Challenges Mount as the Steelers Prepare for the Houston Texans
Pittsburgh did what they usually do—find a way to win in ugly fashion—escaping with a win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite losing three turnovers and recovering one, the heavily favored Steelers scored three times in the fourth quarter to defeat the winless Indianapolis, which was down to its No. 3 quarterback, Curtis Painter.
Losing the ball and not recovering turnovers is becoming a trademark for the Steelers this season, and Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger has been in the middle of most it. He has thrown four interceptions and lost four fumbles on sacks.
Thus far, Roethlisberger has lost four fumbles on four sacks, two in the opener and two last Sunday against the Colts. He also has been intercepted four times, three in the opener and once Sunday.
Despite the turnovers, Roethlisberger was 25 for 37 for 364 yards and one touchdown. Mike Wallace had his sixth consecutive 100-yard game, catching five passes for 144 yards and an 81-yard score, the longest of his career.
The defense recorded their first turnover of the season when LB James Harrison's sacked Indianapolis QB Curtis Painter, giving an opportunity for FS Troy Polamalu to scoop it up and take it to the end zone
Losing three offensive linemen to injuries during their game—including tackles, Marcus Gilbert (shoulder) and Jonathan Scott (ankle) and starting guard Doug Legursky (shoulder)—the Steelers take a shaky 2-1 record into Houston for another test on the road.
The third road game in four weeks, the Steelers will face the Houston Texans for the first time since September 18, 2005.
On a hot, sweltering day, the Texans decided it might be to their advantage to make their opponent as uncomfortable as possible, so they kept the roof open that day with no thought that their fans would have the suffer the heat.
The Steelers won that game 27-7. Roethlisberger completed 13-of-14 passes for 137 yards and two TDs. Steelers RB Willie Parker adds 138 rush yards and three TDs.
The Texans, known for being slow starters, failed to start 3-0 for the first time in team history when they blew three leads in a 40-33 loss at New Orleans last week.
Texan QB Matt Schaub finished 22-of-39 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns, but was just 2-of-7 for four yards in the red zone.
In 2009, the Texans were among the worst red-zone teams in the NFL. However, last season, with the addition of running back Arian Foster, who led the league in rushing, the Texans finished fourth in red-zone touchdowns and second in red-zone scoring.
If the Texans are going to defeat Pittsburgh at Reliant Stadium, they can't continue to settle for Neil Rackers’ field goals, especially short ones like 22, 27 and 27 yards against the Saints.
In three games this season against Indianapolis, Miami and New Orleans, the Texans have scored five touchdowns on 16 trips into the red zone. They've scored 14 times.
The Texans suffer from a lack of a running game. The Texans were getting a lot of attention when they run the ball at least 30 times.
RB Ben Tate started in his first career game totaling 116 and 103 yards in the first two victories. Tate is averaging 100.3 rush yards per game in ’11 (301 total).
Texan FB James Casey, who moved from tight end to become the lead blocker, has done a good job opening lanes for the running backs, especially Texan workhorse RB Arian Foster, who suffered a hamstring injury during the New Orleans Saints game opening the door for third RB Ben Tate.
In addition to the success of the running backs, the Texans have a decent receiving corp. WR Andre Johnson needs six receptions to reach 700 in a career. Johnson had 10 catches for 112 yards in last game against the Steelers. He is aiming for a fourth consecutive game with seven catches, in addition to having his first 100-yard receiving game of season (128) and 38th of his career last week.
WR Jacoby Jones, listed as questionable with a knee has in three games, has receptions for 91 yards.
WR Kevin Walter, with a bruised shoulder, finished with three catches for 35 yards against the Saints and TE Owen Daniels seeks TD catch in third straight game.
Defensively, there will be two 3-4 defenses on the field. However, Texan defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 defense is different from Dick LeBeau's zone scheme in Pittsburgh.
Phillips' 3-4 is largely a one gap 3-4 system, meaning, unlike the LeBeau system, defensive linemen are often only responsible for one gap between the offensive linemen. This system generally prefers relatively lighter, more agile lineman better able to perform aggressive slants, loops and gap charges in order to directly attempt to sack the quarterback and make tackles
Phillips is a good defensive coordinator. His defenses don't always dominate from a yardage standpoint, but they almost always harass the quarterback. Some of his past players have become sack specialists (i.e., Demarcus Ware and Zach Thomas of the Dallas Cowboys).
The Texan defense ranks eleventh against the pass and seventh.
Starter OLB Mario Williams suffered a stiff knee during the Saints game and is listed as questionable. Williams has recorded five tackles and two sacks in three games this season for the Texans. He could suit up for Week 4 against the Steelers. In 2005, Williams had two sacks in last game against the Steelers.
DE Antonio Smith has recorded one sack in each of the first three games and aiming for a fourth consecutive game with a sack. He’s on pace to finish with 16 this season.
Facing the Steelers will be personal for this former Arizona Cardinal, who played in Super Bowl XLIII to loss to the Steelers. He is still bitter.
LB and former Cincinnati Bengal Johnathan Joseph has two interceptions so far this season and is seeking a third consecutive. This is the same linebacker who wreaked havoc on the Steelers in 2009.
After starting only seven games in 2008, Joseph had the best year of his career in the 2009 season. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 of the 2009 season, Joseph defended his first pass, three in that game with three tackles and returned an interception from Roethlisberger for a 30-yard touchdown, to defeat the Steelers 22-19.
In the November game, Joseph caused a fumble to help the Bengals defeat the Steelers for the second time that same season.
Joseph finished the season with career-highs in tackles with 69 and interceptions with six. He also recorded one forced fumble, 20 pass break-ups and a touchdown.
The Steeler defense has seven sacks, one fumble and no interceptions in three games.
And the last time the Steelers faced the Texans in Houston, S Troy Polamalu had career-best three sacks.
For the Steelers to win, the challenge will be establishing that anemic run game. Currently, RBs Mendenhall and Isaac Redman each have one touchdown. The passing game is no better with three touchdowns from WR Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
The Steeler defense ranks twelfth in rush defense, first in pass defense and second overall and scored their first touchdown against Indianapolis.
For the Steelers to win, the defense will have to put pressure on the QB as well as stifling the run.
It is interesting to note that the Steelers are 29-0 when the defense scores a touchdown. So create a turnover and score.
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