The Houston Texans (boo!!!!) come to Heinz Field to play the season opener against our Pittsburgh Steelers (Yay!!!!!). The game is scheduled to start at 1:00PM EST.
This will be the two teams’ third meeting since the Texans joined the NFL as an expansion team in 2002. During that inaugural season, the Texans upset the Steelers 24-6. During their second meeting in 2005, the Steelers defeated the Texans 27-7. Many consider the Texans to be an up and coming team, so a Steelers victory is not assured.
Here are a few things to watch in Sunday’s game. In my opinion, these elements may well determine the outcome of the game.
Mario Williams and the Texans front 4 versus the Steelers offensive line
The Texans boast three 1st round picks on their defensive front four. Last year, defensive end Mario Williams finally started to look like a #1 overall draft pick after a lackluster rookie year. The 6’7” Williams is a nightmare for offensive linemen. He’s tall, strong, incredibly fast, and weights 290 pounds. That’s a tough challenge for even the best left tackles. Williams recorded 14 sacks, and was constantly in opposing backfields.
Last year, the Steelers’ offensive line gave up 47 sacks during the regular season, and 6 more during the playoffs for a total of 53 sacks. Over the past two years, they’ve given up 97 sacks. Few teams have given opposing defenses such easy access to their quarterback. If I didn’t know better, I’d be asking Big Ben what he did to make his offensive line hate him so much.
The Steelers offensive line has to at least be competitive in this battle, or Byron Leftwich may have to finish the game as Ben Roethlisberger is being rushed to the hospital on a stretcher.
Santonio Holmes versus Jacques Reeves.
The Texans most talented cornerback, Dunta Robinson is starting the season on the physically unable to perform list. Unlike Casey Hampton, Robinson is not on the PUP list because he can’t resist Krispy Kremes. Robinson injured his knee last November in a game against the Raiders, and is still not fully recovered.
Playing in Robinson’s place will be former Dallas Cowboy CB Jacques Reeves. Reeves is a proven veteran, but he is no Deion Sanders. Reeves is known as a sure tackler who gives up a lot of completions. I’m sure Santonio Holmes is salivating as he thinks about this match-up. Holmes led the league in yards/catch last season, and playing against Reeves, he should be able to continue that success.
James Harrison versus Texans LT Duane Brown
Hey rookie, welcome to the NFL!!!! Now you know why they call him “Silverback”. But don’t feel bad, he did the same thing to Browns LT Joe Thomas last year during Thomas’ inaugural game.
Andre Johnson versus Steelers CB’s
Andre Johnson is a big receiver at 6’3”, 219 lbs. Johnson is one of the most under-rated receivers in the NFL. He is incredibly productive, and last year he had 851 yards receiving despite missing 7 games due to injury.
Pittsburgh Special Teams versus Texans punt and kickoff return teams
Last year, the Steelers special teams provided opponents with wider lanes than the Pennsylvania Turnpike. During the pre-season, it appeared that little has changed. If the Steelers are to win, they have to prevent their opponents from “taking it to the house” on kickoff and punt returns.
Rashard Mendenhall versus “Mr. Oops”
Will Mendenhall prove to be the talented back that the Steelers thought they were getting when they drafted him in the 1st round of the 2008 NFL Draft, or will he prove to be the fumble machine that he was during the preseason?