HOUSTON - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Matt Schaub #8 of the Houston Texans calls out a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Reliant Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 17-10. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
God bless today's newspaperman/woman. No way this site could be as active and engaging as it is without them. There's at least one prominent site that would love to believe that it 'breaks' news (I don't need to name names do I???), but the reality of it is that even in today's age of democratized communication, the beat reporter still is an invaluable lifeline to the pulse of the team.
Which is why it's kind of ironic, at least in my opinion, that the same guys on the beat so often write incredible simplistic summaries of the games themselves. That's probably a product of word count restrictions and deadlines. It might also be that some editors and columnists fall in the trap of thinking that big and bold editorializing sells when mixed in with good old fashioned reporting. Who knows, but it'd be nice to not have to read what's essentially a W-A-V-E worthy fanpost summary of the game from the reporters we so religiously rely on for the daily nuanced and diligent reporting.
So even though I'm unable to write with that same knowledgeable access, I'd at least like to throw out ten points from the Steelers 17-10 loss to the Texans that aren't included in much of the hysterical black-and-white narratives surrounding this team and its chances in 2011.
Let's get to them. In no particular order, here's ten....
- Great game by Curtis Brown. You might not have even noticed him on Sunday, but the third-round rookie out of Texas was in on three special teams tackles, including one where he forced a fumble that the Texans were unfortunately able to recover. Brown's been doing some real nice things on coverage units this past few weeks. He's gotten down the field quickly, taken nice angles to the ball after showing discipline and staying in his lane, and shown a bit of toughness in how he's wrapped up and hit returners. Look out for this kid. He's going to be a player on defense. May not be this year, but the time is coming. You can tell he's a gamer.
- Everyone is so preoccupied with bashing the play of the offensive tackles, that nobody seems to be paying much attention to the equally, if not, worse play of the interior of the line. I can say with less certainty right now that Ramon Foster played poorly, but I can say unequivocally that Chris Kemoeatu was awful, especially in the first half. Even if the tape does show that Foster was equally bad, who cares. Again, all the chatter is about the play of the tackles, but I think if there's criticism to be levied at the front office, it's for continuing to go to battle with a guy that's continually failed to take that next step forward and play at a high level consistently. This is year seven for Kemoeatu. I don't think any magic light is ever going to go on.
- Staying in the interior of the line -- something's not quite right with Maurkice Pouncey. Or at least that's what I'd like to believe. After dominating as a rookie, Pouncey has only played so-so through the first four games of his sophomore season. I know he's been dealing with ankle pain; perhaps more so than we all realize.
- I think it might behoove the Steelers to simplify things in the passing game and look to Heath Miller and Hines Ward more often on quick-hitting stuff, but when there's actually enough time for a play to materialize, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are sure making some nice connections down the field. Brown is silky smooth with his footwork, and he's a supremely gifted pass-catcher with his hands. Again, not sure it's in our best interest for him to be targeted so often, at least not while the line is playing so shakily, but on those plays when execution is possible, Brown and Ben are doing some nice work. The second-year WR had five more catches for 67 yards in a losing effort on Sunday.
- Yes we're frustrated by the defense's inability to contain the run like we're used to seeing, but at the end of the day, I think you have to conclude that Dick LeBeau's unit played fairly well. That's a decent Houston Texans offense that they limited to 17 points and 318 yards of total offense. 115 of those yards came on the first drive, and another 41 came on a fourth quarter TD run that shouldn't have gone for even half that many yards. All of that counted, of course, but that still leaves a lot of plays where the Steelers were able to stifle the competent Texans offense. More on this later.
- No word just yet on the injury to Aaron Smith, but like Big Ben, Smith was in a walking boot after Sunday's loss. I don't want to play team doctor or make unfounded guesses, but I'll just say that it's possible that we have seen Aaron Smith plays his last down of football with the Pittsburgh Steelers, thus ending his underrated career in the National Football League. Hell, he could be back next week. I have no information you do not have at this time. But for obvious reasons, if Smith's foot injury looks like it needs more than just a week or so to recover fully, it could mean a trip to Injured Reserve and a de facto end to a remarkable career. Let's hope I'm wrong.
- Trai Essex must not start at left tackle again in 2011. If Marcus Gilbert can play, put him there. There is zero upside in playing Essex at LT at this stage in the game. He's neither better than any other candidate, and perhaps more importantly, you're not figuring out what you have in other options by playing the veteran Essex at the all-important position. Hopefully Jonathan Scott comes back healthy and plays like he did down the stretch of 2010. But if that doesn't happen or if he were to get hurt again, I'd just assume the Steelers throw Trevis Tuner in there and see what happens. Chances are he'd get lit up. But maybe not. If he were to fail miserably, so be it, there's Essex ready to come in off the bench in a moment's notice like he's done for much of his career. I know that's no way to build continuity, but I guess I'd just say that when the ceiling is so limited like it is with Essex, why not roll the dice and see if you have a diamond in the rough lurking somewhere on your practice squad? You can always revert back to the more familiar backup plan if things don't pan out.
- Were the Steelers lucky that the Texans committed a number of dumb penalties on what otherwise would have been game-changing plays? Sure. But that doesn't mean they weren't infractions by the Texans. Replays showed in every instance that a foul was committed. Not all of them were the catalyst for big plays that were called back, but it's impossible to argue that all but perhaps one of the flags were justified.
- I mention that partly because I wanted to mention just how big Pouncey's late-hit 15-yard penalty was near the end of the first half. The Steelers should have had the ball at the 6 yard line; instead they were backed up just outside their 20 and ultimately had to settle for a Shaun Suisham FG attempt. Sushi had his kick blocked. Instead of a likely 7 points, the Steelers walk away with 0 and head into half still down 10-0. Dumb, dumb penalty by Pouncey there.
- Last but not least, I tip my cap to the Texans. They made some bone-headed penalties at just the wrong time, but they were pretty darn impressive Sunday afternoon. Yes the Steelers line played poorly, but don't discount how well the Texans front-seven got off the ball. They were explosive in their first step, timed the snap count well, and showed no signs of wearing down as the game went on. It's lazy to say, 'oh, it's the Texans, a mediocre team.' They ain't mediocre. That's a good football team right now. The Steelers' ceiling is higher though, that's the good news. But for now, they're a better team. And despite all of Pittsburgh's issues right now, there's not too many teams across the league that can say that. We'll hopefully find that out this next three weeks against Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona.