After a two-game winning streak that jolted life back into the team and fanbase, the Steelers deflated against the Houston Texans on Sunday, dropping to .500 on the season with an ugly 30-6 loss. As always, there are some takeaways to be had. You can only say, “The Steelers are bad,” so many times before it gets old.
1. Change is needed
At what point during the Steeler game did you realize that you were in for a long, painful few hours of football?
For me, it was obvious very early.
The Steelers looked overwhelmed on offense, disinterested on defense, and thoroughly outsmarted when it came to coaching throughout all four quarters. The NFL is an entertainment industry, and the Steelers’ TV product is currently hopelessly boring and depressing. As much as you can point to the Steelers’ roster contributing to the loss, coaching was far and away the worst culprit. Pittsburgh undeniably had more talent on their side of the ball, but they were outmatched against Houston all game. Is this a call to fire Mike Tomlin? Not yet. But Matt Canada? It’s beyond time. And Teryl Austin and Pat Meyer should both be on a very, very hot seat.
Yes, this is an overreactions article drawing conclusions from a single game, but the issues the Steelers showed on Sunday have been a systemic part of the organization for years. For the past few seasons, there has been a glaring lack of fire, innovation, and creativity from the Steelers in a league where those qualities are a requirement for success. While the loss falls on the players’ shoulders to a certain extent, the core issues lie with the coaching and leadership of the team. Change is needed.
2. That’s not supposed to happen
The Texans offense entered the game against Pittsburgh with a rookie quarterback, a patchwork offensive line, and no true superstars among their skill players. On defense, the Steelers boasted one of the best, if not the best, edge rusher pairings in the NFL, a slew of veterans at linebacker and cornerback, and an All-Pro at safety. The result? The Texans put up 30 points with merciless efficiency and no turnovers. It was an absolute failure and underperformance on every level of the defense for the Steelers, and no matter how good CJ Stroud turns out to be, it still isn’t a valid excuse.
3. Questionable decisions
Let’s harp on the coaching some more. Mike Tomlin had the Steelers kick field goals during manageable fourth downs twice during the game. At both instances, the Texans had only scored 16 points. What’s 16-0? A two-possession game. What’s 16-3? A two-possession game. 16-6? You get the idea. I’ll concede that the first field goal attempt can be justified — sometimes it’s important just to get points on the board — but the second was inexcusable. The Steelers needed touchdowns to win.
Tomlin finally did have the Steelers go for it on a fourth-and-one later in the game. And Matt Canada’s playcall had the Steelers in shotgun formation, taking away any threat of a run or quarterback sneak. You know, the reasonable calls for that scenario. Canada’s play didn’t just backfire, either, but Kenny Pickett was injured in the process.
To add to the coaching troubles, it was clear that the Texans knew exactly what to expect from the Steelers on both sides of the ball all game. They had an answer to everything the Steelers threw at them. It was a shame to see Mike Tomlin and the entire Steelers’ staff get completely outmaneuvered by a rookie head coach.
4. An unsustainable winning formula
The Steelers’ defense has been a Jekyll and Hyde act of awful and elite all season. Why? Splash plays. The Pittsburgh defense has given up far too many yards through both the air and ground all year, but they’ve balanced it out with loads of interceptions, sacks, and even some defensive touchdowns. Against the Texans, they recorded none of the above, showing just how many flaws the defense has. As fun as the splash plays have been, they’re not a sustainable winning formula — Pittsburgh needs a fundamentally solid defense, not just an occasionally exciting one. They found that out on Sunday.
5. Feel better soon
Here’s hoping Kenny Pickett’s injury is nothing serious. For one, it’s always good to hope for players’ health. For another, Pickett is still undeniably the best quarterback on the Steelers’ roster. But another reason is that the Steelers really need to know if Kenny Pickett is “the guy” by the end of this year. If Pickett misses a lot of time this season the Steelers will be forced into quarterback limbo next year giving him one more shot at proving himself. That’s bad news for both the Steelers and Pickett.
As of right now, the Steelers are still 100% Pickett’s team, and he has 13 games left to prove that he’s franchise quarterback material while the team’s confidence is still behind him. If Pickett’s injury is season-ending, he’ll have to rehab just to play in the Steelers’ awful offense again next year, which is a career killer. This is a pivotal moment for both the Steelers and Kenny Pickett, and it would be the best for everyone involved if Pickett can remain healthy for it.
6. Winging it
To leave you all with one positive from a mostly negative game, let’s talk about Brad Wing’s punting performance in replacement of an injured Pressley Harvin. Wing didn’t look all-world, but for his first NFL action in six years, he looked more than up for the challenge. He averaged 47.6 yards a punt with great hangtime, landing one inside the 20-yard line along with one that should’ve been downed inside the 10 if gunner Miles Boykin had played the ball better. Wing also held down holder duties on the field goal unit admirably. He was one of the few Steelers who rose to the occasion on Sunday.
7. Odds and ends
- Minkah Fitzpatrick got hit with yet another questionable call on Sunday with a sketchy pass interference penalty. He’s had a rough season dealing with the referees.
- There are major issues on every level of the Steelers’ defense, and the same could be said of the offense. But none stand out quite like the offensive line. Fix that first and foremost, and the run and passing game will improve.
- Steeler Nation showed up big-time yet again at another away game. If only the Steelers had given them a better game to enjoy.
- Kenny Pickett’s interception wasn’t a perfect throw by any means, but I think a receiver with a bigger catch radius than the 5’9 Calvin Austin could’ve made that play. That’s a shot downfield I’d risk again if I were the Steelers — maybe just to a different receiver.
- Joey Porter Jr. continues to deserve more snaps on defense.
- Najee Harris ran well in what was easily his best game this season. If he had half-decent run-blocking in front of him, I think it would’ve been even better. With Jaylen Warren’s ball security issues rearing its ugly head yet again, it seems Harris has turned the carry ratio back in his favor. He also made a nice catch on Sunday — the Steelers need to utilize him as a receiver more often to add another dimension to their offense.
- I’m still not sure how I feel about the Texans’ red helmet look.
No rest for the weary and beat up. The Steelers get a red-hot Ravens team next week in what should be a physical divisional battle. The best fans can hope for is that the team lets go of Matt Canada at the bye.
What are your overreactions and takeaways from Steelers vs. Texans? Agree/disagree with the ones above? Join our Behind The Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!