I have gone through the tape a few times now and am starting a 3rd time through to start charting, but I have enough info to give a more in-depth recap of what I saw Sunday against the Houston Texans. Below are my liner notes from the game.
The Texans opening drive set the tone for the whole game. The Steelers defensive line was blown off the ball and very few times did Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood or Casey Hampton stay squared to the line during the first few drives. Hampton seemed to be more concerned about being cut and chopped. Hood had the best game of all the lineman and that is not saying much. He was able to get some pressure albeit not a lot. Smith had a few run penetrations and his highlight film likely consisted of about 3 plays. Most of the day he was being pushed around until he left with a foot sprain. Rookie Cameron Heyward saw some time as well, but got hung up a few times inside. The Texans used their multiple tight ends to set the edges well. They did a good job in controlling James Harrison most of the game.
The linebacker play was really disturbing. Once again LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons were non-existent. Timmons had an early pass break up, but he and Woodley were having problems fighting off blocks in the running game and both did not do a good job tackling. Woodley took a bad angle on the Arian Foster touchdown run and when he tried to recover with his tackle he ended up wiping out Troy Polamalu in the process. Larry Foote and James Farrior were pretty bad as well inside. Both missed a few key tackles and took bad angles in the running game. Farrior was run away from on the long Owen Daniels reception on first down in the fourth quarter and the very next play was the Foster touchdown run. Both those plays came after the Texans converted a key 3rd down to Daniels from their own 19.
Polamalu and Ryan Clark led the defense in tackles. You never want to see both your safeties lead that stat. The secondary played well for the most part as Andre Johnson was the only Texans wide receiver to catch a pass. The Steelers caught a break when he left with his hamstring injury. The problem is quarterback Matt Schaub only had to throw 21 times on the day and 10 of his 14 completions went to a tight end or a running back. They did not even try to go vertical much as there was no real need to the way they were running the ball.
The Steelers offensive line remains a mess and was beaten off the snap most of the game. The run blocking had it\'s moments in the second half as Isaac Redman was able to get a few nice runs between the tackles. Perhaps the best run came on the toss to the right that Rashard Mendenhall took in for the score. David Johnson did a good job out on the edge with a block that made it happen. That was about it though for Johnson on the day. Roethlisberger was under pressure most of the day and sacked 5 times. It very easily could have been 8 times. Maybe more. Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph did a good job holding Mike Wallace pretty much in check. Wallace caught all 4 balls thrown his way. The taunting penalty was pretty much BS though. Players jaw all game at each other and if that is what drew the flag, that is sad. Roethlisberger did complete a few nice back shoulder throws on the day to Antonio Brown. He also missed him on what looked like an easy touchdown. Brown also missed a key hot read in the game and is making a habit of that this season. Emmanuel Sanders, Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery were pretty non existent as the Texans concentrated on taking away the middle of the field. The pressure was so heavy that Roethlisberger did not even have time for a few dump-offs.
I have yet to breakdown the offensive line yet, but it will not be pretty. The penalty that Maurkice Pouncey took late in the first half was stupid as the Steelers would have been 1st and 10 at the Texans 6. Instead the Steelers settled for a field goal attempt that was blocked and they were lucky the Texans were flagged for an illegal block on Daniel Sepulveda. The line had limited success with some inside trap blocking, but a few times Chris Kemoeatu got caught in the wash of a penetrating defensive lineman. This game will not be pretty grade wise once again. Trai Essex is not a left tackle, but we knew that headed into the game. Not pretty and Roethlisberger paid for it.
The bright spot once again was the punting of Sepulveda. He averaged 50.5 yards on 4 punts and had 1 inside the 20. It is never a good sign when you have to dig that deep for a bright spot. Some more special teams notes. I am not sure what Brown was thinking when he fair caught one of the punts at the 6. I am sure he will get an earful for that.
The Steelers failed to record a sack on Sunday and failed to create a turnover. On the season they have just 1 turnover and it came last week against the Colts. This better change quickly as the Steelers are now -10 in the turnover differential stat. Although the Steelers converted 42% of their 3rd downs, they allowed the Texans to convert 50% of theirs. The 5.4 yards per carry stat for the Steelers is a bit misleading, but a welcome sight. The game was never close as the scoreboard said either as the Texans committed 9 penalties on the day. Both sides of the ball have a lot of improvement to make and it looks like a few more players might be down with injuries next week against the Titans. Maybe even Roethlisberger who was seen in a boot and on crutches after the game.
If this game was a measuring stick, the Steelers came up real short. It is still early and 2-2 is not the death punch. The team needs to string a few wins together quickly.