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'08 Game Preview: Steelers


As the Texans gear up for training camp, excitement for the 2008 season continues to build. Here is an in-depth look at each of the team's regular season games with some insights from SportsRadio 610's Marc Vandermeer.

Teams: Texans @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, Sept. 7)

Game Preview: The Texans will open the season in Pittsburgh against a Steelers team that won the AFC North last season and finished with a 10-6 record. After falling to Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs, the Steelers regrouped in the offseason and beefed up their offense through the draft, selecting first-round tailback Rashard Mendenhall out of Illinois, second-round receiver Limas Sweed of Texas and fifth-round quarterback Dennis Dixon of Oregon. The three rookies will complement veteran playmakers at all three positions, namely running back Willie Parker, wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

{QUOTE}Last season, the Steelers averaged 327.4 yards of total offense per game, which ranked 17th in the league. A deeper offensive unit should increase production, especially in the running game. Parker, who was leading the NFL in rushing with 1,316 yards before he broke his leg in December, and Mendenhall will test the Texans' run defense, which ranked 19th in the league last year.

The biggest challenge for Houston, however, will be defending against the pass, especially with Dunta Robinson likely sidelined. The Texans finished 25th in the NFL against the pass and allowed an average of 230.1 passing yards a game. Roethlisberger is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he threw for 3,154 yards and a career-high 32 touchdowns. His favorite target was Holmes, who racked up 942 receiving yards.

Houston's defense can gain the upper hand, however, if the team's front seven exploits the Steelers' offensive line and keeps the pressure on Big Ben. The Steelers lost seven-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca, leaving a gaping hole at guard. And they did nothing to improve their pass protection. Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times last year as opposing defenses were allowed to collapse the pocket in the passing game and force Roethlisberger to make plays with his legs, throw on the run or take a sack. If defensive end Mario Williams can establish himself early and wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage, the Texans can shut down the Steelers' passing game.

Houston also will face a tough battle on offense. The Steelers allowed just 11.6 points per game at Heinz Field in the regular season and finished first in the league in defense, holding teams to an average of 266.4 yards a game. The Texans will have to get their running game going to put points on the board. Relying on the pass won't get the job done against a defense that returns safety Troy Polamalu. This gives the Texans a perfect chance to debut their new run scheme. Chris Brown and Steve Slaton were added to the backfield to support former All Pro rusher Ahman Green, and new assistant head coach Alex Gibbs has implemented a zone blocking attack modeled after his system in Denver to improve Houston's running game.

"I couldn't think of a tougher out of division opener for the Houston Texans in 2008," Vandermeer said. "You're going to Heinz Field. Everybody is upset there after the team lost to the Jaguars in the playoffs.

"I still think with this better-than-ever Texans' offense they should be able to score 14 to 21, at least, against the Steelers' defense. The questions is: Can the Texans slow the Steelers down on offense in order to get the job done?"

Key Matchups: Defensive end Mario Williams applying pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Texans' front seven against running back Willie Parker.

Vandermeer's pick: "If I had to pick right now, I would say Steelers. They are going to be favored. They are going to be at home. Everybody is going to be upset over last year. So you have to say the Steelers are going to be favored in this one, but you know who I will be pulling for."

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