Steelers 34 – Texans 6
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The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a first round bye in convincing fashion with a 34-6 win over the Houston Texans.
In what could have been a marquee matchup were Deshaun Watson not out for the year and the Texans were healthy on ‘D’, the Steelers looked everything of a team headed to a first-round bye, while Houston looked everything of a 4-11 team.
Position by position the Steelers put on the type of performance that showed more signs this group has figured it out in no longer playing down to their competition.
The offense minus Antonio Brown did what they wanted against a depleted Texans D.
Ben Roethlisberger was 20/29 for 226 yards with 2 touchdowns and a 115 QB rating. Juju Smith-Shuster led the way in the passing game with 6 receptions for 75 yards, including a 49 yard TD.
Martavis Bryant had a second straight week of looking like a player who is starting to care and had 3 catches for 60 yards. Bryant set up a touchdown with a 36 yard catch down the sideline in the first half.
What was intriguing with the performance of the offense is some chemistry developing between Roethlisberger and Vance McDonald as the postseason is right around the corner. McDonald was targeted five times and hauled in 4 catches for 52 yards, it was the second straight game for McDonald in putting a 4 catch, 52 yard performance on paper.
The problem for McDonald is he can never stay healthy but his ability to stretch the field opens things up for the Steelers in the middle field much more so than Jesse James does.
For the offense as a whole, Ben Roethlisberger’s play over the last six weeks is the single most reason this team can win the AFC, regardless if Antonio Brown gets back to 100% or Le’Veon Bell can’t make it through another post-season which almost always happens.
— What got overshadowed with the New England loss is even without Ryan Shazier for the season and Joe Haden not playing, there were still some signs on defense of how the Steelers match up better against the Patriots than last year where Pittsburgh’s D had no chance to slow down Tom Brady.
This year the group at least has a chance.
Led by Cam Heyward, Pittsburgh’s d-line was disruptive on Brady and last January Pittsburgh just didn’t have that element with Heyward out for the season and even when healthy he wasn’t playing like this.
Heyward is playing lights out this season and that continued in Monday’s win over the Texans with a 2-sack performance giving him 12 sacks on the season.
Pittsburgh has no answer for Rob Gronkowski in a potential AFC Title game rematch but they are more athletic at the slot corner position with Mike Hilton who Monday night had the first 3-sack game from a defensive back since Troy Polamalu in 2005.
The other element is Joe Haden who is the MVP of this Steelers defense.
Yes, the Steelers were playing a 3rd string caliber QB in T.J. Yates Monday night, but Haden’s 1-on-1 cover ability changes everything for the Steelers. When the game mattered in the first half, Haden blanketed star WR DeAndre Hopkins and when healthy Haden gives the Steelers such a better chance to play man-to-man when they run into a Brady or an elite QB again this season.