Josh Shreckengost | High Top Sports
It's tough to be impartial about a team you've spent a lifetime rooting for and the Steelers are that team for yours truly. At no point during Pittsburgh's Week 3 home win over Houston did I feel that the game was in jeopardy, even after the Steelers coughed up a first half lead and were trailing 21-17 at the half. Why the blind overconfidence you may ask? Two reasons: Big Ben and the D.
During the first 30 minutes of the game, it looked as if Houston had the answer for Pittsburgh's vaunted defense as Deshaun Watson carved up the secondary to the tune of 14-of-18 passing for 203 yards and two first half touchdowns. Not only was Watson confident and efficient, he was hitting plays down the field as evidenced by his 28-yard TD strike to Randall Cobb.
Even more troubling was the fact that Watson was leading long drives and keeping Pittsburgh on the field. The scoring drive which ended in Cobb's TD catch went seven plays for 74 yards. A TD drive just before the half which ended with Will Fuller's 14-yard touchdown catch went for 75 yards in just five plays.
This week's three Big Play Bullet Points focus on why the Steelers -- a markedly better all-around team than the Texans -- were able to sleepwalk through the first half defensively and still come away with another conference win, upping their 2020 record to 3-0 in the process:
· The Tale of Two Halves for the D It's tough to find much good in what the Steelers' defense did in the first half against the Texans, but they were lights-out in the second half. Pittsburgh bottled up Watson and held him to just 62 yards on five completions in the final 30 minutes and forced an interception on a fourth down prayer. Mike Hilton led the team with eight tackles and picked off Watson late in the game. The Steelers added four sacks on the afternoon, adding to their league-leading total of 15 through three weeks of the 2020 season. T.J. Watt also hauled down Watson to give him 3.5 sacks on the year, second only to Dallas' Aldon Smith. Pittsburgh also contained the Texans' running game, limiting David Johnson to just 23 yards on 13 carries. Despite a first half rushing touchdown by Johnson, the Steelers also locked down Watson, who managed only five yards rushing. In total, Pittsburgh surrendered just 29 rushing yards to the Texans on 15 attempts. The 162 rushing yards the Steelers have allowed in 2020 are 38 better than the second place Seahawks and are the lowest allowed through the first three games of a season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. · Big Ben, again and again So many national media outlets keep saying that Ben Roethlisberger "might not be the quarterback he used to be" when describing the 17-year veteran's early season success after recovering from the elbow surgery which ended his 2019 season, but this is exactly the quarterback Roethlisberger used to be. Think back to the 2008 Super Bowl-winning Steelers and you'll see similarities in the numbers. Against the Texans, Roethlisberger -- despite losing Diontae Johnson to a concussion early in the game -- was able to spread the ball around to seven different receivers and was a calmly efficient 23-of-36 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger also led a clock-chewing touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a successful two-point conversion which put the Steelers up by seven points with just 6:24 left in the game. The Texans never threatened again and Big Ben added another win to his impressive career total. · FINALLY, James Conner James Conner has had a rough go of it since being named to the Pro Bowl following the 2018 season and the beginning of this year looked like it might be another lost campaign for the former Pitt star when he left the season opener against the New York Football Giants with an ankle injury. After breaking 100 yards against the Broncos thanks to a long run late in the game, Conner was still a question mark heading into Week 3 in terms of his overall health and his ability to sustain his production from the previous week. Conner finally looked like a true No. 1 back, running with power and purpose while racking up 109 yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries. More heartening was the fact that Conner and rookie Anthony McFarland each ripped off a 20-plus yard run, a statistical area where the Steelers have struggled in a big way since the departure of Le'Veon Bell. Conner and McFarland provided a nice mix against the Texans and both running backs benefitted from the other's success in the victory. McFarland made his NFL debut and flashed some of the speed he showed two years ago at Maryland when he had his best collegiate season and averaged 7.0 yards per carry on his six attempts. While it looks again as if Benny Snell may be the odd man out, the combo of Conner and McFarland could be a lethal weapon for the Steelers later in the season when the weather turns frigid. Make sure to check back every week after each Steelers game for Shreck’s Steelers Synopsis as Josh Shreckengost posts his musings, observations and opinions on the Black and Gold here at www.hightopsportsnetwork.com