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Steelers vs. Texans, Week 16: 3 Keys to a Black-and-gold victory

Week 16 brings the Black-and-gold back full circle in the 2017 regular season to once again face the dicey prospect of playing an upset-minded team with nothing to lose.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 regular season has been heavily populated by opponents who aren’t going anywhere in the standings, not to mention the playoffs. Similarly, in their final two games of the season, the Steelers will once again be fighting the ever-present tendency to struggle with lesser competition, and particularly on the road, as in their Christmas Day clash with the Houston Texans.

Realistically, the chances that an injury-riddled Texans team might hang a second consecutive loss on the Steelers seem remote at best. On the other hand, it hasn’t been too long since the Black-and-gold struggled to defeat the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals—two more teams going nowhere this season. Given the circumstances as they’ve developed for Pittsburgh this season, there’s really only one approach the team can take in today’s Christmas matchup.

Having just played their best game of the season against the defending-champion Patriots, the Steelers need to keep their edge as they head for the playoffs. Despite the fact that the playoffs are already a certainty for the Black-and-gold, it’s probably not going to help the team’s readiness if they finish the regular season with a pair of sub-par efforts followed with a bye week. It’s not easy to simply flip that switch back “on” after what might turn out to be a 2-week break—provided that Pittsburgh clinches the No. 2 seed in Houston.

So without further ado, here are the Three Keys to Victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they square-off against the Texans:

Key No. 1: Possess the ball and convert scoring opportunities

Pittsburgh’s offense must continue to possess the ball and cash in on long, time-consuming drives. For all we know, the Steelers might be starting the playoffs without Antonio Brown on the field. This is a good opportunity for breakout performances by Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and the other receivers—showing that, collectively, they can compensate for the absence of maybe the greatest wide receiver of all time.

Key No. 2: OL must keep Ben clean in the pocket

Even without J.J. Watt in the lineup, the Texans have some defenders capable of putting real heat on opposing quarterbacks. Both in terms of play-calling and pass-blocking, the Steelers need to protect Ben Roethlisberger to make sure he’s in great shape for the playoffs.

Key No. 3: Play better run-defense

Stopping the run is going to be a key in the playoffs. The Steelers’ defense is just now getting fully acclimated to life without Ryan Shazier. This injury-wracked Texans team isn’t likely to beat you with its aerial attack, so the Black-and-gold defense needs to shut off those running lanes.