The 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 4-10 Houston Texans at NRG Stadium Monday afternoon in a Week 16 conference matchup. The Steelers can secure a first-round playoff bye on Monday depending on what the Jacksonville Jaguars do on Sunday. While the Steelers are considered big road favorites against the Texans, there are several key storylines worth pointing out ahead of that contest.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of the Monday game that will kick off at 4:30 p.m. EST in Houston
Prayers for the golden calf – Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown suffered a left calf injury during the first half of the Steelers loss Week 15 Sunday home loss to the New England Patriots and that will result in him missing the teams final two regular season games. Head coach Mike Tomlin said this past Tuesday that Brown suffered a significant contusion To his lower leg and refused to speculate as to how long he might be sidelined. If things go right and the Steelers win their final two regular season games, then a first-round bye in the playoffs will hopefully give Brown enough time to be ready for a Divisional Round game.
Trying to survive not surviving the ground – The Steelers Week 15 loss to the Patriots still stings nearly one week later. As you would expect, there’s still plenty of talk about the touchdown reception by tight end Jesse James being overturned in addition to the two plays that followed the review. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley gave us more to talk about on Thursday when it comes to the final two plays thanks to him saying that the first play was designed to be either incomplete or out of bounds. While the Steelers did indeed ultimately lose the game, at least there were several positive things to come out of that contest. For starters, the Steelers offense could have and should have won that game and their defense showed that they can indeed play a large amount of man-coverage when the need arises. Now that unit just needs to figure out a way to control Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for four full quarters.
Gilbert returns – Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert returned to the team this past week after serving his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Steelers received a roster exemption for Gilbert that ultimately expires on Monday and they are expected to place him back on their 53-man unit either on Saturday or Sunday and that means one player must be jettisoned to make room for him. Will that player be tackle Matt Feiler and if so, will he clear waivers if he’s the one? While Gilbert was away for four weeks backup tackle Chris Hubbard to a great job of filling in for him and Tomlin made sure give him so well-deserved attaboys this past Tuesday.
Ridley me this – An MCL injury suffered by rookie running back James Conner during the loss to the Patriots ultimately required surgery. As a result of that Conner was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list this past week as his season is now over. In a bit of a surprising move, the Steelers signed veteran free agent running back Stevan Ridley to fill Conner’s spot on the 53-man roster. Ridley, a former draft pick of the Patriots, has carried the football just 39 times in a game dating back to the start of the 2015 regular season. For now, Ridley is expected to be the team’s No. 3 running back behind Le’Veon Bell and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Houston has problems – The Steelers will play the 4-10 Houston Texans on Monday and their Week 16 opponent entered this week with a ton of problems. For starters, quarterback T.J. Yates will have to make his second start of the season on Monday as fellow Texans quarterback Tom Savage is still dealing with a concussion he suffered a few weeks ago. Additionally, the Texans starting offensive line against the Steelers figures to be a makeshift one due to injuries. That unit from left to right figures to be Julien Davenport, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Greg Mancz, Chad Slade, and Breno Giacomini. In total the Texans have 16 players on their injury report this week and this is the same Houston team that hasn’t scored more than 16 points in their last four games.