Match up: Houston Texans (0-2) +4 @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)
Location: Heinz Field
Tidbit: Pittsburgh is 4-2 all time against Houston, outscoring the Texans 145-94. The Steelers have won the last two meetings.
KEY #1: Harass Deshaun Watson
The Texans currently rank 31st in ESPN's pass-block win rate statistic, while the Steelers rank first in the NFL in pressure rate and blitz rate. Furthering this headache for the Texans is that Watson often struggles under pressure, with a 43.6 passer rating against the blitz.
Here's Watson being sacked by blitzing defensive back Deshon Elliot out of the Ravens' dime package. This certainly feels like something Keith Butler will dial up for Mike Hilton a few times.
The Texans deploy somewhat of an inexperienced offensive line, with every starter under the age of 30. Look for T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree to make plays like this one, where the pass rusher forces Watson into an interception. The less frequently you allow Watson to do something extraordinary, the weaker the Texans become.
KEY #2: Win in Man Coverage
The push and pull between Pittsburgh's ability to get to Watson and Watson's ability to extend plays and make unique throws will likely tell the story of the game. Because the Steelers like to blitz over 50% of the time, their corners are often in one on one situations with opposing receivers.
To this point, the departure of Deandre Hopkins in the Texans offense has been palpable. Houston's receivers are struggling to create separation, which speaks to Watson's poor performance under pressure. It's hard to make completions with pass rusher in your face when nobody's open.
This play is a good example of something we'll likely see in the game. It's 3rd and 1 and the Texans are in 12 personnel. They motion the tight end and Watson can see the Ravens are playing Cover 1 with man to man coverage all across the field. Baltimore is able to force Watson off his spot early, but Watson uses his athleticism to extend the play and make several men miss. Still, the Ravens have everything locked up across the field and Watson is forced to throw the ball away.
Pittsburgh's defensive backs will need to hold their coverage until the end of the play or else Watson will surely be prepared to make some special things happen.
KEY #3: Convert on 3rd Down
The Steelers offense on 3rd downs has been...mediocre. They've converted on just 37.04% of 3rd downs, sitting at 26th in the NFL.
They've failed to execute, like JuJu running his out route too short against quarters coverage on 3rd and 10.
And sloppy. Here's Diontae Johnson dropping a ball that would have helped seal the game vs. Denver.
In order to finish against good teams and good quarterbacks, these are plays that have to be made. The Steelers have had the benefit of facing off against some inexperienced quarterback's to this point, but that will not be the case this week. More opportunities for Watson = bad things for the opposition.
KEY #4: Don't Turn it Over
Quite frankly, teams that have been as sloppy with the ball as the Steelers have in the first two weeks often find themselves on the wrong end of games. Diontae Johnson has coughed up the ball. Benny Snell has two fumbles. Ben Roethlisberger has a bad interception.
The Steelers have had the benefit of their defense standing tall in critical spots after turnovers, but you can't keep expecting this to happen, especially given the caliber of quarterback they are facing this week.
You have to admire Snell's desire to finish every run, but he has to be more careful with the football in situations like this.
KEY #5: Score TD's in the Red Zone
The Texans have already given up 7 touchdowns in the red zone this season, having a hard time forcing opponents into field goal attempts. The Chiefs did a great job in Week 1 of creating mismatches near the goal line against the Texans. I love what they did here with Tyreek Hill, running a natural rub with Kelce and having him create separation for Hill in man coverage for an easy pitch and catch. This is the type of play that the Steelers like to run for JuJu Smith-Schuster in similar situations.