On Second Thought: Homer J’s Game Notes and Grades

EB61AEF4-8F9F-482F-A84D-3E2D5B773543Photo via Steelers.com

By Homer J.

In Pittsburgh, Monday night games throw everything off. Even the trash collection is delayed a day this week. Therefore the 5 Smoldering Questions will appear tomorrow, which, last time I checked, will be Thursday. And as usual my comments will be in italics..Ed.

Are you ready for some football?  Not looking for a Christmas miracle. Just a win over a badly depleted opponent. And keeping everyone healthy. That, and a Red Ryder B-B gun. Is it too much to ask for?

The game begins:

Houston wins the toss and defers. Huh? Go figure.
Ben quick bubble screen to Bryant, who follows good blocking for 12 yards.
Ben back, gets great protection, throws safety valve to McDonald, who gets 13. Already past midfield. Here we go!

Bell split wide left, runs crossing pattern with McDonald, who catches pass near left sideline and galumphs down to the 29 for a 20+ yard gain.
Bell off the right side, behind terrific blocks by McDonald and Juju, finds a hole and fights his way for 11 to the HOU 18.
Four plays – four first downs – like a hot knife cutting thru butter. Boy, are they ready to play!

1st and 10 at TX 18 – Bell off left end, no hole – gets only one
2nd and 9 at TX 17 – Bell struggles forward thru the middle for two.
3rd and 7 at TX 16 – Ben inc to Eli underneath. These guys can get into the red zone a lot easier than into the end zone.
Field goal atempt from 34 – GOOD  PIT 3-0

Houston didn’t fare so well:

Yates inc on first down. 2nd and 10 at HOU 15.
Miller run stuffed by Dupree after 2 yard gain. 3rd and 8.
Steelers bring 5. Hilton with the sack at HOU 9!  4th and 15.
HOU punt fair caught by Eli Rogers at PIT 46

This series was more satisfactory:

We’ve seen a lot of Rosie Nix snaps so far. Bell behind Nix up the middle for 5 to HOU 49.
Bell up the middle again, gets two. 3rd and 3.
Ben goes long on 3rd and 3, hits Bryant deep for 35 at HOU 11. (Series like this are the reason Mike Tomlin gave for concentrating on DeAndre Hopkins and letting Houston run the ball, which at least takes longer. Which almost worked…)

1st and 10 at HOU 11. Ben hits Eli on flare to left for 6
2nd and 4 at HOU 5. Ben targets McDonald. Too high. Overthrown in end zone.
3rd and 4 at HOU 5. Ben gets time, moves up in pocket, hits Hunter for TD. PAT Good.
PIT 10-0    6:59 remaining in first quarter. Good that Hunter got a hat, eh?

(It wouldn’t surprise me terribly if Hunter was one of the players in the discussion as to who to cut to make a roster spot for Marcus Gilbert. The question is, would he or Harrison create more problems for the Steelers when New England signed him?)

Boz KO taken by Todman, who trips over his own 10 yard line. Falls forward to HOU 15.

The following Houston series took rather longer and contained rather more plays than the first, but the ultimate result was still a punt:

HOU Punt FC by Rogers at PIT 7
Ben hits McDonald on down and out for first down past the PIT 20.
On 2nd and 12, Ben hits JuJu in crowd. Big fight for ball. Officials rule catch was made. End of first quarter. PIT 10-0. Will Houston challenge?
Houston challenges, and play is overturned. So we go back to the first quarter with 42 seconds left, 3rd and 12.
Houston brings everyone. Ben hits McDonald for 5. Not enough. Punt formation.

Berry in punt formation, and time runs out. This is the second end of the first quarter. We seem to be trapped in a time zone. A dimension of sight. Of sound. And of time.

It’s still PIT 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, here in the twilight zone. (Or, perhaps more appropriately for Western PA, Groundhog Day.)

SECOND QUARTER:

Berry high kick to sideline. Miller fair catch on HOU 32. (Once again this series looked even better for Houston, as they made it all the way to the PIT 18, and then:

Yates back to pass, scrambles, Steelers middle looks wide open. Gets a first down at the 6 yard line. Steeler defense looks simply awful.
Pitch to Miller, who  makes it to the one.
Blue on wildcat, stopped at three, and fights to the one. Simply terrific effort by Albert Blue, who nearly carried the scrum into the end zone.
Yates on 3rd and goal from the one, throws to Miller, incomplete.
4th and 1 at the one – Yates INTERCEPTED by Burns.  TOUCHBACK. Solid coverage.

