NFL 2011: 5 Observations from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans Game
The Houston Texans put a hurting on the Pittsburgh Steelers ... in the first half. They held on for dear life to win it in the second half. This game wasn't a shootout and it really wasn't a defensive slug-fest either.
The Texans got a major confidence boost by beating one of the more dominant teams in the AFC over the last decade. The Steelers got another wake-up call. Now what will they do to correct their deficiencies is a different story.
Regardless, both teams have some things to work on; probably a lot of things to work on for the Steelers.
Wade Phillips Has Created a Scary Defense in Houston
Wade Phillips may not have been a great head coach, but as a defensive coordinator he is amazing. Many questioned when the Texans decided to switch to a 3-4 defense during the offseason.
Mario Williams was considered too big to play as a rush linebacker and yet he has looked like a monster in Phillips' system.
DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing are extremely solid in the middle and Connor Barwin is a capable starter on the other side of Williams; Brooks Reid is waiting in the wings.
J.J. Watt was easily worthy of being selected as the 11th overall pick in this year's draft, but the true workhorse and most solid member of the defensive line is Antonio Smith. This is somewhat ironic since Antonio Smith had reservations about the switch to a 3-4 defense.
This unit is the reason the Texans are 3-1. Their highly potent offensive can put as many points up as they want but if they can't stop offenses they can't win. They have serious stopping power now.
The Steelers Have the Worst Offensive Line in the NFL
Last week after the Colts game I said that the Steelers might have the worst O-line in the NFL. There is no might about it; they are the worst offensive line in the NFL and one of the worst in a long time.
Seeing Ben Roethlisberger getting strip sacked is becoming far too regular. In the past, Big Ben has taken too many sacks because of his style of play and his attempt to extend the play. This is much different. It looks similar to Joey Harrington and David Carr getting less than three seconds in the pocket behind the Lions' and Texans' offensive lines, respectively.
Trai Essex, Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster held the door open for the Texans defense to bruise and batter Big Ben all day. Center Maurkice Pouncey and rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert looked like they were trying to protect Roethlisberger all by themselves.
The Steelers are sinking fast and a large part of the problem is this line. Something has to be done, but Mike Tomlin is usually too locked in to his roster to shake it up a quarter of the way through the season.
The Texans Are Paper Thin at the Offensive Skill Positions
Every Texans player, coach and fan held their breath when Andre Johnson was on the ground, after no contact, clutching his right knee. Andre Johnson has been a rock for the Texans since he was drafted out of Miami in 2003.
He has only missed 13 games in nine seasons; that sounds like a lot of games missed but really isn't if you consider the fact that Johnson has been the centerpiece of their offense for nine years.
Behind Johnson, the Texans only have Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones as receivers. Their explosive tight end Owen Daniels is their only other legitimate big playmaker.
The Texans' explosive backup running back Ben Tate suffered a groin injury which really hurts the Texans' depth at running back, considering Derrick Ward is already out with an ankle injury. If Arian Foster goes down again it's not going to be pretty.
Something Is Wrong with the Steelers Defense
It's easy to say the Steelers defense is old and slow but that's not necessarily why they are performing "poorly." They held the explosive Texans' offense to 17 points and nearly shut out the Texans in the second half if not for a huge run by Arian Foster.
Most Steelers fans are so used to seeing game-changing turnovers that the defense looks bad to them since they haven't made plays like that this season.
I'm not sure if it's the stricter rules enforcement, the lack of contact drills and OTA's or just a complacent attitude but something is most definitely wrong with the defense. It looks like they're waiting for one big turnover to get a fire started under them.
A pick six by Troy Polamalu or a forced fumble run back for a touchdown by James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley might get this group going.
Ben Roethlisberger Is in for a Long Season
Ben Roethlisberger is getting destroyed. Pieces of his body are being left on Heinz Field and NFL stadiums around America. Ben has always taken some battering but he is getting jacked up on every play.
Somehow his confidence doesn't seem to be shaking and that's one of the only positive things to be taken from the Steelers current situation. His receivers are dropping balls, his offensive line is getting ripped through like paper mache and his offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is trying to get him killed.
Despite the offensive line being horrifically bad, the Steelers offensive woes are not all their fault. Bruce Arians, for whatever reason, refuses to leave a back and/or a tight end back to help the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben is already looking at wearing a boot and has had scary hits on his knee twice. This does not bode well for him.
Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians have taken for granted that they have a quarterback who is able to take hits like that and still make plays. Joe Flacco or Matt Schaub would be dead with the kind of protection Ben is getting.