The Houston Texans will be flying North into the Steel City to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in week three of their gauntlet of a schedule. Flying into the lands of the 412, airs of controversy under their wings as they land at PIT Airport. Welcome to PGH, where one of the best defenses with The best front 7 in the NFL ignites the black and yellow faithful.
This is where I hail from. Although I call the 814 my home, Pittsburgh is just beyond the rolling Appalachian hills of western Pennsylvania. The popularity of those Steelers stretches across this half of the entire state, entrenching itself into every valley and against every bumper sticker from Erie to State College. It’s a history as detailed as the land surrounding, going from the worst team in the NFL for decades, then entering a dynasty during the Steel Curtain era, the roller coaster rides of the 1980s to early 1990s, and recent dominance under former coach (and NFL Hall of Famer) Bill Cowher to current head coach Mike Tomlin, the best NFL coach of 21st century that doesn’t cut the sleeves off his hoodies. We’ve been very fortunate to celebrate an NFL team that is almost always in the mix to win a championship, where going to the playoffs is a genuine expectation, and anything less is a signal of massive dysfunction.
If anyone reading remembers my introductory article, I referenced only becoming a Texans fan in 2017, in Deshaun Watson’s blasphemously short rookie year. I’m as experienced a Texans fan as I am an experienced writer. I only understand this franchise experience through the foggy and rose-tinted shades of Bill O’Brien, to which few Texans fans seem to be confident in out matching a loaded Pittsburgh front tomorrow.
I don’t blame them, Houston has floundered their first two games, representing a metaphorical deer in headlights as the reality of AFC competition comes crashing in. The Steelers on the other hand have taken full advantage of their soft opening schedule to enforce their will over any unsuspecting teams. The offense, with a newly repaired Big Ben, is prepared to assault every opponent with an unrelenting force of wide receivers that may be impossible to contain. For many that hold the Battle Red flag high, Sunday carries expectations to lower them to half mast.
However, may I provide a moment’s respite. Tomorrow has provided me the opportunity to utilize my personal history and social circles to gauge what many Steelers’ fans think of this upcoming game, and it’s not as straightforward as you think. Of course any fan base is going to have members that are always bearish on the team, but the pervasive sentiment among my friends and family members is one all too common when talking of the Steelers: they should win, because we believe the Steelers are a better team, but they will certainly make it interesting, and nothing is guaranteed.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, the Steelers always hesitate when victory is presented, and will outright lose games that should have never been close. The Colts game in 2017 comes to mind. The 2018 Raiders game that we lost and kept us out of the playoffs. The Seahawks, Ravens, and 49ers games of last year. Every single season, you can uncover at least three games that the Steelers barely snuck out of with a win after several massive mistakes against a punching bag of an opponent, or games they outright lost in embarrassing fashion. It’s a sort of right of passage for every Steelers fan. Success will be found only after holding your breath in anticipation for well over an hour. This was a sentiment held ubiquitously among all that I asked, including myself.
More specific qualms mentioned by those I asked stated a fear of Deshaun Watson and his weapons and a defensive line with a healthy J.J. Watt. The Houston Texans have been a good team for the past few years, and we all expect them to take full advantage of the Steelers’ subpar passing defense and utilize Watt as a disruptor to full advantage. But, ultimately, nearly all of us agreed that the game will be close until the very end, where the Steelers will take a lead with a field goal.
This is what separates the good from the bad. Good teams, like the Steelers, will usually find themselves on the warm side of chance’s dark embrace while those less fortunate succumb to what could have been. It’s obvious with the Steelers how razor thin that line is.
In 2017, the Steelers went 13-3, 2nd best record in the AFC (should’ve been 14-2 and first but...y’know). This will remind most Texans fans of that forsaken year, where the Steelers showed up to Houston and absolutely murdered the Texans 34-6 on Christmas Day (but hey at least we got this catch out of it.) A reminder like that will curl the brow of Houston faithful and question what I’m even on about, but that year was literally a few degrees short of disaster for Pittsburgh. If kicker Chris Boswell would’ve missed a few last second field goals, that beautiful record could’ve easily sunk to 9-7. If he misses a few more kicks in the middle of other games, 8-8 or even 7-9 is not out of the picture.
Wanna know what that Steelers team would look like without an automatic kicker? Check out next year: 9-6-1. Not a bad record and not a bad team either. But not good enough to make the playoffs, thus a failed season. For those that rest under the steel bridges, glory and success are only a few kicks down the road from absolute failure.
Sometimes I get my hopes up and think, “This year, things will be different. This year, we will put away the bad teams and I won’t have to lose my mind every Sunday.”
Like a miner discovering fool’s gold, I’ve already been proven wrong. Watch the Denver game, where the Steelers destroy an already injured team and get off to a big lead, only to spend nearly the entire second half of the game pacing around like a lost grandma in an empty mall as the Broncos clawed back, nearly winning in the final few minutes. If you’re going to win a Super Bowl, losing to Jeff Driskel should not be on the table of possibilities.
This is where my opinion separates with my circle of believers, the Houston Texans are a better team than Denver, and Pittsburgh is going to have to repent for their sins. Houston is going to win this game, and it’ll be for the exact same reasons Denver nearly snatched a win away from Pittsburgh’s trembling hands. The Texans can, and will take advantage of Pittsburgh’s mistakes, and will win the game in an upset. Although I do think Deshaun Watson is going to get murdered in the pocket more than a few times, there’s only so much you can do against a front like this.
As successful as it’s been up here for my entire life, don’t be fooled: the Steelers will always make games interesting. As the summer leaves start to fall, and the green hills turn a soft yellow and deep orange, it is a certainty sports fans across western Pennsylvania will be seeking calm as their Steelers blow another lead in the final minutes. Both a blessing and curse, they are known by their fans to play to the level of their competition, win or lose games unexpectedly, and give every yinzer cardiac arrest every Sunday.
See you all later.
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