Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) @ Houston Texans (2-1)

When: 1:00 p.m. | Where: Reliant Stadium
TV:CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)
Weather: Lower 80’s, Mostly Sunny
Odds: Houston -3.5
Game Day Buzz: The Steelers are 2-1 All-time vs Houston, including a 27-7 win in its only visit to Houston in 2005…..The Steelers are 3-1 against AFC South Opponents on the road, under head coach Mike Tomlin….The Steelers are averaging 18.0 points per game and giving up 18.3 points per game…..Houston is averaging 30.0 points per game and giving up 20.0 points per game….Pittsburgh is 1-1 in conference games, Houston is 2-0 in conference games…..Texans rank fifth in the NFL with 138.0 rushing yards…The Steelers are 12th against the run, giving up 99.7 yards per game…… The Texans are 17th against the run, giving up 105.7 yards per game…. Houston has blown five 4th quarter leads since 2010 and have been outscored 47-24 in the final two quarters this season….Houston had 1 TD in 5 redzone opportunities vs New Orleans….
Pittsburgh ranks 1st in pass defense but have faced Tavarus Jackson, Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins the past two weeks……Houston is 11th in the league, giving up 226.3 yards per game…..Matt Schaub (823 yds, 6 TD’s) set season highs with 373 passing yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans Saints last week….Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is sixth in the NFL, averaging 314 yards per game…..Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall is averaging 49 yards per game….Backup RB Isaac Redman is averaging 4.2 yards per carry….
RB Arian Foster returns to the starting lineup after dealing with a hamstring injury for several weeks. Foster rushed for 1,616 yards and an NFL-best 16 touchdowns in 2010. Fosters only action this season was in the first half of a 23-13 win over Miami in Week 2, recording 33 yards on 10 carries….Texans backup RB Ben Tate has rushed for 301 yards on the season in place for Foster….
Steelers WR Mike Wallace(21 rec, 377 yds, 2 TD’s) has six straight 100 yard receving games, the second longest streak since Michael Irvin posted seven straight 100 yard games in 1995. Wallace had an 81-yard touchdown reception in last weeks 23-20 win and has 11 touchdown catches of 40 yards or more, since entering the league in 2009. Wallace has 149 YAC yards and 5 catches of 20 yards or more this season…..Wallace (18.0), Antonio Brown (15.6), Heath Miller (14.3) and Emmanuel Sanders (14.2) are all averaging over 14 yards per reception. Veteran Hines Ward (9.8) is averaging under 10 yards per reception….

Player Buzz

WR Jerricho Cotchery who has been dealing with a hamstring injury for almost six weeks, will make his season debut as the Steelers will dress six wide receivers. OC Bruce Arians has been antsy to run five receiver schemes with this group and he gets that opportunity today.
CB Bryant McFadden, as expected, is inactive for the Steelers. The Steelers other inactives are QB Dennis Dixon, LT Jonathan Scott, G Doug Legursky, DE Brett Keisel, RB Jonathan Dwyer, LB Chris Carter..

