By Christina Rivers
Although the Houston Texans have the same win-loss record as the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3), they sit in second place in the AFC South beneath the Indianapolis Colts while the Steelers slid to the bottom of the AFC North after losing on Sunday to the Cleveland Browns. With J.J. Watt and Arian Foster playing at a high level in 2014, the Texans are looking for a return to winning ways at Heinz Field on Monday night.
Watt wasn’t pleased following the Texan’s 33-28 loss to the Colts on Thursday, mainly because he felt that his team allowed Indianapolis to control a game due to Houston’s slow start. “It (was) a tough loss; it is frustrating,” Watt said after the game. “The way this team fights, and the way that these guys battle, and the way we go out there…we just can’t give teams 24 points to start a game.” In the first quarter, the Texans’ offense could not convert a single third down, resulting in the defense being forced onto the field. After the team was caught off guard by a surprise Colts onside kick immediately after a field goal, the Texans were down, but not out.
Head coach Bill O’Brien called the fact that his team had to once again come from behind a series of errors. “It wasn’t all mental,” O’Brien said. “It might have been technique or whatever it was, but it just proves again that we’ve got to do a better job coaching and we’ve got to do a better job playing.” The areas where Houston faltered was not only in not converting a first down until the second quarter, but defense and special teams mistakes and missed opportunities.
Sunday’s loss was the second in a row for Houston, but they are looking forward to having extra time to prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It’s probably a good time for a little break here,” admitted O’Brien. “Everybody needs to evaluate themselves and come back ready to go on Monday.”
The Texans have come out slowly in nearly every game this season. This is something that the Steelers should take advantage of early if they can get their offense in sync. The Steelers offensive line will have to find an answer for Watt who is playing a Pro-Bowl season. Watt was able to sack Colts quarterback Andrew Luck twice and batted down three passes. He sealed his performance with a recovered fumble and ran it 45 yards for a touchdown. Watt is the first defensive lineman since William “Refrigerator” Perry (1985) to score three touchdowns in a single season.
Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has had an up-and-down season. It was Fitzpatrick’s fumble with 1:48 left in the game Sunday that put a stop to what was turning out to be a fantastic comeback by the Texans and a highly competitive Thursday night game. In six games Fitzpatrick has completed 104-of-160 passes for 1,268 yards and six touchdowns, but has thrown six interceptions and lost four fumbles for a quarterback rating of 86.1. The Steelers defense can effectively shut down the Texans’ passing game by challenging Fitzpatrick with pressure, but Pittsburgh has struggled this season to do so against opposing quarterbacks.
Foster is the Texans’ top rusher with 106 attempts for 513 yards and five touchdowns. Foster has added 16 receptions for 131 yards. Against the Browns, the Steelers showed better discipline at containing the rushing game, but they’ve struggled on big pass plays. Foster is a dual weapon for Houston that the Steelers will have to plan for.
Pittsburgh also can’t afford to give receiver Andre Johnson a big game. Johnson caught seven-of-12 passes thrown his direction for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. If he hadn’t fumbled the ball late in the game, the Texans had a legitimate chance to beat Indianapolis. Johnson has 34 receptions on the season for 419 yards and is averaging 12.3 yards-per-reception, but only has a single touchdown.
At this point, it’s unclear whether rookie outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who was injured in week one against the Washington Redskins, will be ready to return for Monday night’s game. “He’s progressing,” admitted O’Brien. He called Clowney’s return on October 20, “50-50”.
“This is a mentally tough team – a team that is never going to give up, which is good,” said O’Brien. “This is a team that is always going to keep fighting…a bunch of great guys in the locker room, (but) we’ve got a long season left.”
Pittsburgh will host Houston on Monday, October 20, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (Eastern)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on