As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for tomorrow’s game against the Houston Texans.
X Factor: Right Side Of The Lines
The answer to tomorrow’s question of “who will win” may be the same answer as “which right tackle played better?” Because both those guys have their hands full Sunday. Let’s start with the Steelers. Chukwuma Okorafor played well in his first start of the season, third of his career, against the Broncos. But he’s not in Denver anymore, Toto. Okorafor is facing a much tougher matchup in JJ Watt. The Texans’ pass rush overall has been poor but it isn’t Watt’s fault. He leads the team with five QB hits, two sacks, even while commanding the full attention of opposing offenses.
Will the Steelers employ the same philosophy? The same idea they did for Okorafor in his first start against the Broncos, giving him all the help humanely possible. Or will they leave him more on an island and trust him to get the job done? Watt can make an impact as a pass rusher, that’s first and foremost, but few players have batted down passes at the line of scrimmage like Watt. 55 pass deflections in 114 games, an absurd rate most players don’t come anywhere close to.
The Texans can say the same about the Watt they’re facing. TJ Watt has the highest win rate of any pass rusher in football. He’ll be greeted by 2019 first round pick Tytus Howard, a talented small-school linemen about of Alabama State. Watt has been dominant the first two weeks and while Howard is far from the upper elite of tackles, he’s arguably the best challenge Watt will have faced through the first three weeks.
Which player, Okorafor or Howard, protects their quarterback better? Both offenses need a strong passing game to thrive. Both teams have had stretches of not protecting their quarterback well enough. The Steelers in Week One, the Texans in both of their games. Both defenses are aggressive and want to get after the quarterback. Pittsburgh is far and away the most aggressive defense, blitzing a whopping 61.7% of the time, while the Texans are 6th at a smaller but still significant 35% of chances.
“Wattever” team controls the other Watt Sunday likely emerges victorious.