The Steelers dominated the second quarter of their week 3 matchup with the Houston Texans, scoring two touchdown drives to take the lead, only to see Deshaun Watson drive the Texans down the field to retake the lead. After kneeling down with 24 seconds and two time outs remaining, Steelers fans may have been upset to see the Steelers walk off the field trailing instead of fighting for another chance to score.
While we may question the decision there, trading quick scores with the Texans wasn’t the way to win the game, and the Steelers showed that in the second half. They started the 3rd quarter with a 12 play, 5 minute drive for a field goal, and after a few 3 and outs, pulled off another 12 play drive, this time covering over 7 minutes and ending with a touchdown to take the lead for good.
What stood out to me in those two second half scoring drives is how many different players touched the ball, and further, made key plays to keep the drives going and put points on the board.
3rd quarter, 14:53. Anthony McFarland is the running back.
Anthony McFarland opened the second half for the Steelers with this 11 yard run. McFarland already had a 20 yard run in the first half, and would gain 49 yards from scrimmage for the game. The Steelers fed McFarland three straight times following this play, but ended up 1 yard short on 4th down. The Steelers turned to their bell cow back to extend the drive.
3rd quarter, 12:26. James Conner is the running back.
James Conner came in and picked up a 4th down conversion to keep the Steelers offense rolling and the Houston Texans offense on the sideline.
3rd quarter, 11:43. James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.
The Steelers run a similar route combo as they did in week 1 when James Washington scored a touchdown. this time Washington’s defender is behind the play already so the screen doesn’t work like it did in week 1, but Washington still makes a tough catch to put the Steelers offense in short yardage on second down. Take a better look at the catch.
James Washington ended the game with 5 receptions for only 36 yards, but he kept the Steelers offense moving by gaining tough yards on a day when chunk plays weren’t happening.
3rd quarter, 10:57. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.
Despite 7 yards on first down and a Ben Roethlisberger scramble that looked like it was for a first down, the Steelers were inches short on their second 4th down of the game when this happened.
The cornerback decides to defend Claypool’s back with his shoulder, and the Steelers have another first down on an easy call for the referee. It was the right decision by the defender too, because if he lets Claypool make that turn uninterrupted it’s likely a touchdown.
The Steelers stalled after this play and settle for a field goal. But the Steelers had spent 5 minutes of clock, and far more than that in real time on the field, moving the ball and squelching the Texans momentum from the first half. It wasn’t easy, the Steelers were 0-3 on third downs on that drive alone, converting two 4th downs before settling for a field goal on the third 4th down play of the drive.
The drive ended with Houston clinging to a 1 point lead. The Steelers defense would respond to a hard fought field goal drive by their offense by forcing punts on the next two Texan drives, before an interception by Mike Hilton put the Steelers on their own 21 yard line, driven by the knowledge that they had scored on every drive started by the Steelers defense forcing a turnover this season.
4th quarter, 12:00. Eric Ebron is the receiver to the top of the screen.
Facing 3rd and 5 and the specter of another 3 and out hanging over the offense, Ben Roethlisberger throws a dart to his big free agent tight end. While the throw was great, the route Eric Ebron ran was pretty good too.
Eric Ebron led the Steelers with 5 receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. Five Steelers caught multiple passes in week 3, and 6 different Steelers would end with at least 20 receiving yards. In a game where no receiver dominated, Eric Ebron made multiple big plays to lead the way. It can’t mean anything but good for the Steelers offense to see Ebron developing chemistry with his quarterback.
Four plays later the Steelers were facing yet another 3rd down, needing 1 yard with James Conner on the sideline after he got banged up a bit a few plays earlier.
4th quarter, 9:28. Benny Snell is the running back.
Benny Snell struggled a bit in week 3, rushing for only 11 yards on 7 carries in a week his coach challenged him over his two fumbles in two weeks. Snell kept control of the football, and also ran through the Texans run stuffer Zach Cunningham (#41, LB to the bottom of the screen) on this run to pick up another first down for the Steelers.
4th quarter, 7:56. Vance McDonald is lined up second from the bottom on the line.
Three plays after Benny Snell converted a tough third down run the Steelers have a third and 2. They convert this one with a pass to Vance McDonald who greatly improved on the 2 catches for 6 yards he had in the first two games with 3 catches and 35 yards on 3 targets against the Texans.
The Steelers were in the red zone, easily within Chris Boswell’s range, so why not play it safe and make sure you come out with the lead? So they handed the ball to James Conner, and on 2nd and 6 he took kicking out of the equation.
4th quarter, 6:24. James Conner is the running back.
A number of good blocks, including one by JuJu Smith-Schuster lead Conner straight into the end zone. Conner was the #1 weapon of the game, recording 149 yards from scrimmage. Eric Ebron’s 52 yards ranked second.
4th quarter, 6:24, 2pt conversion attempt. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot receiver to the bottom of the screen.
A fitting end to a tough drive, JuJu Smith-Schuster makes a tough catch to put the Steelers up 7 points. Smith-Schuster isn’t lighting the world on fire statistically, but he sets the tone for this tough, hard working and very deep group of weapons. With 17 catches on 19 targets for160 yards and 3 touchdowns in three weeks he is well short of the 243 yards he had after week 3 of 2019. But Smith-Schuster isn’t pouting, yelling at his quarterback or throwing water coolers, instead he’s making key blocks, and diving into a pile of opposing players for a fumble recovery. Whether or not he is a “True Number 1 receiver” (whatever that means) he is a leader on this offense, and he’s making plays.
Eight players making key contributions on two drives is pretty amazing, and when you consider that Derek Watt and Diontae Johnson were already out of the game at this point, the only player that was available that didn’t make this film room was Jaylen Samuels.
The Steelers don’t have the star power they did when they boasted the “Young Money Crew” or the “Killer B’s,” but what they have now is a lot of young players with the talent to make a difference, and a quarterback who can get the ball to the right player at the right time. It should be an interesting season watching this offense grow and evolve.