The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 for the first time since 2017 after a 26-21 win in their home opener at Heinz Field. Despite a late push by the injury-plagued Denver Broncos, the defense held strong and Terrell Edmunds sealed the game with the Steelers’ seventh sack of the contest. The Steelers will be hosting the Houston Texans in Week 3, as they look for their first 3-0 start since 2010 — the last year they made the Super Bowl. So what does Pittsburgh have to do to start the season off with three consecutive wins? Here are three keys for the Steelers to come away victorious over the Texans in this Week 3 clash.
1. Steelers must apply constant pressure on Deshaun Watson
The Steelers lead the NFL in quarterback pressures. Meanwhile, the Texans lead the NFL in pressures allowed — a formula that favors the Steelers’ stout defensive unit. After three sacks in Week 1 against the New York Giants, Pittsburgh didn’t stop there, tallying seven sacks against Denver in Week 2. Houston, much like the Steelers’ previous two opponents, has a bad offensive line. Deshaun Watson has been sacked eight times thus far, tied with Carson Wentz for the most sacked quarterback in 2020 through two weeks.
Although the Texans’ offensive line is often exploited, Watson is dangerous when he is on the run. While Pittsburgh would benefit from applying pressure to the dynamic young quarterback, they also need to do their best at keeping him contained in the pocket. If Watson is able to break off a few long runs or turn a broken play into a long gain through the air, that is what will keep the Texans in this game.
T.J. Watt had a remarkable Week 2 performance with 2.5 sacks, and Bud Dupree had a strip-sack that resulted in a Pittsburgh takeaway. The interior defensive line also did very well. Tyson Alualu had a surprisingly great game from the nose tackle spot, recording a sack and two tackles for loss on the day. If Pittsburgh can get penetration up the middle and force Watson into the arms of Watt and Dupree, then the Steelers could have what ends up being one of their best outings of the season when all is said and done.
2. Emphasize the run game
It’s one of the oldest shticks (or myths) in football, but the Steelers would benefit greatly from using the run to set up the pass this week. The Texans are allowing 198 rushing yards per game, the second-worst in the NFL. The Steelers have had success in the run game in both games thus far. Benny Snell erupted for 119 yards in Week 1 and James Conner bounced back from his disappointing six carry, nine-yard performance with a 106 yard game in Week 2. All-Pro guard David DeCastro is also set to return this week, which should boost the run game even more.
The Steelers should look to pound the rock early to help set up deep looks off play action. Chase Claypool had a deep touchdown last week, Diontae Johnson had 92 yards in Week 2, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington both look good — their receivers are clicking.
This is a game where I can see Matt Canada’s modern additions really take off. Look for play-action quick screens and some slip screens from Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald at tight end off-ball fakes. If the run game is working, the entire offense will be cooking.
3. Cut down on bad penalties
It’s not that the Steelers commit a lot of penalties, but when they do, the timing couldn’t be worse. Joe Haden had a bad pass interference on Evan Engram in Week 1, which was on third down and extended the drive and two plays later, the Giants struck for a deep touchdown pass.
The next week, Haden had another pass interference call early on the Broncos’ first drive, which also came on a third down and extended the drive. Additionally, Edmunds had a bad pass interference call on a 3rd-and-11 when he pulled the jersey of Noah Fant and gave the Broncos a first down with less than four minutes left to play, with the Broncos trying to take a late lead.
The Steelers have the second most defensive pass interference penalties in the NFL (5), and if they hand Watson free plays and extended drives, eventually he will make them pay for it.