The Houston Texans got off to a surprising 2-0 start last year, looking solid with the addition of Matt Schaub at quarterback, Andre Johnson tearing up the league, and surprising newcomer Jacoby Jones making exciting play after exciting play. Defensively they still had problems, but rookie DL Amobi Okoye was better than they could’ve hoped and DeMeco Ryans was on his way to proving himself as possibly the best middle linebacker in the game. Unfortunately, the Texans couldn’t take it to the next level because like so many teams trying to get to the playoffs for the first time, they lacked any real depth if the starters went down, which this being the rough-and-tumble NFL, they inevitably did. Schaub, Johnson, Jones, and Ryans all missed time with injuries and the Texans sputtered to an 8-8 finish. Make no mistake, this is a team that has improved markedly under Coach Gary Kubiak but they will need more consistency, more depth, and a lot of luck if they harbor any hopes of finally competing with Indianapolis and Jacksonville for the AFC South.
STEELERS OFFENSE VS. TEXANS DEFENSE
The Texans are a 4-3 team that generally plays a lot of Cover 2 zone. They’ve made strides in developing the most important part of a Cover 2 scheme, the defensive line, but there’s still a ways to go.
The good news is that they appear to have two quality pass rushers on the D-line in Okoye and 2007 1st overall pick Mario Williams. Williams actually got better and better as last season progressed and he will be one of the keys to the team’s success (or failure) this year. They are not afraid to move Williams around given his size and athleticism and if he can finally put together an entire season where he shows people why he went so high in the draft, the Texans defense would take a giant step toward respectability.
Unfortunately, Okoye and Williams are out on an island as they got nothing from anybody else last season. Neither Travis Johnson nor Anthony Weaver recorded a sack last year. Johnson got lost in old friend Dom Capers‘ 3-4 scheme coming into the NFL and has never recovered. He is also the infamous player who got a lot of heat for taunting an obviously hurt Trent Green last season. To me, Green was the real prick on the play, taking one of the worst cheap shots you can in an NFL game but because he got hurt and he’s a QB, the NFL wrote it off.
CB Dunta Robinson makes plays and is good enough to lock down on quality receivers but was injured in camp and not expected to play. Jacques Reeves was known as “the most thrown at cornerback in the NFL” last season. Much like being the girl with her phone number written in the men’s bathroom stall or the odd geek in Harry Potter glasses who stands behind a Ficus at parties, that’s not a particularly good rep to have.
The Steelers, a running team now and forever, have been steadily moving toward a more wide-open style offense as QB Ben Roethlisberger matures. My gut feeling is Houston has the talent to clamp down on the running game, at least in the early going but will struggle mightily if Ben is given a lifetime to throw the bal. Considering the play of the Steelers O-line this preseason, I don’t think they’ll have to worry about that. It is going to fall to the Dynamic Duo of WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes to get open , catch the ball, and establish a lead. Holmes in particular should be primed for a big game as he should be matched against Reeves who loves to give 5-8 yard cushions to speedy receivers.
STEELERS DEFENSE VS. TEXANS OFFENSE
The Texans run the exact same type of offense as the Broncos run with Gary Kubiak being a longtime Bronco player and then offensive coordinator. You’ll see a lot of slants and short routes, but this is a West Coast offense that goes deep more often than you expect.
Matt Schaub will lead the attack as long as he’s healthy. Schaub is a big guy but has one of the weaker arms in the league, although as long as Chad Pennington is around tossing his knuckleballs he’ll stay off the bottom of the list. However, he can make enough of the throws and is very accurate. Plus, unlike former starter David Carr, he knows when to get rid of the ball and doesn’t piss his pants in fear when a pass rush is coming at him.
With a Broncos type of offense, you’re likely to see multiple tailbacks platooning. They have an interesting mix with Ahman Green for speed, Chris Brown for power, and rookie Steve Slaton to do a little of everything. The only problem with their Poo Poo Platter Backfield is both Brown and Green are historically injury prone while Slaton carries on the fine tradition by recently missing time because his big toe is ouchie. Both veterans have also had a problem with fumbles throughout their career which makes me wonder why they didn’t draft Rashard Mendenhall to complete the trifecta.
The strength of the offense, and probably of the team, is a solid to possibly explosive wide receiving corp. Jacoby Jones was dynamite in preseason, but got hurt early on and couldn’t do much. Andre Johnson has always been a nightmare for defensive backs because of his size (230 pounds) and speed (4.3 speed). However, he got hurt last year as well and may not be fully recovered. Andre Davis came in and had a great season given the situation. He would be in line to replace Johnson if Johnson can’t go. Owen Daniels is one of those decent receiving tight ends in a West Coast offense.
The wideouts also contribute to an excellent special teams unit. Davis was 2nd in the league in kickoff returns last season, with a tremendous 30.3 yards a return. Jacoby Jones did alright at 9.5 yards a punt return, but he was banged up all year long. He’s really more explosive than his numbers suggest. If Mike Tomlin hasn’t figured out how to shore up the atrocious special teams play that hurt the Steelers all last year, this game will definitely expose them.
The offensive line had its best season in the team’s history which isn’t saying much when previous years saw some of the absolute worst O-line play in NFL history. Still, like the Steelers, they’re a much better run blocking unit than pass blocking. In fact, last season they would often run on third and 5 (and succeed) rather than risk a pass. A key for the Steelers will be to get ahead and force Houston into a one-dimensional passing offense. Then defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau can turn the dogs loose on poor hapless Schaub. It’s a risk, though, because if for some reason they can’t get to the QB, the Texans receivers are a definite threat against pretty much any secondary in the league.
The game will be won in the trenches, both offensively and defensively. Whichever lines can assert their manhood more forcibly will take control of this game and eventually emerge with a win. I know with the Steelers absolutely brutal 2008 schedule it’s very easy to look past this game and on to bigger and better things but that would be a huge mistake. The Texans are not the pushovers they were in seasons past and anything less than a total concentrated effort and we’ll all be crying in our Irons on Monday morning.
Remember Bowling Green. This is the professional equivalent of that collossal failure. Let’s hope the Steelers were paying attention to that game as closely as all the suckers Pitt fans were.