Let's start with the defense:
Brice McCain, I think you are somebody. Another extremely strong game from the free agent find.
William Gay played very well. Pro Football Focus apparently didn't agree with me. But I can't fault a corner for giving up a couple receptions on comeback routes where the ball is out before the receiver makes his break. I thought both Gay and McCain did a really nice job against Andre Johnson.
Cortez Allen ... yikes ... not so much. Allen doesn't look confident out there. That's a big part of his problem, along with his technique.
Sean Spence - I can't say anything bad about this guy. It's miraculous that he's back out there. He held his own from the late second quarter on. Also recovered a fumble in which he should have scored a touchdown. He deserved that moment. It's too bad.
Vince Williams - Plays like he has something to prove. Plays with intensity. Plays smart. I loved how he kept Arian Foster in front of him on a third-down reception. Once Foster was forced to make a decision with pursuit on its way, Williams wrapped him up and threw him down like a rag doll. That wasn't the only play I saw Williams NOT struggle in coverage. His intensity and intelligence is what you love to have at the Buck position.
Jason Worilds - I often think of Cliff Avril when I see Worilds. I think of a good pass rusher who isn't elite. Like Avril on the Malcolm Smith interception for a TD in last year's Super Bowl, Worilds' pressure was enough to cause the deflections that led to Brett Keisel's interception. Worilds abused right tackle Derek Newton all night. Now it's time for Worilds to start getting home and delivering some sacks.
The nickel run defense struggled early. The Steelers had success with their base. But they still sprinkled nickel into the second half and for whatever reason they had much more success.
You have to like seeing the defense stuff a second-and-1, third-and-1, and another third-and-1 in the third quarter against a very good run offense. Give the credit to Keisel and James Harrison on the first third-and-1. Daniel McCullers had a big hand in the second. Cam Thomas seemed to play much better once McCullers entered the game. Thomas didn't get pushed around like he did in the first quarter and actually made a couple of nice plays in the second half. With McClendon showing well until his injury, I believe nose tackle could be in good hands with both he and McCullers.
Stephon Tuitt had some expected ups and downs last night. Fans have to be excited about him though. He looks like he will become a special player.
When Cameron Heyward was drafted, I told a buddy the thing that jumped out to me about Heyward at Ohio State was his strong hands. Him ripping down Foster on the play before Foster's fumble brought back that draft-day comment.
The kick coverage has been impressive, to say the least. It's probably been the strength of this team (if only the coverage was like this when they were competing for Super Bowls).
Brad Wing had a great night. Having a net average above 43 while dropping punts inside the 10 is a great night for punter. Now, can he do it consistently? Let's also see how he handles the cold weather.
Dri Archer looks like he's a afraid to get hit. That's not good for a kick returner. His 4.2 speed doesn't do a lot of good when your game speed looks like an afraid-to-take-a-hit 4.7.
Offensively, I hope you can feel the deep breath I'm taking here:
After Hines Ward and Bill Cowher called the defense soft and the offense finesse, I listened to Ray Lewis talk about how in the past you had to bring two chin straps for a Steelers game. Now, he said you don't need to bring any. He said all of those short passes in the red zone against zone defenses don't work in this league. He then said that the philosophy on offense doesn't mesh with the city of Pittsburgh's tough blue-collar identity. Could that be the reason about one quarter of the seats were empty near kickoff?
I've never seen Heinz Field look like that at the start of a game. I used to see fans going crazy with their Terrible Towels in a packed stadium while Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, etc., did their opening monologue. Last night, with all the gold seats unattended behind Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden, Heinz Field had the look of a preseason game.
I don't think it's coincidence with what we see offensively from this team. Steelers fans are knowledgeable. They've seen six Super Bowl champions. They know this weak horizontal attack won't work. Not for a championship. I don't care how good the defense gets in the next couple of years, it won't matter. You can't win this way. Not with this quarterback.
I never thought I'd see the day when the Steelers' offense would be called a "Saturday Offense" as it was by Trent Dilfer last night. It's demoralizing and frustrating. On top of that, I have to see the Dallas Cowboys, a team I can't stand, mainly because of their egomaniacal owner, do it the right way offensively. Sunday they at one point had 28 points on 25 runs and 22 pass attempts. Tony Romo had 279 yards passing on 25 attempts. Troy Aikman during the broadcast talked about how the big plays in the passing game were opening up due to the run commitment. He also mentioned earlier in the game how in years past the Cowboys allowed Romo to go to the line of scrimmage with a run or pass option. Romo would then usually call a run if he saw a 7 man front or pass if he saw at 8 man front. This year, they've taken that away. They're running against 8 man fronts. That allows for big chunks out of play-action. It also allows the offense to be less predictable.
Maybe they should do the same with Ben Roethlisberger. His ability to run/pass option just shows how irresponsible he can be. Calling two pass plays with 4 minutes to go and the Texans out of timeouts is asinine, to say the least. Even ESPN was commenting "for some strange reason" during their post-game highlights when referring to it. For all the talk about lack of discipline this year, those two pass decisions took the cake.
Ben seems to do things now on a weekly basis that are a hop, skip, and a plain flight to Australia away from being logical. Why go into the weekly fourth-and-1 hard count when you're an inch or two away from a first down? Sneak it and put that team away!
Without the play-action touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant and the phenomenal catch by Antonio Brown out of play-action that set up a field goal, the Steelers don't win that game. But the Steelers still linger in their finesse offense, running too many plays out of the shotgun, which limits their use of play-action against eight-man fronts. Why they decided to get into shotgun and hand the ball to LeGarette Blount on two consecutive plays (when Le'Veon Bell ripped a long run with Health Miller and David DeCastro pulling on the play previous) instead of under center with two tight ends is beyond me.
The Brown touchdown pass to Lance Moore was nearly as dumb as the aforementioned passes near the four-minute mark. Brown, if he didn't throw an interception, could also have been sacked for a 10-yard loss. Running reverse action into J.J. Watt, who was being blocked by Mike Adams, isn't the wisest decision. It just illustrates how finesse Tomlin's allowed this team to become.
But I agree with how Tomlin waited to activate Bryant. A kid like that has to earn his stripes. He has to learn how to be a professional and earn his snaps. He's not a kid who understands what being a professional means. A good coach makes the kid earn it. Tomlin did that with Bryant.
It looked like a different Adams last night. He held his own for the most part against Watt. He did a really nice job against other Texans. Good to see he's been working on his craft. What I saw last night puts him back in the fold, though solely on the right side.
I love Miller, but he looks to the offense what Troy looks to the defense -- on his last legs. Heath struggled to separate from the coverage-challenged D.J. Swearinger. Considering the Steelers could use an impact player at CB, OLB, or OT in Rounds 1 and 2 -- and the the alleged best tight end going in the early going has a third-round grade -- it might be the time to make that big free-agent splash. It wouldn't be the worst idea to help yourself while hurting the Cleveland Browns and signing Jordan Cameron. Just some food for thought.