The Steelers are on the road once again this week as they travel down to Houston to take on the Houston Texans with yet another new version of an offensive line. The Texans are coming off of a tough loss to the Saints last week while the Steelers squeaked out a road win against the Colts. This game should be a tightly contested battle and the Texans are rightly the home favorites. As I do each and every week, here are my 7 things to watch for this week if the Steelers want to win the game along with my score prediction at the end of the keys to the game. I will have my week 4 picks and predictions up for the other games later this evening.
No Foster Bananas - The Texans are averaging 4.06 yards per rush through 3 games and they get a reportedly healthy Arian Foster back this week in addition. Foster ran for 1616 yards last year and added another 604 yards on 66 catches. He is the ultimate dual threat running back when healthy. The Texans offensive line is superb as they run a zone blocking scheme that moves like a machine in both directions. The Steelers defense had their problems stopping the run against the Ravens and the Colts and the Texans can cut and chop with the best of them. Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood and Aaron Smith must stay on their feet while controlling the gaps if the Steelers want to win this game. If Foster can run at will, it will be a long day for the Steelers and this should be their number one priority this week.
Hey Diddle Diddle Send A Running Back Up The Middle - The Steelers running game on the other hand has been non existent through the first three weeks of the season as they are averaging just 3.25 yards per rush. The offensive line has already gone through numerous changes and this week Trai Essex will start at left tackle for the injured Jonathan Scott while Ramon Foster will start at right guard in place of the injured Doug Legursky. The Steelers need to attack the middle of the Texans defensive line that has allowed 4.80 yards per carry through 3 weeks. The attack should be straight power running with less focus on misdirection type plays. Isaac Redman has earned more playing time and it is time he gets it. His running style is exactly what the Steelers need and the line just needs to get a hat on a hat. Rashard Mendenhall needs to stop trying to bounce everything outside and must trust the blocking up front between the tackles. Any semblance of a running game early this week will bring with it the threat of play-action and open up the middle of the field for Ben Roethlisberger to work with in the passing game.
Tired Of Turnovers - The last thing the Steelers offense needs to do this week is to give the Texans offense a short field to work on via a turnover. The Steelers enter week 4 with a -9 turnover differential after giving it away 10 times already in just 2 separate games. Roethlisberger has been responsible for 8 of those 10 with 4 interceptions and 4 fumbles. He can not afford to take too many chances by holding the ball long in the pocket with so many questions still yet to be answered on the offensive line. A short deliberate passing attack concentrating on getting the ball out quickly should be his primary concern this week.
Make Matt Move - Outside of the second half against the Seahawks, the Steelers defense has been unable to get quality pressure on the opposing quarterback. Left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley has been pretty quiet to start the season and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons has yet to record a sack when he blitzes. Matt Schaub is a solid quarterback, but he is prone to mistakes when under constant pressure or forced out of the pocket. If the Texans offensive line gives him time to throw, it will be tough to keep him from picking apart the open areas in the Steelers zone defense. The Steelers most control the tempo of the game by attacking Schaub early and often and I expect Dick LeBeau to throw the kitchen sink early and often this week.
No Big Johnson - Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is one of the best in the game. Ike Taylor is off to a great start this year and effectively controlled Lee Evans in week 1 and Reggie Wayne just last week. Taylor is not going to shut out Johnson on Sunday, but he can\'t allow him to have too many explosive plays, if any. He needs to wrap up Johnson quickly after the catch and can\'t allow Johnson to score in the redzone. Taylor must bang on Johnson off of the line of scrimmage and force him to earn his pay underneath or force Schaub to go to his second or third receivers. Another solid week by Taylor on Johnson and you can start talking about a trip to Hawaii for Taylor.
Muscle Mario - The Texans have switched to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the change means Mario Williams now assumes a role much like that of Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Williams is not 100% after suffering a knee injury last week against the Saints so the Steelers really need to muscle him around Sunday by giving Essex help with a tight end. Williams is a power pass rusher and can be controlled with the proper help in both the running and passing game.
Special Teams Can Win Or Lose This One - This game figures to be a close contest. Special teams could play a huge part in this game and the Steelers punt return special teams units have bee solid thus far on both sides. Antonio Brown is one of the most exciting young players in the game right now and he can make a huge mark on this game if he takes one to the house. He has come close to busting a few already and field position will be critical in this game against a Texans offense that can move the ball. The Steelers have only forced 1 turnover in the first 3 weeks and it would be nice to see the coverage units help that number out this week by forcing 1 or 2 on their own. These units can win or lose this game with just 1 big play this week.
Steelers Texans Game Prediction - The Steelers looked bad week 1 against the Ravens and did not really dominate the Seahawks or Colts like they should have. The Texans are a good team this year and should have no problems winning the AFC South this year with the Colts already out of it. The Steelers can answer several questions about what type of team they are with a road win against the Texans and it will take a solid effort in all 3 phases of the game. I expect some crazy type scoring in this game and the Steelers will hit 28 the hard way this week and it will good enough for the win.
Final Score: Steelers 28 Texans 27