5 for Friday: It's all about the wins, not the numbers

In today’s fantasy football climate and more access to highlights either via television or the internet, there’s a good reason for those wanting more points.

After all, it’s an offensive game. The rules are set up to allow more scoring, certainly much more so than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

But that doesn’t mean you still can’t win games playing defense. It’s just a little different variation than it used to be.

Completely shutting down opposing offenses on a week-to-week basis is difficult to do. But if a defense takes the football away and sacks the quarterback, it can be very effective, regardless of how many yards it might allow.

By the same token, putting up arbitrary yardage numbers on an offense doesn’t mean anything, either..

Football is a simple game. You just need to score one more point than your opponent when the game clock runs out to win the game.

It’s not tennis, where a player needs to win a certain number of points to win a game and a certain number of games to win a match.

It’s also not untimed like baseball. Once a team gets a lead, it’s beneficial to do things that force time to be taken off the clock to allow you to win. And unlike professional basketball, there’s no shot clock involved, so you can hold the ball as long as you want.

There also are not points awarded, as they are in professional hockey, for losing in overtime. A loss is a loss.

So picking arbitrary numbers out of the air for what to accomplish offensively, such as scoring 30 points in a game or gaining 400 yards of offense, are meaningless.

Can they be a path to victory? Absolutely.

But history – at least Steelers’ history – shows that simply reaching those totals doesn’t necessarily mean you win the game.

The Steelers last scored 30 points at Acrisure Stadium last season against the Bengals. They lost the game, 37-30.

They last gained more than 400 yards of offense in a game in a 2020 playoff game against the Browns at Acrisure Stadium. We all know how that game turned out.

Simply picking a number on offense and saying you need to achieve that doesn’t mean a thing if the defense isn’t playing well in conjunction with your offensive efforts or if the offense also is turning the ball over in droves.

Case in point is the initial meeting between the Steelers and this week’s opponent, the Texans, back in 2002.

The Steelers had 422 yards of offense in that game. They limited the Texans to just 47 total yards.

But the Texans won that game, 24-6, because they returned two interceptions and a fumble for touchdowns.

It’s understandable in a season in which the Miami Dolphins just scored 70 points and posted 726 yards in a win over the Denver Broncos to look longingly at what that offense just did.

But also realize the week before, the Dolphins gained 389 yards and slugged out a 24-17 win at New England.

Just because one team wants to turn their games into a track meet doesn’t mean you have to play along. In fact, oftentimes, doing so will likely lead to a loss.

The Steelers? They’ve never really been built that way.

At the height of the Killer Bs (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell) one of the chief complaints of Steelers fans was that the team’s defense wasn’t good enough.

The Steelers now? They’re not particularly interested in turning games into basketball on turf.

“All we care about is getting the win,” said tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett concurred.

While his passing numbers aren’t as gaudy as some others out there, the stat that matters the most is winning. And the Steelers are now 8-2 in the past 10 games in which Pickett has started and finished the game.

“People are going to say what they want to say. It’s OK,” said Pickett. “It comes with the position, and you know, we all understand the stage that we’re on, we’re in the NFL, it comes with it. But all we’re looking to do is go out there and win.”

It’s all about the wins, not the numbers.

• Think Kirk Cousins would trade places with Pickett right about now?

Cousins entered Week 4 of the NFL season leading the league in passing yards with 1,075. His 9 touchdown passes also lead the league.

The Vikings are 0-3.

Passing yards and touchdown passes are great. But a look at the leading passers in the NFL each week typically includes a whole bunch of quarterbacks who lost their games.

• The Steelers have now played two games without star defensive tackle Cam Heyward – and wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

They’ve gone 2-0 in those games.

Football is the ultimate team sport, and you’re only as good as your depth, which will be tested over the course of a 17-game season.

What will be interesting this week against Houston is that the players directly replacing Heyward will likely face former Steeler Kendrick Green, who has started the first three games of the season at left guard for the Texans after being traded to Houston before final cutdowns.

For a veteran such as nose tackle Montravious Adams, such a meeting is nothing new. The Steelers are the third team for which he’s played in the NFL. When you’ve been around the league for a while, you’re bound to wind up playing against a player against whom you practiced quite a bit.

For younger players such as DeMarvin Leal or rookie Keeanu Benton, facing Green will be a first.

“No, this will be something new for me,” Benton said this week. “I went against Kendrick a lot during training camp.”

So, there won’t be many surprises when those two face off.

“No, he knows me and I know him,” said Benton. “But knowing what’s coming doesn’t mean anything. You still have to win.”

• Green won’t be the only player who has swapped sides in the Steelers-Texans matchup. The Texans released cornerback Desmond King among their final cuts at the end of training camp, and the Steelers immediately scooped him.

With King having direct knowledge of Houston’s coverage schemes and checks, you’d better believe Pickett is picking his brain this week to get an idea of what to expect this Sunday in certain situations.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of “SNR Drive” on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

“Yeah, obviously, his previous stint (was) there, his lockers right next to mine. So, (I) talked to him a little bit and throughout practices this week, I’ll kind of just pick his brain a little bit not over the top where I’m thinking too much, but just a little tidbit here and there that can help me.”

• Losing strong safety Terrell Edmunds to free agency in the offseason figured to be an issue for the Steelers, especially with their defense against tight ends.

The strong safety often draws that matchup with opposing tight ends.

But through three games, the Steelers’ tight end defense might actually be better than it has been in recent seasons – when it has been among the best in the NFL. The Steelers have allowed opposing tight ends to catch just eight of 14 passes thrown their way thus far this season. More impressive has been the 69 yards opposing tight ends have gained on those receptions.

By comparison, the Houston Texans have allowed 17 completions on 20 passing attempts for 162 yards and one touchdown to opposing tight ends in their first three games.

Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee have split the strong safety duties for the Steelers this season, with 

Neal has allowed just five receptions on 11 targets for 78 yards in his coverage, while Kazee has given up 7 completions in 12 targets for 81 yards.

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