As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) tonight’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in this 2020 Week 3 matchup against the Houston Texans.
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. Keith Butler Dials Back The Blitz (At Least A Little)
Pittsburgh’s always-say-blitz attitude has largely worked against lesser quarterbacks like Daniel Jones and Jeff Driskel. Teams with worse weapons in the passing game. Deshaun Watson and the Texans are a different kind of litmus test. They scheme well to defeat the blitz and with good reason. Week One and Two matchups Kansas City and Baltimore are 2nd and 10th in blitz percentages. The Steelers are first in blitz rate, an absurd 61%, but Watson has the IQ and reliable tight end in Jordan Akins who leads the team in receptions with nine. Sure, Pittsburgh can and will generate pressure but if they don’t find a happier medium, they won’t replicate their success.
2. Steelers End Their Giveaway Streak
25 games. That’s how many in a row the Steelers have turned the ball over. The Texans have a mini-streak of their own, failing to record a takeaway so far this year, but they faced two top offenses in KC and Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s games have notoriously been close and they’ve “played down” in part due to their habit of giving the football away. Can’t do that against capable teams like Houston and expect to win. But if they can break the streak, it’s hard seeing this team fall to 2-1.
3. Net Punting Improves
Here’s a stat no one’s talking about. Dustin Colquitt and the Steelers are third worst in net punt average, a horrendous 35.3 yards per boot. Only the Raiders and Vikings (who have Britton Colquitt, funny enough) are worse. Net punting is a unit stat, it doesn’t fall directly on the punter, and can be influenced by directional/coffin corner punts, especially given the small sample size. But it’s a number that must get better. Force Houston to work long fields against this defense. Of PRs with at least 25+ attempts since 2018, Houston’s DeAndre Carter ranks 6th with a 9.8 average. He’s a threat.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. Fuller And Cooks Get Loose Deep
It’s obvious the Texans are missing and would be better off with DeAndre Hopkins. But this offense still has weapons. Fuller and Cooks are two clear deep threats, the former running 4.32 at the Combine and the latter averaging over 16 yards per catch in 2020. Pittsburgh’s been more vulnerable to the deep ball this season – has Joe Haden lost a step? – and the Steelers haven’t given their corners much help with single high coverages.
2. Houston’s Top LBs Run Wild
Texans have a pair of impressive linebackers in Zack Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney. Cunningham is the better athlete, the Devin Bush to McKinney’s Vince Williams vibe. JJ Watt aside, the Texans’ d-line are space eaters who want to activate and free up those linebackers behind them. If they’re successful in that mission, the Steelers’ run game will suffer.
As an extension and aside, the Texans’ defense can breathe a sigh of relief they don’t have to designate a linebacker or sub-package player to spy/contain a mobile QB like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. They get to play a full deck this weekend, linebackers included, and that’s only going to benefit this defense.
3. There’s More Defensive Communication Busts
Some of the issues in coverage can be attributed to blitzing. If the rush doesn’t get home, there’s a lot of guys in the back end on an island. But that’s not an excuse alone. Pittsburgh has had holes in coverage, clear miscommunications and breakdowns that haven’t always been obvious or exploited.
What’s the common thread here? Is it Devin Bush taking over as the new signal caller? Lack of preseason reps? All of the above? Probably the latter. But it’s gotta get cleaned up.
2020 Prediction Record