Pittsburgh have looked equal parts sublime and concerning over the first two weeks of the season. The pass rush element of the defense has been off the charts, but there have been leaks in the coverage and costly mistakes with penalties. Against the Giants and the Broncos, two obviously overmatched teams, the Steelers managed to make it look difficult in the fourth quarter.
Houston have been unconvincing. Uneven and sometimes flat out poor offensive line play has forced Deshaun Watson to run for his life on most of his dropbacks. Will Fuller pulled a disappearing act in week two and the other WR’s didn’t step up to fill that target void. David Johnson was a week one highlight, but stalled in week two.
Combine these two teams and you end up with what we were served; a win for Pittsburgh that allowed Houston a chance to come back in the final stages.
Final – HOU 20 – 28 PIT
Pittsburgh’s receiver depth shines and Watson does what he can
1. Pittsburgh has an abundance of pass catching talent
After losing main target Diontae Johnson to a possible concussion early, there were targets to go around for the Pittsburgh Steelers receiving corps and they responded admirably.
James Washington and Eric Ebron both corralled 5/7 targets, with the latter catching a dime from Ben Roethlisberger in the back corner of the end zone. Chase Claypool’s snap count went through the roof, lining up on 61 offensive plays – outsnapping both JuJu and Washington. He only brought in one catch on four targets, but the rookie from Notre Dame is earning his playing time and looks from Roethlisberger.
Vance McDonald looked like the “Vanimal” from years past, bulldozing his way through the Houston linebacking corps with ease.
2. The Texans offensive line is still a problem
Watson is an undeniably talented signal caller, who is capable of putting the team on his back and winning games. But the Texans MUST find a way to protect the young QB. He still managed to throw for 264 yards and two TD’s, bring Randall Cobb into the fold alongside Fuller and Stills, but this is a reflection of his talent, not the team’s success.
The Pittsburgh Steelers front seven sacked Watson five times and hit him 12 times. They also shut down David Johnson, who finished with 13 attempts for 23 yards and a TD. There was no room to operate for any version of DJ and despite his fantasy score, he was a non factor.
Granted, the Steelers are blitzing more than any other team in the league and have all pro T.J. Watt coupled with 2019 breakout star Bud Dupree and sacks from the secondary as well, but without protection, this team is going to struggle to win games.
3. The Steelers clean up mistakes
Last week I bemoaned the fact that Pittsburgh gave up ten penalties, consistently allowing the opponent first downs through penalty yardage.
This week, Pittsburgh cleaned up those mistakes. Two penalties for 14 yards meant the silly mistakes and poor calls from officials that allowed the Broncos to keep it close were non existent.
Unfortunately, this means there should be more concern around the secondary and in particular the work of the slot corners in coverage. Hilton allowed Randall Cobb to turn him inside out on a brilliantly run route and there were also miscommunications. Worth keeping track of as we move into week four.
This match up had some boom or bust prospects that either won or lost your week with their contributions. Let’s do a quick roundup of the notable performances of your starting players on each team (using standard PPR scoring):
- Ben Roethlisberger – 23/36 – 237 yards – 2 TD’s – 19.18 points
- James Conner – 18 for 109 yards – 1 TD, 4/5 – 40 yards – 24.90 points
- JuJu Smith-Schuster – 4/5 – 43 yards – 1 TD – 16.30 points
- Eric Ebron – 5/7 – 52 yards – 1 TD – 16.20 points
- Deshaun Watson – 19/27 – 264 yards – 2 TD/1 INT – 18.06 points
- David Johnson – 13 for 23 yards – 1 TD, 2/3 – 23 yards – 12.60 points
- Randall Cobb – 4/4 – 95 yards – 1 TD – 19.50 points
- Will Fuller – 4/5 – 54 yards – 1 TD – 15.40 points
There were a couple of interesting stat lines that were fantasy relevant, but real life disappointing for the Texans, and the Pittsburgh Steelers TE’s emerged after two weeks of nothing. Here’s a quick run down:
- DJ struggled to find space and it was lucky for those who started him that he found paydirt.
- Fuller bounced back in a big way from his big 0 in week two and caught a brilliant TD in the front corner of the endzone to justify his fantasy managers faith.
- Eric Ebron showed the skills that led him to a 13 TD season for the Colts, skying for a dart from Big Ben – did you start him? I didn’t think so…
- James Conner once again produced a statline that echoes the very best backs in the leagues, while managing to look distinctly average. It’s a good problem for Pittsburgh to have, but concerning for his long term future at the ball club.
Next up: the Tennessee Titans…maybe.
Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.