The Houston Texans (3-3) and the Pittsburg Steelers (3-3) are two teams who have at times have played great in the first six weeks of the NFL season, and at other times have faltered. Although the bookmakers are favoring Pittsburg, the home team, by 3.5 points, this game can certainly go either way.
The Texans got off to a fast start this season, winning their first two. But since that time have gone 1-3, including losing their last two games. Those defeats included a 20-17 OT loss to Dallas and a 33-28 beating by the Colts on Thursday Night Football. Their last game, the loss to Indy, was on October 9th. They arrive in the Steel City rested.
The Steelers started the first week of the season at home beating division opponents Cleveland 30-27. Since that time they have alternated victories and losses. In last week’s game on Sunday, they met Cleveland for the second time this season. In that one, they lost to the Browns 31-10. If Pittsburgh is true to form, this week should be a win. But if you know the NFL, one thing is for certain: patterns are meant to be broken.
Keys for Houston
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has to play mistake-free and that will not be easy. Fitzpatrick has six INTs to six TDs, making his interception and touchdown percentages the same. For Houston, the key on offense will be establishing their running game first. Arian Foster, who is listed as probable for the game, is the team’s major force on the ground, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. He has five rushing TDs.
Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, both of whom are listed as probable, are critical pass catchers. Johnson is capable of the big play, but having fumbled twice and lost both, he’s also a potential rally wrecker. Both wide outs need to bring game on Monday night.
The Houston defense gives up a lot of yards. Yet, they have 10 sacks, 17 TFL, and 10 forced fumbles with 8 being recovered. If J.J. Watt, at defensive end, Kendrick Lewis, at free safety, and D.J. Swearinger, at strong safety, can create the havoc they are capable of, the Steelers offense will have a tough night of it.
Keys for Pittsburgh
Big Ben Roethlisberger is a fine QB when he’s given the time to set up and pass. He has tossed 8 TDs and 3 INTs. However, he’s been sacked 17 times and is vulnerable to the rush. He’ll need to keep his wits about him and his line around him, as the Texan D offers opponents some tricky stunts.
The Steelers put solid running and passing games on the field. RB Le’Veon Bell is the primary guy on the ground, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, while wide out Antonio Brown is the main man when it comes to catching TDs. Averaging 15.3 yards per catch, Brown has caught 5 passes for touchdowns.
Although Pittsburgh’s defense is not the impenetrable curtain that it was over the past few seasons, it has potential. A loss of vets has weakened the Steeler D, however, they do have some young talent that possesses a lot of potential. They’re good at limiting yards, but are vulnerable to the big play and giving up points. Veteran strong safety Troy Polamalu is the glue on what is an inexperienced defense. Cornerback Cortez Allen has 2 of the team’s 3 picks, while defensive end Cameron Heyward has made 3 of the club’s 9 sacks.
How This Game Looks
This is one of those games that both teams need to win and for a few reasons. Houston does not want to go down to a third straight loss. That would put them in a very bad place as a team and drastically reduce their chances of making the playoffs. For the Steelers, this is the first of three straight home games, and securing a victory here would give them something on which to build. They are presently fourth in their division. Also, for either team there’s simply a big difference between being 4-3 and 3-4.
Look for this to be a hard-fought contest with the Texans taking advantage of the inexperienced Pittsburgh defense, while Roethlisberger will pick away at the Houston D, which has proven to be flawed. Who wins? If this is a three-point game and it comes down to a field goal, although Pittsburg placekicker Shaun Suisham has hit a bigger percentage of his kicks, Houston leg-man Randy Bullock is better from far away. Bullock can split the uprights from 50-plus yards. That can be big in this contest.
But here’s the real and final skinny on this Monday Night Football game, although Houston’s defense gives up a lot of yards they can also make big plays. In terms of forced fumbles, interceptions, and sacks, the Texans are superior to the Steelers. I like the visiting Texans with the spread.