Kevin Gorman Take 5: Five thoughts on Steelers 34, Texans 6
1. That the Steelers released their all-time sacks leader James Harrison two days before Christmas has me confounded.
Clearly, the Steelers needed to make room for right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who returned from a four-game suspension for using a banned substance . With Sean Spence and L.J. Fort sharing snaps at inside linebacker in place of Ryan Shazier, the Steelers have depth on the outside with backups Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats.
If Harrison isn't a starter, he's the odd man out because he doesn't play special teams for the Steelers. So it makes little sense to keep him on the active roster, if he's going to be inactive on game day.
That I get.
But releasing the legendary linebacker two weeks before the start of the playoffs doesn't make much sense. Harrison has played limited snaps this season but proved in the playoffs against the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs that he can make pivotal plays and showed in Week 6 that he still has Eric Fisher's number .
It's possible, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport suggested, the Steelers released Harrison because he would clear waivers, and they could re-sign him after the Houston Texans game.
But if this is the end for Harrison, let's remember the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an undrafted free agent who was cut five times, for what is arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history .
And this .
2. The Steelers' opening drive in their 34-6 Christmas victorv over the Texans at NRG Stadium was a thing of beauty, with four consecutive first downs: Ben Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for 12 yards and Vance McDonald for 14 and 20 before Le'Veon Bell made a nice cutback for an 11-yard run.
Made you think for a second that they didn't miss Antonio Brown.
Then the Steelers showed why they do.
Bell followed with a pair of 1-yarders, and a third-down pass to Eli Rogers fell incomplete, forcing the Steelers to settle for a Chris Boswell 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The next possession, the Steelers went 54 yards on six plays, highlighted by a pretty pass that dropped over Bryant's shoulder for a 38-yard gain and capped by a 5-yard pass to a sliding Justin Hunter for his first touchdown with the Steelers and a 10-0 lead.
That the Steelers got single coverage from the Texans, which Brown never sees, helped their pass game. That Bryant benefited most from Brown's absence is an important development, as much for Bryant's confidence as it was for the Steelers' confidence in him.
3. Those infuriated by the NFL reversing James James' touchdown catch in the 27-24 loss to the Patriots had to love how the first quarter ended and the second quarter began: Back to the Future.
A review reversed the ruling of a 5-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on a second-and-12 at the Steelers' 22. It was an ill-advised pass to begin with, as James was open on a crossing route, and Roethlisberger instead threw into triple coverage.
After a lengthy break, the referee was forced to make an announcement: “We have to go back to the first quarter.”
So the Steelers threw another 5-yard pass, this time to McDonald.
The NFL should be embarrassed by the inefficiency of its reviews.
4. The Steelers clinched a first-round bye for the AFC playoffs — they could get home-field advantage with a win over the Cleveland Browns coupled with a New England loss to the N.Y. Jets — but their run defense remains a concern.
The Texans exposed that in the second quarter, when they caught strong safety Sean Davis in a blitz from the right side and Alfred Blue went opposite to break a 48-yard run to the Steelers' 18. That was followed by Lamar Miller's 13-yarder and quarterback T.J. Yates scrambling for 11.
That's when Texans coach Bill O'Brien got too cute.
On second-and-goal at the 1, he pulled Yates and ran a direct snap to Blue, who was stopped by Spence for no gain. On third down, the Texans threw a corner fade intended for Braxton Miller. On fourth down, Yates' pass to Will Fuller V was intercepted in the back of the end zone by cornerback Artie Burns for a touchback.
The Steelers showed the Texans how it's done, promptly responding with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by fullback Roosevelt Nix's 1-yard touchdown run, the first of his career.
5. Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas and that all of your wishes came true.
I know Tamara Tuitt's did, thanks to the gift from her son, Stephon Tuitt .
And I'm pretty sure Smith-Schuster enjoyed unwrapping his Christmas present under the goalpost.
All I want for Christmas is to see Ryan Shazier walk again .
Here's hoping my wish comes true, too.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.