Week 4 Game Review - Pittsburgh Steelers v. Houston Texans
Pittsburgh 6 - Houston 30
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Houston Texans have a winning streak! A notion that has not occurred since December 2021, coincidently was the last time the Texans won a game at NRG Stadium. Fans, media, and everyone in between is excited about the potential direction of the franchise.
Winning in convincing fashion against the Pittsburgh Steelers was the first real statement by this new roster. The offensive and defensive groupings put together a performance long awaited. Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik called a gem of a game, clipping the wings of the formidable Pittsburgh pass rush. Head Coach Demeco Ryans pulled out the double stunt playbook with his defensive line while relying on another dose of heavy zone coverage.
The opening drive for Houston was near perfection with the exception of penalties in the red zone. Offense was dicing up the Pittsburgh defense with a mix of power run scheme, outside zone, runningback screens, with a beautiful quick release touchdown to Nico Collins.
CJ Stroud finished the day with 2 touchdowns on 16 receptions on 30 attempts with a passer rating of 111.3. Stroud had a few misses along the way but the overall performance showcased his continued growth.
Stroud was under pressure on 31.6% of his drop backs, per ProFootball Focus charting, with another patch work offensive line. Stroud continued his near perfection performance on the 68% of clean pocket drop backs with a 134.8 QB Rating while working in a clean pocket. Stroud’s average time to throw from the clean pocket was 2.30 seconds.
The low time to throw number shows Stroud’s quick decisions on where he wants to go with the ball. Stroud threw to his first read 80% of the time, and when needed he came off that read through his progressions efficiently.
Stroud’s ability to read the defense, while dropping back, coupled with the ability to anticipate and throw his receivers open is quite impressive. These are traits you rarely see from a rookie quarterback in just his fourth NFL start.
The one metric that stood out to me was a 0% turnover worthy attempt day. Stroud has yet to throw an interception this season, and has experienced a bit of luck along the way to maintain that status. Stroud did not have any close calls today. Worth noting FantasyPts. manual charting had Stroud with 3% turnover worth attempts.
Slowik and company generated a clear plan to slow down the edge rush attack duo of TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. A plan that included chipping, hand-off blocking, and rolling cut blocks. Anything to slow the tandem down even if just to buy an extra second in the pocket.
First offensive play of the game for Houston we see Andrew Beck attempt a low cut block on Highsmith. This type of deterrence occurred often on Watt and Highsmith.
The plan worked well with Houston’s offensive line surrendering zero sacks on the day. The offensive line was charged with 9 QB pressures per FantasyPts charting. Not enough can be said about the offensive coaching staff and the players involved for providing Stroud a relatively clean pockets two weeks in a row with zero sacks.
The running game showed a bit of life this weekend. Dameon Pierce had 24 carries for 81 yards and Devin Singletary finished with 7 carries for 25 yards. Pittsburgh was not making things easy regardless, by stacking the box with 7+ defenders on almost 54$ of Houston’s rush attempts.
The running game did experience difficulties with a lowly 0.68 yards before contact per attempt. A success rate of just 31% (per RBSDM.com) when accounting for all rush attempts.
Slowik attempted 20 zone scheme attempts and 12 gap/power scheme attempts. The gap/power scheme was effective with 5.08 yards per carry and a 50% success rate. Pulling a tight end with a guard to open up lanes allowed Pierce to find some open running lanes.
Which wide receiver would be the leader this week? The Nico Collins party continues onward. 9 targets, 7 receptions, 168 yards receiving, and 2 touchdowns for Collins. A solid 29% target share among the wide receiver group, accounting for 7 first downs. 90 of Collins’ 168 yards were achieved after the catch.
Dalton Schultz also joined the party as the only tight end with a receiving target. Schultz had 3 targets, 3 receptions, 1 touchdown, and 42 yards receiving. After the dropped touchdown in Week 3, Schultz pulled in the touchdown reception from Devin Singletary RB toss/pass trickery.
The biggest take away from Sunday for the offense was their final success rate when starting with a 1st down. Houston finished the day with an 80% success rate when starting a series with a 1st down and earning another 1st down (per RBSDM.com).
This defense is getting close to be really good. Pittsburgh’s offense is one of the worst in the league, but Houston did not play down to their competition (little joke for my Astros fans).
The pass rush was fun to watch with Jon Greenard finishing the day with 2 sacks and 3 QB pressures, and Jerry Hughes with 1 sack and 5 QB pressures. Will Anderson was on the brick of a few sacks, just unable to finish the job. Anderson continues to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, a good data indicator for future performance for Anderson. Don’t get stuck on the low sack number, pressures are nearly as effective.
