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Steelers flip the script with red zone scoring, takeaways

The key to this game today is making big plays, and the Steelers finally upstaged their opponents in that regard.

Justin K. Aller

The narrative for this Steelers team has been failure to score inside the red zone, plus a borderline-sickening level of hospitality when it came to allowing opposing offenses every chance to score points.

Monday's 30-23 win over the Houston Texans was a complete reversal of those negative trends. Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in three red zone trips, and took the ball away from the guest Texans three times - two fumbles and an interception, with the first fumble and the interception leading to touchdowns.

And unlike many games in the past, they won and largely controlled the game more than the score indicates. This despite being at a noticeable disadvantage statistically because the Steelers made the Texans pay for their mistakes. That was also the storyline against Cleveland, when the team performed well but the statistics didn't reflect the 31-10 final score.

Houston rushed for over 130 yards and nearly 400 total yards, out-gaining the Steelers 393-328 overall. But save the Texans' late touchdown, the Steelers would have won this game by two touchdowns.

Ah, the power of takeaways.

Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was flustered and got off a shaky pass that bounced off of the shoulder pad of defensive end Brett Keisel. In turn, that deflected the ball away from the receiver and it bounced off of the facemask of a very surprised Lawrence Timmons, landing back in Keisel's arm - just like the Steelers drew it up.

Keisel rumbled inside the 10-yard line, setting up a Ben Roethlisberger to Le'Veon Bell touchdown pass. This came after Jason Worilds forced a fumble by usually fumble-averse Texans RB Arian Foster, which set up Antonio Brown's touchdown pass to Lance Moore.

There's your storyline; Steelers can't score in the red zone so they resort to cheap tricks like finding anything, including left-handed, All Pro wide receivers throwing passes to provide their best offensive weapon for scoring a touchdown. And it worked. Just like the defense resorted to devious tactics in taking the ball away from their opponents worked. The Steelers piled on points (also a tactic missing from the game plan the last few weeks) in a magical run through only 73 seconds of game time.

This isn't as much the game of attrition Steelers coach Mike Tomlin liked to mention it was during the team's Super Bowl run in 2008. It's a game of plays now. The Steelers were probably defeated snap-for-snap against a physical and aggressive Texans team. But they beat them when it came to big plays, and beat them handily.

That's likely why the team had a 14-point lead with around two minutes to play, despite falling short by as many as 70 yards from the Texans' pace.