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Enemy Intelligence: Last week’s Pittsburgh Steelers game

In preparation for this week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I watched the Steelers’ game last week, a 17-10 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Steelers recovered from 10-0 halftime deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but a later Arian Foster touchdown proved to be the difference maker.

This post is primarily on the Steelers’ game last week, but it’s actually the third time I’ve watched them this year, as the Ravens faced them for that week’s Enemy Intelligence and then they played the Colts on Sunday Night Football.

Here are some things I noticed in watching the game:

  • The Steelers are still the Steelers. They haven’t been a running team for a few years now, and even though Rashard Mendenhall (unlikely to play this weekend) is a good back, they don’t have a sustaining running game like they did for most of the Bill Cowher years.
  • The Texans had a great deal of success on the ground. One element of that was their offensive line was able to move the Steelers’ defensive line. That wasn’t nearly as big an issue in the other games, though the Ravens and Colts did have intermittent success doing the same.
  • Arian Foster’s elite vision was a big part of the Texans’ success on the ground. Even at his best, CJ lacks that kind of vision, but there will likely be holes to run the ball.
  • The Steelers linebackers can be exploited if you get them moving laterally and force them to defend in space.
  • This isn’t really news, but the Steelers offensive line can be HAD in pass protection. The Texans brought a lot of pressure, and stunts were particularly effective against the Steelers’ offensive line. I’d look for some of the E/T games with Dave Ball and Karl Klug, which the Titans have run effectively this year.
  • Offensively, the Steelers have three receivers who are serious vertical threats in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders. Brown, not Wallace or Hines Ward, is actually their most-targeted receiver this year.
  • Poor run O overall notwithstanding, the Steelers have been effective running outside to the right end. Despite the plethora of talented wideouts, they’ll go multiple-tight ends and overwhelmed the Texans at times. LG Chris Kemoeatu sometimes pulls to add to the numbers edge. The Titans have fared worst on runs listed as at right tackle, so look for the Steelers to exploit that.
  • The Steelers will run stunts and creative blitzes in obvious passing situations. Hasselbeck’s been pretty good against those this year, but some of the pressure will have to be dealt with by the back. I’d look for more of Ringer in the backfield on third and long this week.
  • It’d be really nice to have Jason Babin back for this game, as the Steelers’ tackles are ridiculously vulnerable to the outside speed rush. Just get up and go and get home.
  • If you don’t bring down Ben Roethlisberger or pressure him into force decisions, he’s capable of making very accurate throws into small windows against tight coverage downfield.
  • The Steelers are apparently moving starting ILB Lawrence Timmons to OLB with James Harrison out. In that case, ILBs Larry Foote and James Farrior are very sound but not very athletic and not explosive blitzers.
  • Obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: Troy Polamalu is the guy who stands out on defense. They have a bunch of sound players who may have some weaknesses, but he’s the movable chess piece who on his best day will wreck your gameplan.
  • On balance, this was a much more even and competitive game than this writeup probably makes it seem. The Texans were slightly more efficient on offense, primarily on the ground, but Matt Schaub did not have a big day throwing the ball (14-21, 138), partly because the Texans did such a good job of running the ball. Still, the Steelers have not really been exploited through the air this year, only on the ground.

Overall, this is a much more winnable game than I was anticipating when the season began. The Steelers have some weaknesses on both offense and defense I think the Titans can exploit. The key to the game for me will be the Titans’ ability to avoid the defensive miscues that plagued the Browns in last week’s game. One bad play at the wrong time or one missed sack could be the difference between a turnover and a touchdown.