On to Houston. After a rollercoaster of emotions in last week’s loss to the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to find their cool and prepare to take on the Houston Texans on Christmas Day. With the Steelers fighting to maintain the second seed in the AFC, this is a game they cannot afford to let slip away. Here are the numbers that are shaping Monday’s matchup against the 4-10 Texans.
Le’Veon Bell is four receptions away from beating his own franchise record for receptions in a season for a running back. Bell, who has 80 receptions this season is four receptions away from beating his franchise record of 83 receptions set in 2014. Why is this relevant? Well with wide receiver Antonio Brown out for the foreseeable future, Bell will be a large part of the Steelers passing game. Look for the Steelers to rely on Bell heavily in the passing game as the team looks to their second most trusted receiving option.
The Steelers will be without the NFL leader in receptions and receiving yards Monday as Brown deals with a calf injury. Now the Steelers will have to deal with the next closest thing to their star receiver as they take on Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is second to Brown in receiving yards with 1313 yards and first in the NFL in touchdown receptions with 12. The Steelers will have their hands full with Hopkins though the defense will be relieved to welcome the return of cornerback Joe Haden, who may be able to help alleviate the threat.
The Texans have given up 380 points this season, the most in the NFL. With the Steelers coming off a high intensity and emotional loss against the Patriots last weekend, Monday’s matchup could be the remedy they need. The Steelers offense has not scored more than 26 points on the road this season, though that could change Monday as the Texans are allowing an average of 27.1 points per game.
The last time Ben Roethlisberger played in a regular season game without Brown was over five years ago or exactly 1870 days from Monday’s date. In that game, a 16-13 overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, Roethlisberger completed nine of 18 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown though he was unable to finish the game, leaving with an injury. Roethlisberger has played without Brown only twice in his career with the other occasion being a playoff matchup against the Denver Broncos two seasons ago. Roethlisberger and the Steelers will have to find a way to grind out a victory without Brown, an MVP candidate and ultimately their most dangerous weapon.
With a victory Monday against the Texans, the Steelers would finish with their best road record since 2010. Defeating the Texans would give the Steelers a 7-1 road record this year, a feat they have not accomplished since 2010, a year in which the Steelers also made a Super Bowl appearance. Though the talk of disappointing road play has attached itself to the Steelers in recent years, the team could make a major statement by taking care of business in Houston.