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What To Watch For
1. JJ Watt
JJ Watt is the best defensive player in the league. Period. He is a disruptive force and will move all over the defensive line to find mismatches. Even when he doesn't get pressure, he does a great job at getting his arms up to deflect passes. He has scored 3 touchdowns this season, which is more than anyone on the Steelers not named Antonio Brown. He is just as good against the run as he is against the pass. The Steelers will need to double-team Watt wherever he is on the field. The key to the Steelers success will be keeping the Texans defense out of the end zone. Watt is going to make his plays, but if you limit them to tackles for loss and not turnovers or defensive touchdowns, the Steelers will have a chance to win.
2. The Outside Zone
The Steelers defense is bad. We know that. On top of that, they now have to face a rushing attack that features the best outside zone running back in the game - Arian Foster. The Steelers have been atrocious in defending the outside zone scheme and Arian Foster runs in it better than anyone. This could be a long night for the Steelers defense if they're unable to put the plug in the Texans ground attack. Considering Houston has Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, it is essential for the Steelers to not only get out to a lead, but to make Houston's offense one-dimensional and force them to throw the ball.
3. The First Quarter
Houston has only scored twice in the first quarter through 6 games this season, and both of those scores came against Oakland. The Texans have been slow starters otherwise. If the Steelers can come out hot and put two touchdowns on the board before the Texans know what hit them, they can put the ball in Ryan Fitzpatrick's hands and take it away from Arian Foster. If the Steelers piddle around in the first quarter like they did against Jacksonville and Cleveland, they'll let the Texans stay with their run-heavy gameplan and hang around throughout the game. This is a team that can be buried early. Whether or not the Steelers actually do that is another story.
4. All Antonio Brown Does Is Make Big Plays
Did you watch the Texans-Colts game on Thursday night last week? If you did, you saw TY Hilton running through the Texans secondary like their defensive backs didn't even exist. When the dust had settled, Hilton had 9 catches for 223 yards. Hilton is a very good receiver but Antonio Brown is better. The Colts moved Hilton around the field, including into the slot, to get him beneficial matchups. If the Steelers were smart and watched film on the Texans, they will work Antonio Brown early and often because Houston simply can't match up with him.
5. The Strange Place of the Fanbase
The Steelers fanbase is in a bizarre place right now. Just 7 days ago, everyone was ready to burn it all down, fire everyone, trade everyone and draft Marcus Mariota. Now? After just one more weekend of NFL football? All of a sudden the Browns were the Browns and the Bengals were the Bengals and the narrative has become: "Hey, if we beat the Texans we're right back in the playoff race." Gene Collier set off a stinkbomb on sports radio all week with his article that called for Todd Haley to be fired but totally ignored stats like points scored and allowed. I did his work for him. Alan Robinson at the Trib tried to compare the first 7 Tomlin drafts to the first 7 Cowher drafts. He made up some ridiculous scoring formula for grading picks rather than using an established metric like Career Approximate Value, which I used in the spring when I analyzed the 7 Tomlin/Colbert drafts and the 7 Cowher/Colbert drafts. Social media is a bizarre place right now where some people are ready to light the wagon on fire and drive it off the West End Bridge and others are clinging to the fact that it's a long season and there is still some hope for this team. The strangest part of it is that there is basically no middle ground. Either the sky is falling or the Steelers are going to make the playoffs. If the Steelers struggle in this one, there are enough angsty fans that the boo birds could come out early and often tonight.