Struggling Steelers hope to kick-start offense vs. Texans

( – If you really are what your record says you are, the
Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans are average football teams as they get
ready to tangle on “Monday Night Football.”

But, average is the eye of the beholder.

As the owner of a record six Super Bowl titles, Pittsburgh isn’t all that
used to long stretches of mediocrity but the Steelers are 19-19 dating back to
the beginning of the 2012 season, the very definition of ordinary.

Houston, on the other hand, has already surpassed its entire win total from
the 2013 season and is still within an earshot of Indianapolis in the AFC
South after coming up just a little short of Andrew Luck and Co. during Week

Luck and T.Y. Hilton lit up the Texans secondary as the Colts held off a
frenetic Houston comeback to earn a 33-28 victory.

Indianapolis jumped out to a 24-0 lead before Houston fought back and pulled
within 33-28 when the incomparable J.J. Watt returned a botched shotgun snap
45 yards for a touchdown.

The Texans had two possessions inside five minutes remaining and lost fumbles
on each, however, allowing the Colts to survive.

Arian Foster piled up 141 yards from scrimmage and ran for two touchdowns for
Houston, which has dropped three of its last four since starting the season
with consecutive wins.

Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 15-of-23 passes for 212 yards and threw a touchdown
pass to Andre Johnson, but both lost critical fumbles down the stretch.

“When you give a team a 24-point lead right out the gate, you’re going to have
a difficult time,” said Watt, who became the only player in the past 50 years
to score a touchdown via a fumble return, an interception return and a
reception in a single season. “It would have been easy to shut it down … but
we fought and gave it a good run. In the end, we didn’t make enough plays.”

The Steelers, on the other, hand are coming off a rare loss to Cleveland as
the Browns’ Ben Tate rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns to lead Mike
Pettine’s club past Pittsburgh, 31-10.

Ben Roethlisberger, who entered the game with an 18-1 record as a starter
against Cleveland, was held to 228 yards on 21-of-42 passing with a touchdown
and interception for a season-worst 64.4 passer rating for the Steelers, who
gave up 31 straight points after the first quarter.

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries, Antonio Brown totaled a game-
high 118 yards on seven catches and Lance Moore caught a 26-yard score in the

“Hopefully, we carry the baggage or the stench of that one for some time and
use it as positive fuel,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers and Texans have split their four previous meetings with Houston
winning the last encounter, 17-10, on Oct. 2, 2011 behind Foster, who rushed
for 155 yards, including a 42-yard TD.

The teams haven’t met in Pittsburgh since 2008, a 38-17 Steelers win.

Houston has appeared just seven times on “Monday Night Football,” compiling a
3-4 mark while Pittsburgh is 40-24 all-time on the national showcase.

“It’s a big deal for everybody around the league just because everybody grew
up watching Monday night games,” Fitzpatrick said. “These are the games that
all eyes are on you. It’s important to go out and play well because of that.”


This is the start of three straight home games for Pittsburgh, a team that has
won six of its past eight overall on its homefield despite a dreadful 27-24
loss to Tampa Bay in its last contest at Heinz Field.

Getting Roethlisberger headed back in the right direction is key and offensive
coordinator Todd Haley is feeling plenty of heat from some interesting

“Man, the Pittsburgh Steelers need a new (expletive) offensive coordinator,”
famed hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg says in a video posted on Instagram. “This guy
sucks. Coach Tomlin, this is Snoop Dogg, man. Fire that (expletive) and get us
a real offensive coordinator. We ain’t won a playoff game since we had that

Part of Big Ben’s success has always been his ability to extend plays and make
something out of nothing but it also means things can look bad on occasion and
Roethlisberger has been sacked 17 times this season.

Tomlin believes a number of things have to improve.

“Not only game planning, but who we’re utilizing,” the coach said. “Schematics
and the personnel that we’re utilizing needs to be evaluated.”

They better get it cleaned up quickly, especially with Watt looming, the NFL’s
best defensive player. The rangy defensive lineman leads the NFL with 20
quarterback hits and is often a one-man wrecking crew, capable of making the
game-changing play at any time.

“It’s amazing how he routinely disrupts the normal flow of offensive
football,” Tomlin said.

It’s also conceivable Watt will also be getting some help in the potential
return of rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the
2014 draft who has been sidelined since Week 1 after arthroscopic surgery on
his right knee.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien has given Clowney a 50/50 shot of playing on Monday.

“He’s progressing,” O’Brien told the team’s radio network. “He’s working
really hard to get back and I would say it’s 50/50. Yeah, I think we have a
long time here to get ready for Pittsburgh, longer than normal so hopefully,
that bodes well for him being ready to go but I can’t guarantee you that he’ll
be here for Pittsburgh.”

“It (would) help a lot,” cornerback Kareem Jackson added when discussing
Clowney’s potential return. “Just going in the game knowing we won’t have to
cover as long. The guys we’ve had up front, they’ve been doing a great job
thus far and to add (Clowney) is definitely going to make things that much

Clowney did not practice on Thursday, however.

“Generally a guy needs to be on the practice field to play his best,” Texans
defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “We’re hoping to get him on the
practice field so we can make a determination.”

The best-case scenario for Pittsburgh is to get Bell going early and play off
his abilities with play-action. The second-year back from Michigan State led
the AFC in both rushing (542) and scrimmage yards (793) entering Week 7 and
has recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in all six games.

Houston, meanwhile, is intent on avoiding another slow start on both sides of
the football.

The Texans have not scored in the opening quarter in five straight games,
amassing a pitiful average of 40.5 yards in the frame over that span.
Fitzpatrick has also struggled mightily early with a passer rating under 60.0
in the first quarter.

“What the film shows us is that everybody on offense has to play better.
Everybody,” O’Brien surmised.


Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses through the first six games and
that trend would point toward a W on Monday night. That said, Roethlisberger
is the kind of QB who will hold onto the ball as long as possible with the
intention of making the big play and that kind of mentality is tailor-made for
the big-play ability of Watt.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 23, Steelers 16