter in going after Woodley, pointing out that in spite of the fact that Woodley failed to draw double blockers during the Texans game, number 56 was regularly out of position and otherwise getting overpowered or shown up.

Old and Slow?

There’s been a lot going on, but it does seem that some of the media have been a little slow to the punch. News of James Harrison’s injury didn’t become public until Mike Tomlin announced it.

Undoubtedly, that makes Tomlin happy, but the Steelers losing James Harrison for a month is a pretty big story.

Ditto the news that Casey Hampton will not play. That may have been mentioned, but was certainly not discussed as a serious possibility early in the week.

Should the Turk Have Cometh….?

Finally, 2-2 is not at all too early to begin the “what went wrong” columns. Bob Smizik entertained the criticism that the Steelers perhaps got too sentimental in their personnel decision making, likening it to the situation in the late ‘70’s or early ‘80s.

He then mentiones a few players whom he things the Steelers should have parted ways with (James Farrior and Aaron Smith.)

Both suggestions are plausible, but it is a little too over simplistic to suggest that both men should have been cut in training camp, unless he has two other players that the Steelers either let go or passed on whom he thinks should have taken their places.

Smizik has never been a Watch Tower favorite (dating back to the late ‘80s, when the Watch Tower read him on weekend trips to Grandma’s house), but this column does provide readers with good food for thought.

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