What To Watch For

As daunting as the Steelers defense has been in years past, there are several mismatches in the Houston Texans favor. What the Steelers have to answer today is whether they can stop the run.
The Texans rank fifth in the NFL with 138 rushing yards, and while the Steelers are a modest 12th in the NFL, giving up 99.7 yards per game and have been exploited in two of three games against the run.
An issue for the Steelers have been stopping stretch plays as the Ravens have laid out a blueprint on how to run against the Steelers.
“I think teams are finally starting to figure us out,” Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “They can hold up the nose and cut him on the backside, so that was working against us and more teams probably will do it. So, we have to do better against that and get better as a defense to counteract that.
“I don’t really think it should be allowed, but there’s not much I can do about it. Actually, I can’t do anything about it, but as a defense we can do a better job overall. These cut blocks on the backside, we have to be aware of what they’re trying to do, and then we have to be ready for it to overcome it.”
Earlier this week, Veteran defensive end Aaron Smith had another theory why the Ravens and Colts ran the ball well against the Steelers so far this year.
“I really don’t think we played gap-sound,” Smith said. “That’s all there is to it. We were out of our gaps, and maybe some guys have tried to do too much. And you can’t do that. You have to trust the defense and trust each other. That’s the best way to get back on track with our run defense.
“As far as the turnovers are concerned, I’ve been in this business too long to be concerned about them. Sure, we’d like to have more than one, but they’ll come sooner or later. And once they do, we’ll get them in bunches. Believe me, it happens all the time, so I wouldn’t worry about it at all.”
The Steelers expect to see a heavy dose of Arian Foster but if Foster can’t get going, the Texans have Ben Tate at their disposal who has rushed for 301 yards in three games, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
A concern for the Steelers defensively is Houston spreading them out. Baltimore was able to exploit the Steelers by spreading their linebackers out. Look for the Texans to copy what the Ravens did by using multiple spread formations today force a linebacker out in pass coverage.
Another area to watch is how involved the Texans get their running backs in the passing game, an area the Steelers are not great at combating.
Ben Tate has not been much of a pass catcher with 5 catches in three games but Arian Foster is the X-factor, posting 604 receiving yards on 66 catches last season.
Andre Johnson vs Ike Taylor
The big matchup for the Steelers defensively today is Ike Taylor vs Andre Johnson. Taylor has been one of the best lockdown corners in the entire NFL this season but has his toughest test today.
Johnson has 21 receptions for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season, posting 7 receptions of 20 yards or more this season.
“They target (Johnson) regardless of who’s on him,” Taylor said. “He’s their guy. He’s the man. Like Coach says, he’s one of the best receivers in the game today. He probably doesn’t get the pub because he’s down south. I think if he was in New York he’d be much bigger. But we know how good he is.”
Taylor said on Thursday that he doesn’t have to lobby Dick LeBeau for him to get one-on-one coverage on Johnson, because the Steelers defensive coordinator knows the cornerback will relish that role.
A player on the opposite side to watch is James Casey who has shown big play ability, leading the Texans with 19.4 yards per catch and 108 yards after catch.
Can the Steelers protect Ben Roethlisberger?
Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked, knocked down and hurried 30 times in two road games this season. A makeshift offensive line continues for Roethlisberger today as Trai Essex gets the start at left tackle and Ramon Foster will make his first start of the season at right guard. The changes due to injury might not be a bad thing though.
Essex will get the primary matchup against Mario Williams who is bothered by a bummed knee. Williams has 2 sacks on the season. A player to watch on the edge is DE Antonio Smith who leads the Texans with 3 sacks on the season.
Many believe a key for the Steelers is getting the running game going. As much buzz about the Texans defense there is, they are yielding 4.8 yards per attempt. The Steelers though were not able to able run against the Colts 29th ranked rush defense last week. 
The Texans are explosive especially off the edge and spreading the Texans out and running up the gut, could be an area for the Steelers to attack. Should we see more of Isaac Redman or Mewelde Moore?
The running game will be needed to keep the Texans on their heels as they bring 5 or more defenders, the most of any team through three games under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
In the passing game, a key for Ben Roethlisberger will be getting the ball out quickly and let his receivers make plays with their legs. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel are averaging over 14 yards per catch, led by Wallace who’s averaging 18 yards per reception. Wallace will see plenty of CB Jonathan Joseph who has 2 INT’s on the season.
The Steelers though will take their fair share of shots down the field.
Reasons to believe Steelers defense is on the uptick? James Harrison/Troy Polamalu
Two reasons to believe the Steelers defense will come up big today: James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. Both played their best football of the season last Sunday night and Polamalu was as aggressive as we’ve seen him.
“I think it was his {James Harrison} best game, but some of our timing things are still a little bit off because of what we missed during the offseason,” LeBeau said. “So, I think James is getting back his timing, and that certainly was the best game that he played. It’s all about game speed. All these guys are in great shape.
“But this is our fourth game, so we’re getting there with our timing now. The same could be said about Troy, but I think the last two weeks he’s made an impact on our defense. I don’t think it has anything to do with injuries or anything like that. It’s just a matter of getting our defense timed up.”
Other reasons of optimism…Lawrence Timmons also played his best game of the season on Sunday and appears to be finding his game. Overall, the Steelers three most dynamic playmakers appear to be starting to find their game, hopefully just in time for a dynamic Texans offense.
Final Take: Everything is stacked against the Steelers with all signs pointing to a loss but this is type of game they come out on the winning side. Don’t be surprised if Steelers go into the quarter mark 3-1 for the second straight season.