Houston had Kenny Pickett under pressure on 48% of his drop backs despite only bringing a blitz 9.7% of his drop backs. 87% of those drop backs Houston came with just 4 pass rushers. This limited Pittsburgh to just 4.7 yards per attempt.
Multiple instances of Houston running a single crash down/stunt with the front four to even double stunts with both edge rushers looping around to the interior.
Here is a beautiful rep with Greenard on the stunt loop around to sack Pickett trying to sneak out of the pocket.
With the return of Jalen Pitre next to Jimmie Ward, Demeco Ryans shifted back to his trusted two high safety coverage looks at a 50% clip this week. Ryans utilizes the two safeties interchangeably in the zone coverage scheme. Pitre took some shots on run defense, finding losses and successes with his work.
The two areas of struggle for the defense was once again run defense and tackling. Steelers found success in the run game finishing the day with 4.6 yards per carry and a 42% success rate. The team finished the game with 15 missed tackles per PFF charting, similar to what we have seen each week this season.
Listening to Seth Payne this morning on Houston SportsRadio 610, Seth notes that more than a few players will be embarrassed once the tape goes up in team meetings citing poor tackling performance.
Christian Harris had, arguably, one of his best performances to date on Sunday. Harris remains on the field in both base and sub packages as the Will Linebacker. Harris was involved all over the field finishing the day with 12 tackles (6 solo), 2 run stuffs, and was only targeted twice in coverage allowing negative receiving yards. Harris was more decisive with his lane assignments in the run game, 7 of his tackles were in the run game.
The Steven Nelson show continues on into Week 4. Nelson was targeted 2 times per PFF (3 times per NGS tracking) over 30 coverage snaps. Of those targets Nelson allowed zero receptions and 1 interception. My lone complaint for Nelson was the missed tackles. The missed tackles are occurring at all three levels of the defense.
The theme for this week is “Plays that Cap found interesting”. Not specifically big plays or game changing plays (although some are below), but rather plays I just found interesting for one reason or another both good and bad,
The plays below are in game order.
John Metchie was putting forth maximum effort in the run game.
Houston starts their run game off with a zone toss out of tight formation with their 12 personnel with Andrew Beck as the fullback in I-Formation. Keep an eye on the right side of your screen on number 8, John Metchie. He will crack back inside on TJ Watt to seal off the edge. This allows tight end Quitoriano and fullback Beck to lead looking for work.
Houston - 2nd & 6 from the Pittsburgh 39
Siri: Show me a well executed runningback screen play.
Houston spreads out the offense in their heavily used 11 personnel. Metchie and Schultz are bunched in the slot with Woods at the top on the extended boundary. Metchie and Schultz will run a pseudo mesh concept to get the secondary to declare. Woods will run a clear out route in an attempt to pull the boundary cornerback with him. The offensive line executes this perfectly, and Dameon Pierce patiently waits for his wrecking crew to get into position instead of taking off without them.
Pittsburgh 2nd & 7 at Pittsburgh 22
Blake Cashman is quietly an underrated linebacker. Cashman works at the Sam (strong) side linebacker in this defense, and he comes off the field in sub-packages. Despite coming off the field his coverage skills are pretty solid. The below rep is a good example of his diagnosing and identifying the route and trailing the tight end with his eyes on the quarterback.
Houston is in their typical Cover 3 single high zone look. Jalen Pitre slides down into the box as a blitzing linebacker, leaving Cashman responsible for the tight end. Very nice back pocket trail placing himself in perfect position for a pass break-up.
Pittsburgh 2nd & 18 at Pittsburgh 32
Steven Nelson continues his alpha performance as CB1 in this defense showcasing his make-up speed.
Houston moves to this split zone look which rotates to a single high look as Pitre looks for the underneath routes. I will admit this play was 90% skill/effort and 10% luck. Pickett put too much air under this throw, which allowed Nelson to make-up the needed ground for the interception.
Houston 1st & 10 at Pittsburgh 45
Houston comes out in their 11 personnel with a 3x1 set with Brevin Jordan as an inline tight end. The bunch formation is lined up on the short side of the field. What happens here is a wide receiver run blocking clinic.
When your left tackle and left guard are looking for work at the third level…folks are doing their jobs. Collins walls off the linebacker, Metchie heads to the second level where he ultimately pancakes the linebacker, Woods works outside side on the boundary cornerback faced up to the sideline. We can call this a crack toss since Collins is cracking down on the linebacker at the start of the play.