Since when did Todd Haley start calling red zone plays for Houston? They were running the ball well, and got waaay too cute inside the five yard line. Sound familiar? And what could possibly go wrong with a quick pass from the one yard line?

Steelers ball on PIT 20 with 10:21 remaining in the half. During the series:

Bell takes handoff from Ben (at the PIT 34) and follows a convoy of blockers around the right side. Pouncey pulls and leads the way, and is still throwing blocks at the HOU 40. Bell is downed at the HOU 44, after a student body right type play that would warm the heart of Vince Lombardi…
Bell takes middle screen from Ben and follows DeCastro to HOU 30. Steeler offensive line is absolutely dominating here.

On 1st and 10 from the 30, a fake reverse and then draw to Bell is stopped cold. Loss of three. 2nd and 13.
Ben targets Bryant in a crowd. He’s swarmed. Ball knocked away. 3rd and 13.
Ben hits Bryant eight yards downfield on the left, and he fights and turns and spins and reaches out and gets the first down. Spectacular effort and field awareness by Bryant!

1st and 10 at the HOU 20. Ben back to pass. Houston brings four, but Ben has so much time, he could read a comic book. Waits. Holds it. Waits. Throws to Eli in the End Zone, and there’s a flag. Pass interference. PIT ball at the one. Simply can’t say enough about the job the offensive line is doing.
Rosie Nix sighting. Bell lines up in the I behind Nix. Ben takes the snap, spins left, does a 180, and hands off to NIx on a dive play, and Rosie scores! PAT good.

PIT 17-0 with 4:14 remaining in the first half. Steelers are dominating and having their way on offense. They went 80 yards in 6:07 and were impressive from start of finish on that drive.

After a touchback on KO, on third and 5, Yates back to pass, ball knocked loose by Heyward, recovered by Dupree. PIT has the ball at HOU 29. This is turning into the best Christmas ever.

On 1st and 10, with 2:45 left, Ben hits Bell with short pass, and he slashes for nine. 2nd and 1 at the 20. And that takes us to the two minute warning. And then, after the Steelers make it to the HOU 16:

Ben back on 3rd and 12. He’s flushed out of the pocket, scrambles to his left, and throws the ball away. That was probably the first time all day he’s felt any heat from the pass rush. Pouncey called for holding. Penalty declined.

BOZ from 36. GOOD.  20-0 PIT with maybe 50 seconds left in the half.

After a touchback, Yates is sacked by Hilton, who is unblocked on a corner blitz. Yates is shaken up and replaced by some dude. Steelers force a punt with a few second left in the half. And they take a knee to go to the locker room with a 20-0 halftime lead.

SECOND HALF – TEXANS RECEIVE

In this series, the Texans decide to try running the ball:

Blue gets a couple, then Heinecke scrambles for a couple more. Houston is running the football and running the clock, and the Steelers should be more than happy to accommodate them with a bend but don’t break defense.
On 3rd and 7 at the PIT 43, Hilton comes FLYING in from Heinicke’s left on the corner blitz, unabated to the quarterback. Heinicke scrambles, but Hilton runs him down way back at the Houston 40. Hilton holds up three fingers, signifying his third sack of the game.
The littlest guy on the D has come up mighty big today. 4th and 24. Guess they’ll punt.

Rogers takes Leckler’s punt at the 20, returns it 21 yards to PIT 41.
Two runs and an incompletion result in the Steelers’ first three and out of the game.
Berry punt – fair catch at HOU 10. Then HOU three and out. They’ll punt.

Eli takes Lecker’s long punt at PIT 31, circles to his left, turns the corner, and is finally knocked out of bounds on the HOU 41 yard line.  Looks like we’ve found a punt returner for the next few games, at least.

On third and four, Ben back, Juju down the middle to the first down marker, heads left and Ben hits him for the first down. The comfort level between Ben and Juju is so evident. You can see it time after time. 1st and 10 at HOU 27.

On 3rd and 9 from HOU 26, Ben is sacked by Clowney, but there’s a face mask penalty. Nothing can go right for Houston, who are overmanned, overwhelmed, and simply over it… On 2ND and 7 from the HOU 10, Ben hands to Bell, who finds a hole up the middle, is tripped up on the 3, falls forward and reaches into the end zone for the TD. PAT good.

PIT 27-0 with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter.

During the next Houston series:
After a decent first down run by Miller, Yates finally hits DeAndre Hopkins, who has been blanketed all night by Haden. Hopkins zig-zags his way down to the PIT 20 on the last play of the third quarter.   PIT 27, HOU 0.

