Just My Opinion ...

Jim Wexell's thoughts following the Steelers' improbable rally past the Houston Texans and rise above .500.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who, after watching the first quarter last night, was trying very hard to understand how the Steelers had won three games:

* Make that four games.

* If this improbable win over the Texans can give the Steelers confidence and help turn the season around, so be it. But it won't be as easy as flipping that switch.

* They need Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Ike Taylor back from injuries, and they need Stephon Tuitt, Martavis Bryant and Daniel McCullers to progress through the middle of their rookie seasons at warp speed.

* It's a lot to ask, but that wasn't a very good team that started last night's game where it left off in the preseason against the Giants and Eagles.

* Those were the only two teams to run -- at will -- against the Steelers' nickel defense. I've been shocked that no one up until last night attempted the same.

* Against a base 3-WR offense, the Steelers used their nickel defense with a pair of 4-3 DEs playing DT, two OLBs playing DE, and two college OLBs playing ILB. Just as in the preseason, the Texans gashed that nickel at their own pleasure. They rushed 17 times for 103 yards in rolling to a 13-0 lead.

* With boos reigning down from a less-than-capacity crowd, the Steelers were on their own 9 facing third-and-15. Nothing was working, but J.J. Watt jumped offside. And that was good. They now had some room to punt.

* But Roethlisberger hit Le'Veon Bell with a short pass and Bell took it 43 yards to set up a field goal. That seemed to unhinge the Texans and their plan. The Steelers scored 21 more points as the Texans panicked. And in the second half they came out in two tight ends, McCullers just pushed the middle of the line backward, and even when the Texans brought their 3 WRs back out for early downs, the Steelers stuck with their base.

* I'm assuming we'll see teams copy the first-quarter Texans. I'm hoping Dick LeBeau will stick with his second-half base. After re-watching that preseason horror show last night, I really don't care if the Steelers match 3 WRs with 5 DBs, because anything's better than watching an opponent run at will like that.

* Does that give McCullers more playing time? Absolutely. But don't believe for a second that he knows what he's doing in there.

* Just push the center back, kid.

* Same with Bryant. Yes, the tall and fast rookie caught one of the three deep passes thrown to him last night for a touchdown, but that's about the extent of his understanding.

* Mike Tomlin, of course, was blistered on social media for waiting this long to play Bryant. But you must remember Bryant's poor preseason performances, right? And then he injured his shoulder just before the start of the season. I tend to believe that playing in the seventh game was about as rushed as this rookie should be.

* We should've known this game was going to get goofy just by the way it started: Ben Roethlisberger taking off on a read option.

* Jason Worilds missed a third-down sack that would've prevented the Texans from scoring a touchdown on their first drive, but Worilds went on to play his best game of the season.

* One of Worilds' unheralded pressures forced a third-and-8 incompletion that held the Texans to a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

* Whatever momentum the Steelers gained from that, though, was lost when Dri Archer fielded a kickoff and proceeded to run straight across the field to the sideline, out of bounds at the 16.

* Archer's not much of a kick returner.

* I know. I've written that before.

* The Steelers returned three kickoffs for a grand total of 29 yards. Didn't Quincy Morgan average that much per return back in the day?

* Close. Morgan averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return in 2005. They won a championship and Morgan never returned for them again.

* But on the bright side, the Steelers' coverage units continued to perform at a high level. The Texans averaged a little less than 15 yards per kickoff return last night.

* Lawrence Timmons was one of the heroes last night, but what is with the stomach issues? I believe that's the third game in which he's vomited either on the field or on the sideline. Is the new playcalling role giving him that much stress?

* Timmons' sack in the middle of a Houston three-and-out, at 13-3, was as big a spark for the defense as Bell's 43-yard catch-and-run was for the offense.

* What followed was a subtle slip screen to Bell for 28 yards, which preceded the TD pass to Bryant. But the screen was a picture of what I have been waiting to see with Maurkice Pouncey out in front clearing the path. Most of these screens have been too big of a production, have involved too many linemen, and obviously have alerted too many defenders all season. But this one was simple. And sublime.

