The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their third regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field against the Houston Texans as they look to notch their third consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a home win against the Texans and move to 3-0 on the season.
No Texas-Sized Rush Lanes – On Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers defense will face the toughest quarterback challenge they’ve faced so far this season in the form of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’ll also be the most mobile quarterback the Steelers defense has faced so far this season and likely will face until the face Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson several weeks from now. The Steelers defense has blitzed quite a bit in their first two games. On Sunday, don’t expect the Steelers defense to blitz nearly as much as Watson has the legs and athletic ability to avoid oncoming pass rushers. More than anything, the Steelers defense needs to practice strong rush lane integrity on Sunday and not let Watson escape the pocket if and when his eligibles are properly covered down the field. Watson has the legs and wherewithal to turn a Steelers defensive pressure into a 40-yard gain if not careful. Watson must be forced to beat the Steelers defense on Sunday with his smarts and strong arm and not his legs. Pressure that keeps Watson in the pocket will go a long way on Sunday even if the sack column needs to suffer a little in the process.
Wattever It Takes To Stop The Oldest Watt – The media couldn’t get enough of the Watt brother storyline this past week and I guess that’s understandable. The Steelers offense better have made sure to reacquaint themselves with the oldest Watt boy, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, this past week as he’s still very much the main cog of that defensive unit even at the age of 31. Watt leads the Texans so far this season in sacks and that’s not too surpassing. While Watt does move up and down the defensive line throughout games, he’ll probably spend most of Sunday lined up across from Steelers tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who will be making just his fourth career start. The Steelers need to make sure that Okorafor has proper help at times throughout Sunday’s game and that help might even be in the form of the middle Watt brother, fullback Derek Watt. J.J. Watt has one career sack against the Steelers and that one came nearly six full years ago. It would be advisable for the Steelers to do everything possible to make sure J.J. Watt leaves Heinz Field on Sunday with only the memories of losing a game to his two younger brothers and not memories of him sacking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger multiple times as part of a Texans win.
Stop Streaking – The Steelers have managed to turn the football over at least once in 25 consecutive games and that’s the longest current streak in the NFL. The last time they didn’t turn the football over in a game was in their 2018 Week 10 blowout of the Carolina Panthers. The Texans defense enters Sunday’s game having failed to record a turnover this season. We saw last week what can happen when the Steelers offense turns the football over and it resulted in a game that looked like it might initially be a blowout turning into a nail biter. Those two Steeler turnovers resulted in 10 points for the Broncos. The Texans offense can be a lot more potent than the one the Steelers defense faced last week in the form of the Broncos and so on Sunday at Heinz Field the long and turnover streak needs to finally end if the team wants to start 3-0 for the first time since 2010.
The Need For The Rookie’s Speed – The Steelers dressed rookie running back Anthony McFarland Jr. last week for the first time but failed to let him play any offensive snaps. Perhaps that was done to get the Maryland product used to the gameday process of getting himself ready. McFarland figures to dress for a second time on Sunday against the Texans and assuming he does, he’s bound to get his first NFL playing time. McFarland is fast and his ability to get to the edge and turn the corner is probably the best the Steelers have at the running back position right now. Getting the ball to McFarland as both a ball carrier and out in space a few times on Sunday is a must. New quarterbacks coach Matt Canada knows all about McFarland after coaching him one season at Maryland. That known fact, along with the offensive coaching staff now having the first several weeks of the season to prefect McFarland’s usage, should result in at least three of four touches for the rookie running back on Sunday. Who knows, maybe McFarland will be able to produce an explosive play or two on Sunday if used some on offense. It’s time he gets a look or three.
Avoid The Other Terrible Towels At Heinz Field – In addition to turning the football over twice at Heinz Field last Sunday against the Broncos, the Steelers also incurred 10 penalties in that contest for 89 yards. Six of those 10 penalties were on the team’s defense with four of them being pass interference calls. Two of those four pass interference penalties happened later in the second half and on third downs at that. Those two came close to playing a big role in a Steelers loss had the defense not made a big fourth down stop late in the contest. The Steelers brought some officials in for the team practices this past week and we’ll find out if those actions helped on Sunday against the Texans.