FOURTH QUARTER ACTION (sort of)

On 2nd and 9 from the PIT 19, Yates hits Miller short, and he fights his way for the first down at the PIT 9. First and goal. After a holding call on Joe Haden makes it first and goal from the three, Yates throws for Hopkins, who makes the most remarkable catch. Even though he’s holding Haden, he bats the ball from one hand into the air, and frees his other hand to catch it, while top-tapping before he falls out of the end zone.

Well, there goes the shutout, and the few Houston fans still in the stadium have their brief “moment de joie.” It WAS an amazing catch, and a nice consolation prize for the losers to take home. And thanks for playing our game!

Haden offsides on the PAT, so HOU goes for two. No good. 27-6.

On next Steeler drive, on 2nd and 1 from PIT 30, Ben throws a bomb for Juju, who battles Jackson, handfighting his way down the field, spins, and catches it over the wrong shoulder at the HOU 20. Another terrific catch, as L’il Bro Juju continues to amaze. He may be the youngest player in the league, but he is proving to be too big and too strong for many of the defensive backs.
On 3rd and 7 from the 18, Ben hits (who else?) Juju, wide open down the middle for the TD. And Juju sits under the Goalpostchristmastree and opens his present. IT’S A FOOTBALL!!! Merry Christmas. PAT good. PIT 34 HOU 6.

There are a few more presents, but most are socks and underwear, so we bring in Landry Jones (or should that be Laundry Jones?) to wrap things up. No better way to wrap up Christmas Night than to watch Landry Jones in Victory Formation. And we all had a Merry Christmas. God bless us all, every one.

REPORT CARD:

QUARTERBACK:  A
Ben spread it around, had time, made excellent decisions, and the delivered the ball on the money. You can’t ask for more than that.

RUNNING BACK: B+
Bell was solid, but didn’t break any big runs. They used him as a wideout, resulting in mismatches. Always there when Ben needs a safety valve, though he dropped one in comical effort. Ridley looked good as a backup.

WIDE RECEIVER AND TIGHT END: A
Juju keeps getting better and better. Bryant had his best game. Eli made some big plays. McDonald was the go-to guy early on, and made several key catches without dropping anything or getting injured.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A
They thoroughly negated Houston’s pass rush, Clowney included, and gave Ben all day to throw. They earned those gift watches and custom made suits. Run blocking was good, but pass pro was world class against a badly outmanned opponent.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B
They put pressure on a second-tier QB operating behind a makeshift offensive line. The game plan was to pressure the QB, which they did.

Heyward had a couple of sacks and a forced fumble.  Okay, they gave up a lot of yardage on the ground. Some of that, they were willing to do in the second half, as it ate up the clock.

LINEBACKERS: B
Dupree had a fumble recovery, but otherwise, it was a Gentleman’s B. Spence had a sack and a bunch of tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
Hilton had three sacks and was terrific from start to finish, but the big difference this week was the return of Joe Haden. He was all over Hawkins, and he made the entire secondary look so much better than they have in weeks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A
All aces. And Eli suddenly became a punt returner.

COACHING: A
This week’s opponent was so far down, not even Tomlin could get them to play down to them. Actually, they came out with their hair on fire, and played with intensity and poise all night. Fire everybody.

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS AND TALKING POINTS FOR THE YINZER CULT OF DOOM:
Once again, they played against a couple of quarterbacks who don’t belong in prime time. Yates was the third stringer, and this kid Meinicke probably works at his Dad’s muffler shop. Oh, and we have to pick on somebody, so let’s make it Sean Spence. Because he’s definitely not Shazier.

This game meant nothing, and the 12-3 record means nothing because they haven’t played anybody. Next week, they play the Browns, and that won’t mean anything. And the week after that, they won’t play anybody and that won’t mean anything either. Fire everybody. And humbug.

Happy New Year everybody, and #Shalieve!

2 comments

  • Weird game to watch. I am so unaccustomed to watching the Steelers while under zero stress as to what might be the outcome. This game was never in doubt for me. The only time I got even in the least bit riled up was after the 4th or 5th replay of the Hopkins (or is it Hawkins?) TD that I finally yelled at Tirico and Warner to shut the hell up about how great a catch it was. It was a great catch. That should have been negated by offensive pass interference.

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    • Maybe they had both seen the movie “Wonder.” The main precept of the film is that, when given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind. The Texans were so awful, that they had to give them their one moment of happiness, so they spent the better part of a day and a half marveling over that catch.

      It was certainly more kind to say wonderful things about the catch that to talk about their overall suckage and ineptitude.

      By the way, “Wonder” is a truly wonderful movie.

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