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Derrick’s Dudes & Duds: Harris Shines, Coaching Staff Falters



The Pittsburgh Steelers were thoroughly embarrassed today at NRG stadium, falling to the Houston Texans 30-6. The team got off to an extremely slow start and just never really got rolling in this one. Before looking ahead to the week three matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, let’s discuss some of the best (and worst) performances of the day.

Dude: Najee Harris

By far the best Steelers player on either side of the ball today, Harris ran hard all day. The conditions were less than ideal once again, with defenders frequently in the backfield, but he provided a spark. He added two more explosive runs to bring his season total to six, which is among the league leaders. Previously, Harris had been absent from the passing game but he made an awesome catch and run in a scramble drill during the second half. Aside from him being tackled by a defensive back in space early in the game, Harris played really well. 

Dude: Alex Highsmith

The game plan from Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik was brilliant (more on this later) as it relied upon 6-7 man protection calls and quick passing game concepts. This meant that the Steelers edge rushers didn’t get a ton of great looks today. Whenever Alex Highsmith did get those premium looks, he took advantage. It didn’t show up in the box score necessarily in the form of sacks, but he totaled at least three QB hits, one of which was on a speed rush to force a third down incompletion. 

Dude: Joey Porter Jr.

On first review, it seems like his snaps were down in this one due to offensive personnel decisions made by the Texans. He was targeted once but had airtight coverage on the play. He’s doing everything that he can in limited playing time. Given the struggles of those ahead of him on the depth chart, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he’s inserted into the starting lineup. 

Dude: Chukwuma Okorafor

When you get blown out like this, it’s hard to conjure up too many positives. That being said, Texans stud edge rusher Will Anderson was fairly quiet on the afternoon. Seeing as he really jumped off the film in the first three weeks of the season, that was a bit surprising. We’ll have to see what the tape says but it seemed like Okorafor held his own today. 

Dud: Coaching 

Oh, boy. Where do we start with this one? Mike Tomlin’s group never got off the bus today as they looked totally lifeless throughout the entirety of this game. Between him and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, they looked woefully unprepared against the Texans heavy personnel packages and perimeter run game, both of which were obvious on film coming into the week. Finally, Matt Canada’s offense continues to struggle. It’s an every week thing. From the half dozen failed screens to the baffling fourth-and-one call which took the ball out of Najee Harris’ hands, it’s ugly. Credit to Demeco Ryans and his crew for coaching circles around the Steelers brass today. 

Dud: Minkah Fitzpatrick

You know things are bad when #39 ends up on the wrong side of this article. Fitzpatrick was called for pass interference in the first half on an albeit questionable call, but one that gave the Texans a fresh set of downs. A play later, it looked like Levi Wallace was expecting inside help from him to defend the glance route over the middle, but Fitzpatrick was nowhere to be found. Lastly, he missed an open field tackle on Nico Collins which resulted in an explosive play. It just wasn’t his day. 

Dud: Kenny Pickett

Year two of the Kenny Pickett era is off to an extremely rocky start, as the Steelers once again finished with below 250 total yards on offense and just six points. You can basically choose any number to look at and they’re all equally disappointing. Just 30% of his passing plays were deemed successful while averaging measly 5.0 yards per attempt while barely pushing the ball downfield. The early deep shot to Calvin Austin III looked underthrown and was picked off in the process. His pocket navigation skills look to be a potentially fatal flaw in his game. To make matters worse, he  unfortunately exited the game early with a knee injury. 

Dud: Mason Cole

In 2022, Mason Cole was an upgrade over Kendrick Green and looked like a baseline starter at the pivot. However, he’s struggled in just about every matchup this season. His lack of athleticism has shown up when they’ve tried running their outside zone concepts this season. There were a couple occasions today where he was just completely blown off the ball and pushed back into the ball carrier. It also looked like he was at fault for at least one of the failed stunt pickups in protection. If this trend continues, the Steelers really need to think long and hard about giving James Daniels a look at center whenever he’s fully recovered from his injury.

Dud(s): Levi Wallace/Patrick Peterson

Looping these two in together because it’s hard to really gauge who has been worse to start the season. Wallace has been one of the most targeted cornerbacks in football and Peterson has now given up three touchdowns in just four weeks. The Steelers are playing man coverage at a smaller clip this season, some of that is likely due to them trying to protect the guys on the outside. But it’s impossible to completely shield them from quarterbacks on a weekly basis. Peterson’s defintely lost a step as you could see on the Texans final touchdown play to Nico Collins. Wallace hasn’t even been defending the run well. When the Steelers pass rush isn’t getting home, the Steelers corners look like a liability.