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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers Go To Houston To Face New Opponent, Same Playoff Atmosphere

The Steelers often find themselves in these regular season playoff games. Their opponent, the Houston Texans, just went on the road for a regional battle with the Saints, their own version of an early playoff game. They've got their home version of this now, and the Steelers are going into their second consecutive hostile AFC South environment - yet another Us Against The World test.

The keys are simple. Possess the ball, grind it out, don't make mistakes. Judging by the starts of both of these teams, none of those factors are likely to come into play. This is likely to be full of big plays. Both teams having loads of artillery on the offensive side of the ball, and both can score in bunches.

It will be rowdy, intense and memorable. The Steelers wouldn't have it any other way. PZB's got you all covered, so let's get into it.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Bob McLain of the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday Arian Foster will start for the Texans.

Former Texans RB Steve Slayton was picked up by Miami, a day after he was released by Houston.

Tim of Battle Red Blog highlights Slaton's lukewarm career.

Houston DE Antonio Smith said "I just don't like" the Steelers, for whatever that's worth.

Last Game

Much has been done this week to help alleviate the criticism on LT Jonathan Scott. Most notably, the recognition of a play (Dwight Freeney's strip-sack) in which Roethlisberger saw something he liked, and took a five-step drop instead of the three-step drop quick-throw he was supposed to take. Scott's assignment on three-step drops is to protect the inside - the shortest path to the quarterback.

Scott did that. He just probably wouldn't have if he knew Roethlisberger and Wallace had their own agenda.

It's a good lesson to everyone to think not everything is always as it seems. It was also noted even if Roethlisberger completed the pass, it would have been called back because LG Chris Kemoeatu would have been flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield, because he, too, was under the assumption it was a quick pass.

Just like Scott, he did was he was supposed to, but had Freeney not made that play, and Roethlisberger made the deep throw, we would have hated on Kemoeatu.

I'm certainly comfortable with Roethlisberger making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, but it seems a bit out of place to not communicate that to his line. Or at least dive on the grenade of criticism afterward.

A win is a win, though, and we're on to Houston, the second of four straight against the AFC South.

Us Against The World

How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.

Peter King

Another week full of hyperbole for the opponents of the Steelers. It was Baltimore's chance to show they can play with the defending AFC champs in Week 1. Seattle media still had lingering bitterness from Super Bowl XL in Week 2. Indianapolis cranked its defense to 11 for a primetime showing.

Houston perhaps has the most to prove, and each week, and that storyline seems to be recurring.

The target is large, bright and obvious on Pittsburgh's collective back. Whether that target is enhanced by blowhards like Warren Sapp, or just due to one team's internal motivation to want to take on the top dog, it's there, and this week will be another example of it.

In 2007, the Steelers traveled to Arizona for a game with the emerging Cardinals. It was, by all accounts, the best the Cardinals played that season. It wasn't a surprise to see them make The Leap the following season, facing off with the Steelers again in Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers themselves took on the defending champs, the Giants, in 2008. After losing a gutty 21-14 decision (with James Harrison as their long snapper), the Steelers came together, winning seven of their next nine games en route to a Super Bowl championship. 

Green Bay came to Pittsburgh in 2009, getting gutted by Roethlisberger and Wallace at the last second. They learned a valuable lesson that served them well in 2010; the hot quarterback who gets the ball last typically wins the shootout. The following season, they learned how to control the clock, and lean on their defense to win games in the second half.

Race to a lead, and defend it. Awfully familiar to Super Bowl XLV, isn't it?

Teams put big ol' bulleyes on the backs of the Steelers. Why? Because the Steelers typically are where those teams want to be.

It's Us Against The World this week because Houston could very well be this season's example of an opponent who's on the verge of dominance, but needs to prove it against the upper echelon. The Texans got beat by New Orleans off red zone inefficiency. They understand if they want to be the best, they have to prove it in games like this.

