(KDKA) — The Pittsburgh Steelers, with Ben Roethlisberger back under center, have jumped out to 2-0 start in this strange season. They pushed past the New York Giants in Week 1 and held off the Denver Broncos in Week 2. The Steelers will be looking to improve this week when they welcome the winless Houston Texans.
The Texans, while dealing with a few issues, are better than their record suggests. “Interesting spread here of only four points,” says SportsLine senior analyst Larry Hartstein. “The Steelers at home, 2-0, Big Ben back. The Texans, 0-2. But look who Houston played. They played the two best teams in all of football, the Ravens and the Chiefs. And they’re going to make a lot of teams look bad. And the oddsmakers know that.”
The Texans struggled at times in their first two games. Patrick Mahomes lit them up for three touchdowns in a 34-20 Houston loss that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. The Ravens ran all over them, to the tune of 230 yards in Houston’s second loss. While Deshaun Watson passed for at least 250 yards in each of the first two games, he was also sacked four times in each game.
The Texans’ struggles to protect Watson could continue against the Steelers, who have already racked up 10 sacks on the season. Broncos backup quarterback Jeff Driscoll may still be feeling the effects from last week. So far, eight different Steelers have notched at least half a sack on a defense that is blitzing an NFL-leading 64 percent of the time. And the pressure can come from any of the three levels of the defense.
The Texans offense is also still adjusting to life without wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The NFL’s third-leading receiver in 2019, who caught 104 passes for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns last season, is now in Arizona. The loss of that kind of production leaves a big hole in an offense, and Watson and company are still figuring it out.
“Deshaun Watson, with no DeAndre Hopkins anymore, he needs Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller out there,” says Hartstein. “And Will Fuller was in and out of the game with hamstring issues last week. Didn’t even get targeted. So that’s an injury you have to watch. He is critical to Houston’s offense.”
Pittsburgh has good and bad news on the injury front as well. “The Steelers will get David DeCastro, a terrific guard, back,” says Hartstein. “He’s going to help the offensive line and help protect Big Ben and clear out some running lanes. But Bud Dupree, one of their best pass rushers, dealing with a shoulder injury. You have to watch his status.”
This Steelers-Texans matchup isn’t setting up to be a typical undefeated vs. winless matchup. The Texans are as much a victim of scheduling as poor play, perhaps more. “It’s a perfect bounce-back spot for Houston,” says Hartstein. “This is not going to be a blowout. I think they got the spread just about right.”
The Steelers play the Texans Sunday, September 27 @ 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS.
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