Steelers vs. Texans: 5 Reasons This Is an AFC Championship Game Preview
With the Texans coming off of a loss and the Steelers having quite a lackluster performance against the hapless Colts, this may seem an unlikely matchup for a possible conference championship. But, one week in the NFL does not a season make.
The Texans went toe-to-toe with a Super Bowl contender last week on the road at one of the toughest places to play in the entire league and almost came out with a victory. Meanwhile, the Steelers struggled once Indy made a quarterback change that they obviously hadn't game-planned for.
Those games aside, I still feel that come January we could be seeing a rematch of this Sunday's upcoming Texans and Steelers matchup at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Let's take a look at my reasoning.
The formula for the Steelers has been the same for quite some time now. Get an early lead, run the ball and let your defense do what it does best. It's a method that has them being mentioned as a dynasty for the second time in franchise history.
For the Texans, it's been a reclamation project that has evolved quicker than most anticipated. Sure, they got cooked for 40 last week by Drew Brees after he went nuts in the fourth quarter, but that was Drew Brees. He tends to do that with just about any defense in the league, so I'm going to disregard it. Wade Phillips has been doing this a long time and he knows how to make the necessary adjustments and improvements from week-to-week.
The Texans defense fell from the top of the rankings to fifteenth after their trip to the Superdome, but as I've said all season, that is all that this team needs them to be. I'll explain in the next clip.
I've said all season that if the Texans defense can be middle of the pack, which they currently are at fifteenth, their offense is good enough to win a lot of football games.
I'm willing to go on record and say that if Houston puts up 33 points again like they did last week in New Orleans, this team will win around thirteen games.
Their offense has been this good without the leading rusher in the NFL from last season. The red zone backfires they've had so far this year will be a distant memory once Arian Foster is back in the lineup.
Even with the Steelers hurting on the offensive line due to injuries, we know they can find a way to win even if Ben Roethlisberger has a bad game. If the team is in a position to win at the end of the game, Big Ben has an uncanny knack for making the big play that his teammates need.
Both of these teams have a good enough combo of offense and defense to make a deep playoff run.
There is no need to throw Mike Tomlin's credentials up here for even casual NFL fans to know that he is one of the better coaches in the game. Combine him with Dick LeBeau, who could be in the hall of fame both as a player and a coach, and you have one devastating combination calling the shots.
On the other side, I said right after the hiring of Wade Phillips that he would help make Gary Kubiak a better coach and I believe that has already been proven. Not having to hold the hand of some defensive coordinator who Gary Kubiak hired because he picks up his bar tab has already made a world of difference.
For example, last week in New Orleans, when the defense was on the field you saw Gary Kubiak by the bench talking to his offense for several snaps while Wade was running and calling all the plays for the defense.
Say what you want about Kubiak's track record in Houston, but the guy has been a better game-planner and play-caller so far this season and no one doubted his offensive genius before. Now that he gets to focus on his strength, a combo of him and Phillips could equal great things in the long run.
Everything seems to be breaking Gary Kubiak's way in his playoffs or unemployment season. Peyton Manning is done for the year (supposedly), the Titans are rebuilding and the Jags are starting a rookie quarterback. If that doesn't scream 5-1 or even undefeated within the division, I'm not sure what does.
Also, no disrespect to Mr. Roethlisberger, but they just finished playing the toughest quarterback they'll face all season in Drew Brees. Even if they show little improvement over the course of the year, that equals (on paper) at least double digits in victories, which earns them the AFC South title and a home playoff game. That could go a long way towards making a run to the AFC championship game.
The Steelers also get to face those three teams I mentioned in the first paragraph. They've already knocked off the Colts and I don't foresee the Jags or Titans being too much of a problem for them. Then they have nine games against teams with losing records from last year. I'd go ahead and run up that AFC North flag for them again with another twelve win season and likely a first round bye in the playoffs. One home win and they're in the title game.
Steelers Pass Rush, Texans Offensive Line
Taking a different approach here in the final slide, I look at probably the biggest single strength of each team. For the Steelers, it's their amazing pass rush and the Texans, their stout offensive line.
No matter how many thick-headed things James Harrison says to the media, the fact remains that the Steelers put up with it because the guy is just a force out there. Farrior, Woodley and some guy named Polamalu can make this game an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, the Texans offensive line is nothing short of amazing. Both in pass protection and in running the ball with Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme. None of these guys ever seem to blow a blocking assignment or allow Matt Schaub less that ample time to throw the football from out of the pocket.
Both of these strengths are enough to get these teams to the title game in January. This weekend, it will be fun to get a preview of the matchup between these two great squads.