But the Steelers are used to taking haymakers from the elite of the NFL. Expect a rowdy Reliant Stadium crowd and a super-charged Texans team.

Opponent Spotlight: CB Jonathan Joseph

A familiar face will be in the Texans defensive secondary. And he must be doing something right. Through three games this year, Houston is averaging 226 passing yards against per game, good for 12th in the league. Last year, they allowed 267 yards against, dead last in the NFL.

Teams aren't getting the message that the Texans pass defense has improved. They're averaging one more pass per game, and giving up 40 yards less.

If they need water to test their newly constructed dam, consider the Steelers to be the second Great Flood they'll see in the first quarter of 2011. After facing menial passing offenses in Indianapolis and Miami, the Texans were out-gunned by Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 3. Brees finished the day with 370 yards and three touchdowns, but two interceptions kept the Texans alive and well throughout the game.

Joseph had one of them. The same Joseph the Steelers have seen be impactful and a chump in the last few meetings the Steelers had with Cincinnati. The bane of his existence has been Wallace, whom the Steelers will use early and often in this contest. Joseph, like the rest of the league, lacks the speed to handle Wallace one-on-one, but the key to Houston's defense will be pressure along Pittsburgh's beleaguered offensive line. Joseph and the rest of Houston's secondary will have to find ways to lock down the athletic Steelers receivers and let their front seven get to Roethlisberger.

Success and failure in this game depends on the Texans' ability to slow down Pittsburgh's passing attack. It was no different for Brees and the Saints last week. One more play from Houston, and they're 3-0 right now.

Steelers Spotlight:  WR Mike Wallace

The red-hot Wallace is receiving preferential treatment from his quarterback. With good reason, too, especially on the road. Big pick-ups in the passing game can help silence a crowd cheering with playoff intensity. The Steelers banged up offensive line will need some confidence, and the hard-headed Roethlisberger will exchange a big hit for a shot at a big play.

Wallace is the perfect receiver for this game. Not even Andre Johnson, the mega-talented Texans receiver and focal point of their offense for the last several years, has ever had six consecutive 100 yard games, like Wallace has. The key for him against the Texans is deception. He's beaten his opponents with sheer speed thus far, but he's going to need to sell a few good, hard double-moves if he's going to beat a secondary that will sell out to make sure he doesn't make any splash plays. Houston will have plenty of confidence in its offense to match Pittsburgh point-for-point. Steelers CB Ike Taylor going against Johnson, though, is more advantageous than Joseph or Kareem Jackson on Wallace.

If Wallace falls short of 100 yards, it will likely be to the benefit of another Steelers receiver. Wallace can be used to draw loads of attention away from the rest of the offense. If he can sell his deep routes, yet, still be a viable option on comeback routes, the Steelers could move through Houston's defense with relative ease. If Wallace can't get himself involved with the ball and without it, it will open up a pass rush that will lead to sacks and turnovers.

Pittsburgh cannot afford that against such an explosive offense.

I See You

I see you, Mewelde Moore. You're the best example of the cliché, "being ready for anything when your name is called." You haven't had many touches this season, but you made the most of the three you got in Week 3. With 31 yards on the final drive, you broke the offensive funk the Steelers were in most of the second half, and helped set up the game-winning field goal.

It doesn't need to be pretty, it just needs to be a win. But your 22-yard catch-and-run was a thing of beauty, and all of that with the much more heralded Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman on the sideline. The Steelers put you out there with the game on the line, and you delivered. While very few would have expected your number to be called, you were ready for it and you capitalized on the opportunity.

PZB sees you, MeMo, but be ready, you never know when your number will be called next.

Key Stats

  • WR Mike Wallace has six consecutive 100-yard receiving games in the regular season - the last time the league had a receiver who had six consecutive 100 yard games was Isaac Bruce in 1995.
  • Houston has five touchdowns in 16 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard-line
  • The Steelers and the Denver Broncos are the only two teams in the league without an interception through the first three games of the season.