The Steelers are currently 2-0 after a win in Week 2 over the Broncos. There were lots of things that needed to be cleaned up from that game, but the Steelers did end up winning anyway. Heading into Week 3 against an 0-2 Houston Texans team, the Steelers will look to start 3-0. It will not be a cakewalk however given the talent the Texans have on offense. What should the Steelers expect to see?
The Texans on offense use the Erhardt-Perkins offensive scheme. Very much a disciple of the Bill Belichick tree, Bill O’Brien wears those influences on his sleeve. However, that does not mean he has not taken influence from elsewhere. There are elements of Steve Spurrier’s offenses in this offense as well. Still, the main point stays true for the offense just like it is for New England’s offense. The Texans scheme is all about creating and finding mismatches in a highly versatile scheme that looks to use running backs and tight ends heavily as weapons. The main point of the offense is to give the defense different looks every time. O’Brien could quite literally run the same route combinations out of a multitude of different looks. He does not emphasize one aspect of the passing or running game, but instead nicely mixes it all throughout. That includes play action, spread concepts, and even sometimes a hint of air raid influences come through.
This is one spread idea that they run. O’Brien likes to really spread the defense out and bust the seam with either their size at tight end or their athleticism at receiver. Tight end Jordan Akins has been heavily targeted this season and he feels like a key player to watch as well. With his size and athleticism, he can be moved around the offensive formation as a mismatch. Another guy that can really embody that as well is David Johnson, who is a quicker mismatch when the Texans try to go to the quick passing game. Akins and Johnson are the two guys where O’Brien really likes to run his quick offense through.
No matter good a team’s defensive backs are, this team relentlessly attacks the middle of the field. Throughout all the different looks that the Texans give teams, O’Brien loves to attack the middle of the field and stress defenses horizontally with crossers rather than vertically. Given their speed with Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller, this throws off teams, so when they finally do get vertical this offense can become explosive.
On the defensive side of the football, the Texans run a traditional 3-4 defense, but to mix things up and get into sub-packages quickly. The 4-2-5 Nickel defense is something they have run a lot of, but have shied away from it at times recently due to a plethora of injuries to defensive backs. Even more interesting is how exotic the coverages and looks the Texans have given quarterbacks are this year. From 2019 to 2020, there is a spike in the disguising of coverages and looks from the pre-snap look to the post-snap look. Ben Roethlisberger’s processing will have to be up to snuff on Sunday.
Key Players to Watch
QB Deshaun Watson
Watson is the best quarterback that the Steelers have faced this season by far. It is not just because he is far more accurate and savvy that Jeff Driskel and Daniel Jones, but it is how he handles pressure. The Steelers will get home on Sunday, that seems to be a given, but Watson’s escapability to create plays outside of the pocket or take off with his legs is going to be a huge part of this defense’s gameplan to slowing down the Texans offense. That is why Watson gives the Steelers unique challenges. When under pressure, he is uniquely poised. It will not be easy to contain him, but the Steelers relentless defense can do it if anyone can.
WRs Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller
The speedy receivers are going to be the crux of the Steelers’ focus on Sunday. The secondary has given up their fair share of explosive plays on the deep pass this season, and as such with two premier deep threats for Watson to throw to on Sunday, the Steelers will have to clamp down in the secondary. Fuller’s explosiveness immediately off the go makes him the more dangerous player of the two. He is one of the more underrated players due to injury issues, but he is healthy and ready to fully go this Sunday.
DE J.J. Watt
The Watt brother not on the Steelers is still an elite pass rusher in the NFL. Just last week Watt registered two sacks against the Baltimore Ravens. Make no mistake, despite all the injuries, Watt is still as strong as a bull and still has the explosiveness that made him so dominant in the middle of his prime. An underrated part of Watt’s game is just his awareness. When he has no chance to actually get home to the quarterback, Watt does an absurdly good job of getting his hands up to bat down the passes, something that has given Roethlisberger some trouble this season. Regardless of how good he still is, Watt is the most dangerous player on this defense.
Key Matchups to Watch
The Watts vs Right Tackles
Both T.J. Watt and J.J. Watt are facing potential mismatches today as they get ready to face off in a brotherly matchup. T.J. faces second-year player Tytus Howard who has really struggled early on in the season. Frank Clark of the Chiefs gave him trouble and so did Matt Judon of the Ravens. T.J. has been dominant as expected to open up the season, and this is yet another game where he can have a wildly productive day.
On the other side, J.J. faces Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor looked great in his first start against the Broncos and surrendered zero pressures the entire game, including to Bradley Chubb. Watt is a tough challenge for Okorafor to rise to, but in the past, he has done well against Von Miller, so Okorafor is ready to take on any challenge he can get. It stands to be said J.J. will likely win his fair share, but Okorafor has to battle it out and stick tough with his anchor and core strength.
Diontae Johnson vs Texans Defense
The Texans defense is one that has struggled tackling thus far on the season. They had a whopping 20 missed tackles against the Chiefs and followed that up with another 17 against the Ravens. Shifty players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and JK Dobbins have given them trouble. Well, the Steelers have an elusive player in the open field themselves in Diontae Johnson. Johnson leads the NFL in forced missed tackles among wide receivers. It would seem likely that Randy Fichtner would try to get the ball to Johnson in space early and often against the Texans.