Note: So it turns out I don't always have time to post two of these things per week, so I'll try for a mid-week, look-back-preview post each week.
We all watch games and second-guess the coach. It happens with Mike Tomlin, it happened with Bill Cowher and I would bet it happened a lot with Chuck Noll, even in the seventies when he was racking up Lombardis.
The goal with this (hopefully) weekly post is simply to look at the state of the team following one game and make hypothetical, ethereal changes for the following week.
There's a lot of material this week.
Last week, the Steelers had seven offensive linemen dressed, as is usual under Tomlin. In 2010, the unit went through six different starting configurations on the offensive front. This year, we're aleady looking to see our fourth different configuration, thanks to Jonathan Scott's injured leg.
This one is simple: dress another lineman.
The problem is deciding where you take away a player to add a lineman. At this point, it's a tough call because the team is already lean at some positions (tight end, quarterback) and has injuries at others (cornerback). It would be hard to justify taking away another linebacker thanks to James Harrison still healing from back surgeries. But the sacrifice needs to be made somewhere, and I would have to look toward the corner, at least for one week to see how it plays out.
Enter Stage Left, Mr. Gilbert
I've made the point here several times already, but it bears repeating: Marcus Gilbert should be starting at left tackle. Besides Markice Pouncey, Gilbert is the best offensive lineman on the team. And, of all the tackles, he is the one most suited physically for the position. Left tackle requires a greater degree of athleticism and fast footwork, which Gilbert has. Jonathan Scott? Not so much. It's not that Scott is a bad player; it's just that he isn't an NFL left tackle. I believe he would actually excel at right tackle, given his size. Moving in a straight line, Scott is an acceptable starter. Blocking speed rushers is a different story, one that so far this year Scott isn't reading. He's resorted to obvious holds more than once to try to slow down rushers -- and that's no way to win ball games.
Go Deep, Go Deeper, Go Deeper Still
Mike Wallace is poised to tie the NFL record of seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games this week. Last week, against a mediocre pass defense, Wallace amassed 144 yards on five catches, including an 81-yard touchdown in the first half, putting his team up 10-0. That catch is the Mike Wallace we are used to, but it's the other four catches that show he has become a complete, well-rounded receiver, averaging around 16 yards per on shorter routes and even a few across the middle.
But one of the benefits of that is that it actually opens him up for the deep ball. His routes are crisp, as are his fakes. Because he is now a threat on shallow routes, too, a simple fake could be the key to making the safety jump toward the line and putting him off-balance and unable to recover before Wallace blows by him for the deep ball.
Wallace is clearly Ben Roethlisberger's new favorite target, and he's being rewarded with numbers that actually have him on pace for his once-unbelievable goal of 2,000 yards -- more than 150 more than the already outrageous record held by Jerry Rice.
If there was ever a time to test the quality of their long-distance connection, it's now. Houston's pass defense has been eaten alive, picked apart surgically by Drew Brees just one week ago. I say go deep early, and go deep often.
Don't stray from the 3-4 this week, despite the presence of Andre Johnson. I would be less afraid of him than I would be of a rested Arian Foster running behind Houston's massive offensive line. The Texans will most definitely try to assert their running game, and backing off the line of scrimmage to account for one receiver can have devastating effects, especially considering what Joseph Addai and Ray Rice have already done against a run defense that just one season ago was approaching greatness with one of the best run-defense numbers achieved since the NFL-AFL merger. If these guys play together the way they did in 2010, not even Bananas Foster is going to have success. And that means Matt Schaub will have to win the game on his own. I'd take those odds.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Texans 20
Call me crazy, but I think we saw more cohesiveness on the defense than we had the first two weeks, one Curtis Painter-led drive aside. Troy looked like Troy, and Deebo is almost back to 100 percent. That's bad news for opposing teams.