Re-Focused – Steelers @ Texans, Week 4

| October 4, 2011

The Houston Texans tried desperately to shoot themselves in the foot and throw this game away, but in spite of their best efforts to wipe their scores off the board they held on and got their first signature victory for 2011 over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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The Texans were able to run almost at will on the Steelers’ vaunted front seven with Arian Foster looking like he’d never been away. The defense, with help from the Steelers’ offensive line, was able to pressure Ben Roethlisberger into mistakes and, with no running game of any great note, Pittsburgh didn’t have the firepower to out-duel the Texans’ offense which had an off day in scoring terms.
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The questions now become … can the Texans build on this win? Does the return of Arian Foster mean big things for the Texans? Or are the Steelers simply not a team to threaten this season and this again gives us a false impression of where the Texans stand?
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Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
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1. Helpless in the pocket
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As if he hadn’t had enough trouble with Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts’ defense last week, Ben Roethlisberger was without his starting left tackle on Sunday against the Texans and was left exposed against another aggressive pass rushing defense. None of his offensive linemen graded positively in this game and, as a unit, they surrendered four sacks, a hit, and 15 pressures. It looked at times like Roethlisberger could protect himself better than his offensive line could. On one sack surrendered by Marcus Gilbert at 6:09 in the fourth quarter, it took Mario Williams longer to take down Roethlisberger than it did for him to tear past Gilbert into the backfield. As has become so typical, this Steelers’ offensive line was beaten inside, outside, and often simply manhandled. Ben Roethlisberger can “look after himself” but there comes a time where this line simply needs to step up and look like they belong in the NFL. They looked completely outmatched against the Texans and didn’t give Roethlisberger a chance.
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2. Trouble in the middle
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There are certain things you can always rely on; death, taxes and a strong game from whoever steps on the field at inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the Texans, this game was like finding that rebate on your tax return as, for whatever reason, the Steelers’ trio of ILBs simply didn’t show up to play. James Farrior (-3.8) continued his disappointing start to the season, registering his worst regular season game since Week 12 2009. Lawrence Timmons (-1.4 in run D) registered his second straight week as a negatively graded run defender – again showing poor angles in run defense and generally not looking like the athlete he showed himself to be last season while chasing down plays and beating blocks. To compound that, Larry Foote (-1.8) provided little relief off of the bench. The fact that the Steelers’ re-jigged defensive line isn’t clicking just yet won’t be helping matters but these sorts of performances from the ILB group are completely atypical and will be a concern to Dick LeBeau and the Pittsburgh defensive staff.
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3. Lack of Pressure
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James Harrison faced Duane Brown in Brown’s first career game back in 2008 at Heinz Field and in Brown’s own words leading up to the game, Harrison “abused” him. Three years later the tables were turned, by not only Brown but the entire Texans’ offensive line as they used their dominance in the running game to wear down and nullify the aggressive Steelers’ pass rush. When Harrison went out due to injury Jason Worlids couldn’t pick up the slack. Back in that 2008 game, the Steelers registered six sacks, two hits and 12 pressures. This time around they managed only one hit and eight pressures. I believe that’s what you call raising your game.
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Houston – Three Performances of Note
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1. Bringing the heat
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In comparison to the 2008 meeting between these teams, the tables were almost perfectly turned in this game. The Steelers registered twenty total pressures (6 SK, 2 H, 12P) in that last meeting and this time around at Reliant Stadium, the Texans bettered it. Houston’s pass rushers got to Roethlisberger 27 times! Registering six sacks, three hits and 18 pressures, limiting Roethlisberger’s ability to look down the field on a consistent basis and break the Houston secondary. Five Houston defenders registered three or more total pressures: JJ Watt (1 sack, 2 pressures), Antonio Smith (1 sack, 5 pressures), Mario Williams (2 sacks, 4 pressures), Brian Cushing (1 hit, 3 pressures) and Connor Barwin (1 sack, 1 hit, 3 pressures). Roethlisberger simply didn’t have a “safe zone” in the pocket this week.
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2. Anchoring the middle
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Chris Myers started Week 1 with a bang but has sustained his high level of performance throughout so far and, with a full season at this level, will well deserve to be counted alongside Nick Mangold as absolutely the best center in the NFL. Whether he was blocking Casey Hampton, one of the Steelers’ defensive ends, or working to the second level on their linebackers, Myers was in control. Unlike Mangold, he doesn’t have a long list of plays where he destroys the man across from him but his consistency this season is extraordinary. Myers has only been downgraded for 12 plays all season long, two of those being penalties. Myers is staking an early claim to be this year’s All-Pro center.
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3. Back with a bang
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In our preview of this game, we highlighted getting Arian Foster on track as a key, a task that wouldn’t be simple. Well, it may not have been simple to execute but the results suggest otherwise. His stat line was an extraordinary one against a Steelers defense and the consistency of his running in his first outing of the 2011 season was extremely impressive. Foster was graded positively for 14 of his 30 carries and was often like a hot knife through butter, finding seams and making players miss for big gains. His touchdown run at 12:12 of the fourth quarter was the crowning glory of his individual – and the team’s – performance. As the line got the Steelers defense over-pursuing to the left, Foster was able to cut back and find a crease to the right, taking a perfect angle to split the pursuit of Troy Polamalu and Lamarr Woodley before breaking for the endzone andthe game winning score.
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Game Notes

●  Danieal Manning, Glover Quin and Jonathan Joseph were the only Texans to play all 63 defensive snaps.

●  The Steelers attempted only one rush to the left side of the line in this game, a carry for 2 yards off middle left by Isaac Redman.

●  Matt Schaub only attempted one pass outside of the numbers to the right side of the field; an incompletion aimed more than 20 yards down the field.
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PFF Game Ball

Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston Texans

With all the talk of JJ Watt, Mario Williams and Antonio Smith; Connor Barwin raised his hand as the forgotten man of the Texans’ defense this week. The former Cincinnati Bearcat registered one sack, one hit and three pressures of Ben Roethlisberger.
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