* Sean Spence, probably starting his final game in place of Ryan Shazier, was awful in the first quarter. But he, too, was one of the reasons for the turnaround, and it wasn't just that fumble at the goal line he recovered to give the Steelers their first lead. Spence began diagnosing plays like he was back in college.

* Of course, Vince Williams had some moments as an occasional replacement for Spence. These guys may not set the world on fire as starters, but they're becoming quality reserves.

* Still, there are many holes on defense, and you wonder if you can draft for that side of the ball exclusively next spring. But then you watch Roethlisberger continue to struggle with nary any protection off the edges, and you see the depth at tackle aligning itself this college football season, and you have to believe an offensive tackle will be the pick.

* Yes, there are many holes. It's not poor coaching. Although, I had a few issues with the playcalling last night.

* First of all, for as fancy and remembered as Brown's fake reverse touchdown pass was and will be, it was a bit risky and, well, stupid for that spot on the field. Having your receiver throw on first-and-goal from the 3 is just too cute, even though it worked.

* For the second consecutive week, Brett Keisel made the defensive play of the week. Against Cleveland it a the hustle play that I will remember until I die. Last night it was a 5,000 to 1 shot -- according to ESPN's Sport Science -- that gave the Steelers their 11-point lead. Sport Science also said of Keisel's quick reaction after catching the pass, which he had deflected into Timmons' helmet before it came back to Keisel, was akin to returning a 140 m.p.h. serve in tennis.

* Would the Steelers keep the proverbial pedal to the metal in the second half? I had my doubts confirmed when Roethlisberger jumped to the line (the Houston 41) on fourth-and-inches and began his series of hard counts to lure the Texans offside.

* Just go for it. LeGarrette Blount was in the game and you had the Texans on their heels. Man, why so fancy?

* That was my second playcalling grievance.

* Brad Wing did place the ensuing punt inside the 10. In fact, the kid punter had a 43.8 net and had placed another punt down inside the 10. He had a good game. I was just scared to death that Tomlin -- in his let-it-all-hang-out mode -- was going to let Wing throw a pass.

* I've discussed a few key plays here, but nothing impressed me more than Brown's 30-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. He not only showed unbelievable body control by getting two feet down, he pressed the ball against his thigh as he was tackled out of bounds, all the while knowing that replay would detect any slight movement throughout the rough-and-tumble catch. This guy repeatedly amazes me.

* Brown's ensuing touchdown catch shouldn't have been overturned. That divot looked awfully conclusive to me. But I enjoyed Jon Gruden's exchange with Mike Tirico in the booth after the TD was reversed:

"I used to really like football, Mike."

"I thought you loved football."

"Ah, I do. Back to the action."

* That stands for all of us who used to really like football, Mike.

* Another Mike, Mike Mitchell, played his second strong game in a row. And his strip of DeAndre Hopkins allowed us to watch Troy Polamalu run with the ball one more time.

* As for Hopkins, wow, I was wrong about him. The guy I wanted to draft in the first round a few years ago looks like just a guy.

* And now -- drumroll, please -- the worst playcall of the game: Up eight with four minutes left, the Steelers were second-and-9 at the Houston 27. Houston was out of timeouts, but Roethlisberger threw for the end zone. It fell incomplete.

* Hey, I'm all for going for the jugular, but sometimes basic logic overrides all of that. If I'm OK with calling a running play late against Tampa Bay, just to grind off 45 seconds, I can't be OK with the Steelers throwing the ball at this point and place in the game.

* Of course, the Texans made a late run at them. Tomlin, scratching and clawing to get out of his own personal slump, called timeout to nullify an easy onsides recovery by Polamalu.

* It just typified the guy's first half of the season. It wasn't a bad call. In fact, Polamalu was trying but couldn't get the attention of teammates after he realized where the ball was going. But the onsides re-do bounced off two players as Tirico shouted "It's free!" and Steelers fans had one last heart attack before bed time.

* The Steelers recovered the kick. Let's see if they can recover their season as well.


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