The Steelers will travel to Houston to take on the Texans on Sunday. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
This is a pivotal game for both teams. Each team has a 2-1 record, but both teams have shown major flaws which need to be addressed.
The Texans have traditionally been a high-scoring team. This year they’re 7th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 30 points per game. However, despite the impressive scoring output, the Texans’ offense has actually struggled. They’ve played without 2010 NFL rushing leader Arian Foster for most of the season, and they’ve struggled in the red-zone without him.
Foster’s back-up, Ben Tate, has been more than adequate in Foster’s absence. He’s run for 301 yards in the Texans first 3 games, and the Texans rank fifth in the NFL in rushing yards. However, the Texans rank 30th in the NFL in red-zone percentage. They’ve managed to score on just 5 of 16 trips inside the 20 yard line. Last week, against the New Orleans Saints, they were only able to score a touchdown on 1 of their 5 times in the red-zone. Instead of touchdowns, they settled for 4 field goals.
Last year, Foster led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and the Texans were fifth in red-zone percentage. So his return should do a lot to help fix their red-zone woes.
The Steelers have had struggles of their own. They’ve had difficulty playing on the road so far. They got crushed in Baltimore, and barely squeezed out a win last week in Indianapolis. So traveling to Houston may not be a good thing for the Steelers.
But perhaps more concerning for the Steelers is the fact that their offensive line, which was already struggling, got dinged up pretty badly against the Colts. Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky, and Marcus Gilbert all got hurt during the game.
Colts’ defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had their way with the Steelers offensive line last week. And things aren’t going to get any better this week when they face the Texans’ Mario Williams. Williams is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he may be better than either Freeney or Mathis.
Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott seems to struggle against speed rushers. He also struggles against big, powerful bull rushers. He actually got pushed backwards fairly consistently last week by Dwight Freeney, who is fairly small for his position. So what’s he going to do against Mario Williams, who is big, strong, and super fast?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Williams is slightly bigger than Brett Keisel, but he runs like Lawrence Timmons. See the problem?
Another player who may give the Steelers problems is Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league. He’s 3rd in the league in receiving, and will provide a worthy challenge for Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor.
Ultimately, the final outcome of the game may be determined by the Steelers’ front 7. If they can stop the Texans’ running game, that will greatly aid in sealing a win. Over the past 10 years, the Steelers have been one of the best teams in the NFL at stopping the run. But for some reason, they’ve struggled in that area this season.
In particular, the left side of the Steelers’ defense has struggled. Aaron Smith has been unsuccessful at holding his ground and occupying blockers, and LaMarr Woodley has applied almost no pressure to the quarterback.
I anticipate the Steelers are going to struggle with offensive line issues for the rest of the season. That same issue has plagued the team for at least the last 3 seasons, so there’s nothing new there. But if Smith and Woodley can pick up their respective games, then the Steelers have a real chance of leaving Houston with a victory.
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