The Pittsburgh Steelers are in Houston to play in their final road game of the regular season, yet are still hoping that they won’t have to travel again until they head to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. Barring New England getting upset in the divisional round, however, a win tonight is now essential for that to happen.
In order for the Patriots to finish the regular season with a worse record than Pittsburgh, they would have to lose next week, and the Steelers would have to win both of their final two games. So, from the perspective of holding out hope for the top seed, this game is a must-win.
So how will they win? Well, it might help if they can break off some long runs. While the Texans only allow four yards per carry and rank 10th in rushing yards allowed, they have allowed 12 explosive plays on the ground, fourth-most in the league—the Steelers have allowed eight, tied for 20th, by the way.
There is no reason, though, that Le’Veon Bell should not be able to find success in Houston. Especially considering the way that he has played of late—he has three rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns in the past few games—keeping him away from Jadaveon Clowney should be enough of a recipe for a solid day at worst.
The Texans’ secondary is a far cry from what it was last season, but that happens when you lose one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Houston has given up 27 passing touchdowns this year against 11 interceptions, and their 49 explosive plays are the ninth-most allowed. They have also surrendered 16 plays of 40 yards or more, the worst in the league.
Even without Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game has the firepower to handle its business. Their full complement of pass catchers stepped up at various times in the last game, from the wide receivers to the tight ends to, of course, Bell.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant will obviously be key to the game, but I am interested in seeing how much Eli Rogers gets used, as well as Justin Hunter. When Smith-Schuster sat due to suspension, Hunter received over a dozen snaps, but did not get targeted.
With the Texans’ banged up offensive line, it would certainly be nice to see a good game for the edge rushers, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Watt had a great game as a pass-rusher against the Ravens, though he was more quiet a week ago. Dupree recorded a sack, but he still has work to do.
The big personnel question in this game will be at cornerback. Joe Haden is expected to dress, but will he play the full game? Are reports about the Steelers toying with the idea of benching Artie Burns to be believed? In either scenario, Cameron Sutton would be the beneficiary. But it’s equally possible that he doesn’t see a snap.