Some people call me crazy. They say, “Hey. Matt. Boy you sure are crazy.”
And why do they call me crazy you may ask? Well they call me crazy because I’m still writing game previews for a team in the middle of a sad and miserable season, a season that hasn’t mattered since injuries ruined it, especially the one that ended Deshaun Watson’s season. So when people ask me why I keep doing it. I have one simple response.
When I turn the faucet on. This is what comes out.
1.) Martavis Bryant & Juju Smith-Schuster
The Texans don’t matter at all. The Steelers do. Pittsburgh is one of the hopes we have to prevent the same thing we are all dreading, a Patriots Super Bowl. In the last three seasons they have won two, and lost a conference title game to Denver thanks to Von Miller and an all-time great pass defense. I’ll love them forever for that. Miss ya Kubes. The Jaguars could run with the Pats because of a similar mold of playing style, and Blake Bortles is 100% a better quarterback than Peyton Manning was that year. But the Steelers are the most realistic team to poop in the hoody and force strawberries down Tom Brady’s stupid sexy throat.
This weekend Antonio Brown is out. Which is sad in a way. Brown could have caught 12 passes for 250 yards in this game. But in another way, it’s a blessing. The Steelers get more time to gel without him. Ben Roethlisberger gets more attempts to work specifically with Smith-Schuster, and Bryant. It’s like when the favorite son is gone for the weekend and the father realizes the rest of his crops ain’t all that bad after all. Damn Jimmy sure can spin a reel.
The Steelers are going to need both of these players to beat New England. The Patriots have turned into a mediocre defense. But they don’t have one that can contain an offense that is able to feed this trio, a hydra of mashing teeth, lashing tongues, and sticky fingers. All three can beat Malcom Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Eric Rowe in man coverage, and have the same brain waves to split up the Patriots’ zone coverage, especially when they play cover three. More time working together, and more pass attempts for these two is critical for this possible matchup.
And covering them this week are three terrible corners. I cried when I typed that sentence. Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Kevin Johnson, have all had awful seasons. Each one has been battered and fried. Joseph probably won’t be back next year. Jackson could be cut. Johnson will stick around because of the masquerade that is youth. In this game I just want to see something out of one of these players. Any level of competency would be great to see. They probably won’t, but imagine if they did. Pretty cool.
2.) T.J. Watt
You know the NFL feels dumb as hell that they let Watt fall all the way to Pittsburgh in last year’s draft. He’s a great athlete. He’s from the same fluids that created one of the greatest defensive players of all time. And he’s already pretty polished as a pass rusher. He’s going to be one of those guys that gets 15 sacks a year because that’s just what he does.
Right now he rushes the passer similarly to Whitney Mercilus. It’s a lot of rips, and a lot of bull rushes. The difference is he’s a rookie, and has already found out what took Mercilus his entire rookie contract to understand. He’s also really good at dropping back into zone coverage, something integral for a team that blitzes as much as Pittsburgh does.
He’s one of many on the Pittsburgh front seven that is vital for this defense. The Steelers have an average secondary. Whatever. Those kids are alright. Pittsburgh thrives because their pass rush masks the issues they have behind them. It’s easy to cover for a few short seconds or collapse down on wild and wobbly passes that arise out of an ambush. Watt and the gang around him, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and the occasional free running defensive back are what matter here.
Even if you aren’t watching for him, he’s going to be impossible to miss. The camera will constantly do that split screen thing where they show him and J.J. at the same time and make jokes like “I bet they never imagined growing up they would be spending their Christmas together like this” or “Wow. I wonder who their parents could be rooting for?” as if anyone cares at all. People still don’t have clean water in Flint, Michigan. I don’t know if that’s true. I just see it on social media from time to time. I watched a Frontline on it. It made me sick.
A Real Offensive Line
The Steelers have one of the best offensive lines in football. Le’Veon Bell is able to do what he does because he sees the world in a very unique and special way. Vincent Van Gough saw haystacks differently than anyone else ever has and ever will. Bell sees the holes in the line of scrimmage differently than anyone else ever has and ever will. He’s put in the right situation to unleash moments of true human expression because of his offensive line.
All five of them punch the chest and hold on. They all can get to the second level. They stick their blocks. With defenders covered up and their chests strangled like braziers, Bell can pick and poke around the first level, and sample and simmer around the second, until he bounds through empty grass.
On the offensive line David DeCastro is my favorite to watch. He’s the best guard in football. He makes oMg blocks. The ‘Ace’ blocks between him and Mike Pouncey are the best things I’ve ever seen. They are a boxer’s one-two punch.
Some members on the Texans’ will be difficult for them to move around. Benardrick McKinney, Jadeveon Clowney, and Zach Cunningham. If you watch either Castro, or one of these defenders individually, you are going to have a good time no matter what the score is.
4.) It’s 2011 in 2017
Time doesn’t exist. It’s a human fabrication that allows us to organize and count the hours and pinpoint where we are at in our life cycles. The past doesn’t matter. The future doesn’t exist. The only thing there is right now.
When T.J. Yates throws the football synapses will reconnect and travel down a previous path to remember something by re-remembering the previous time I remembered it, but it doesn’t mean anything. I’ll think about Albert Haynesworth chewing Matt Schaub’s foot after being signed THAT WEEK, the Jaguars game when Matt Leinart broke his collarbone immediately and Houston ran the ball 65 times to win, and that Divisional Round battlefield Arian Foster almost carried Houston through. It’s all stuff that doesn’t matter anymore. When I watch Yates play I don’t feel anything. I don’t ever want to see him on the field unless he’s wearing a Reebok jersey. That means it is then, not now, and that is the only place he resides in.
But if you are into wallowing in nostalgia and thinking about the past remember that day, that weekend at the lakehouse, that same lakehouse you were conceived in, when you went with all your friends? Do you remember how grey it was? How cold it was? How the heater was broken? How their was nothing to do but listen to loud music screamed by those old women and drink and drink until cysts grew on your liver. And there was no cable. No television. So you went to Mr. Gatti’s for the pizza buffet, but they didn’t have a pizza buffet, only salad. That was sad. You threw the football in the parking lot and told the manager you were a profesional and not to worry when she came out to flail her toothless gums. And when the clock hit, you went inside to watch on an old monolith and ate romaine lettuce and an overpriced cheese pizza, and saw Andre Johnson catch his first postseason touchdown pass, and J.J. Watt snag Andy Dalton’s pigeon out of the air.
If that is you. Have fun. Watch Yates and think about things that happened before. How they made you feel, how you cherish them, and how they make you worse off when you go back and stomp through the footprints of the past.
5.) Your Family
If you are lucky enough to have people you care about in your life you should spend this time with them instead of on this game. Don’t go sit in your room with your new pair of socks, and Axe soap kit, and stare at the television and try to care about something that doesn’t care about you and doesn’t matter. Go out in the living room. Smile. Help put something together for a younger one. Play some video games. Smoke some cigarettes with your cool uncle even though you don’t smoke. Talk about the good old days back when this country had zero problems and everyone loved each other with your grandparents.
But if yooooouuuuu just have to watch, use it as a leaping off point to have other conversations. You can talk about Rick Smith’s job status, if you would trade Watt and build around Clowney, what head coach Bill O’Brien does well, if NFL free agents will want to play for Warden Bob, if DeAndre Hopkins will have a better career than Andre Johnson, how many years will it take for Johnson to get into the Hall of Fame, the poetry of watching Foster run, if Houston would have won the title in 2011 if Schaub didn’t get hurt, and if you feel anything anymore when you watch this team.