Pittsburgh goes into the 2008 season with the league‚Äôs toughest schedule and the Steelers know they have to get off to a great start before their schedule becomes brutal in the middle of the season. Today‚Äôs contest against the Houston Texans will be one of the Steelers easiest games this year but the Texans are no push over. Houston comes into Heinz field as a team on the rise that can upset the Steelers, if Pittsburgh doesn‚Äôt come to play. Ben Roethlisberger had a phenomenal year in 2007 throwing 32 touchdowns and if training camp and OTA‚Äôs are a sign of things to come, this could be the year Roethlisberger makes the jump into the Brady and Manning conversation.
Pittsburgh‚Äôs Keys to the Game:
Pittsburgh must dictate the play: The Steelers front office has surrounded Roethlisberger with weapons at every skilled position. The only position the front office forgot to address was the offensive line. The Steelers can go a lot of different ways to attack the Texans. Expect the Steelers to come out running the ball with Willie Parker early, and then Ben takes over. The Steelers receiving corps are a major mismatch for the Texans secondary. Look for the Santonio Holmes to stretch the field and open up the middle of the field for tight end Heath Miller. Miller is going to have a big game. When the Steelers go into their four receiver sets they are expected to use Holmes, Ward, Washington and Miller.
Offensive Line must find a way to neutralize Mario Williams:
Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams is developing into one of the games top defensive ends. The Texans move him around a lot to confuse the opposition and the Steelers O-Line has to be aware of Williams at all times. Pittsburgh Steelers LT Marvel Smith will have the primary duty of slowing down Williams. Smith appears to be fully recovered but did struggle in the preseason against explosive defensive ends. Texans DT Amobi Okoye is another player the Steelers must take care of. Okoye has the ability to break down the line of scrimmage which could open lanes up for Mario Williams.
Key Matchup of the Game
Texans Offense vs Steelers Defense: Expect the Houston Texans to throw early and often. On too many occasions teams come into Heinz Field trying to pound the ball on the Steelers. The Texans don‚Äôt have that kind of back. Quarterback Matt Schaub needs to take chances down field and get the ball to WR Andre Johnson. If the Texans are effective throwing the ball early in the game it will cause Dick LeBeau to keep more defensive backs in coverage which is exactly what the Texans want. The Texans will try to get Steve Slaton 8-10 touches.
Houston LT Duane Brown vs. Pittsburgh ROLB James Harrison
The Steelers have an opportunity to have a field day blitzing the quarterback. The knock on James Harrison coming in this season is he needs to be more consistent. During the preseason Harrison showed he is ready to answer the bell. The Steelers are going to move Harrison around on third down and Texans rookie LT Duane Brown has his work cut out for him this afternoon. A blitzing scheme the Steelers are expected to use is move Harrison inside and move Lawrence Timmons on the outside.
Houston WR Andre Johnson vs Ike Taylor
Andre Johnson is a mismatch for any Steelers cornerback due to his size, speed and athleticism. The Steelers will use a lot of double teams on Johnson but their cornerbacks need to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage. If the Steelers are passive Johnson will be effective. Ike Taylor will have the primary duty of covering Johnson. There are some insiders who feel this could be the year Taylor develops into a pro bowl caliber cornerback. Today will be Taylor‚Äôs first test.
Player to watch Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu is the key to the Steelers season. When he plays at a Pro Bowl level the Steelers are a totally different team. The Steelers have indicated Polamalu is 100% and ready to go full throttle.
Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 93 times since 2006 (ESPN Research)
Inside Pittsburgh Sports prediction
Both of these offenses have the ability to put up a lot of points but Pittsburgh is the more talented team and is stronger at quarterback and running back. Expect a competitive game but look for Pittsburgh to pull away in the second half. Pittsburgh is our pick.
Pittsburgh 31 ‚Äì Houston 20