Houston 1st & 10 at Pittsburgh 22
I’ve been stewing on the low (lower than expected) completion percentage for Stroud this week. The idea that Stroud is willing to go with a throw-a-way pass for an incompletion instead of taking a sack is becoming more evident.
Houston working again in the 21 personnel with Beck as a blocker. Beck motions over in tandem with Green as a puller to wash out the defensive end and push him upfield. Deculus does everything he can to move Highsmith upfield.
I wasn’t a big fan of this play design. Houston executes a play-action pulling in the linebackers just enough to create a void in the middle of the field. Houston had two routes deployed with Dell and Woods, neither designed to take advantage of that void. Stroud, with excellent footwork, avoids the pass rush and dumps a short pass at Dell. Avoiding the sack while taking the incompletion, live to fight another day.
Houston - 2nd & 7 at Houston 35
This play was absolutely fascinating to me personally. This was a beautiful design and play call, designed to beat the Cover 2 scheme.
Pittsburgh was attempting to show a Cover 3 look at the snap, but then rotated to a split safety Cover 2 zone look. Houston brings their 21 personnel with Pierce and Beck lined up as boundary receivers. Houston is in a 2x2 formation with Dell and Woods lined up near the formation; and Schultz lined up as an inline tight end. Just watch this design.
Beck and Pierce hold their place pulling the CB’s down. Dell and Woods run 10 yard dig routes. This causes both safeties to pull back to guard for deep post routes. This leaves the middle of the field wide open. Schultz has a favorable match-up with a linebacker. Schultz has an option route based on the linebacker coverage shading. This time the LB shades his back to the middle of the field, giving Schultz to green light to work up field. Stroud layers the ball perfectly for a big gain. Just fun stuff here.
Pittsburgh - 1st & 10 at Pittsburgh 21
Houston is showing a Cover 3 look prior to the snap, but after snap we see Pitre rotate back into a Cover 2 set. The area to focus on here is the right defensive end, rookie Dylan Horton. Horton’s recognition is perfect here. Horton engages with the tight end, and once he recognizes the tight end break off the block early Horton identifies the tight end as a potential screen play receiver. Instead of pushing towards the quarterback, Horton stays in his zone and eats up the screen play. Lovely stuff from the rookie.
Pittsburgh - 3rd & 8 at Pittsburgh 23
Shaq Griffin doesn’t roll with press man coverage often, but this rep is great teaching tape.
This is one of those times where I am not 100% sure on the defensive concept, so hit me up in the comment section. This appears to be a Cover 1 zone scheme to the bottom half of the field with Griffin in press man with Pitre helping over the top. Griffin shifts to outside leverage for safety help. However Griffin runs the route with the wide receiver sticking on his back shoulder placing him in perfect position for the arm in pass break up. Clinical stuff here.
Houston - 1st & 10 at Houston 33
Ok this is ridiculous by Stroud, no notes. Flick of the wrist in the face of pressure.
Pittsburgh - 1st & 8 at Houston 8
Rookie Henry To’oTo’o showing out again with a near perfect rep in coverage. Unable to turn his head for the ball, To’oTo’o matches his action with the receiver’s action placing his arm between the receiver’s arms for the pass break-up. Making it look easy here.
Houston - 1st & 10 at Houston 25
I’ve been waiting ALL YEAR for this play. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Houston back in their 21 personnel with Beck as a blocking fullback and Quitoriano as a blocking tight end. You know it…I know it…you see Beck slow motioning out wide to create space for a zone toss to Pierce. Wrong!
Stroud identifies the weak side linebacker already shading in coupled with the boundary cornerback with 8 yards of cushion with outside leverage. Single high safety look. Yea…it was time. Quick one step drop, Stroud pitch and catch to Dell on the quick slant for an easy gain.
Pittsburgh - 1st & 10 at Houston 42
This is film work at its best. Pitre drops down as a linebacker in the sub-package. If I had to guess the indicator here is the the tight end motioning in on strong side indicating a run play. Pitre had spent the day guessing on multiple opportunities with a positive result here.
For fun final video let’s all together watch Shaq Mason stone-wall a linebacker.
Houston put together a fantastic offensive scheme to cripple the Pittsburgh pass rush, a clear defensive scheme relying on the 4 man pass rush with multiple stunts. Stroud continues his confidence growth despite a reserve offensive line group. If Houston can get the running game moving efficiently fans might see something special.
Game ball to Bobby Slowik.
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