Here are five things to watch on Sunday when the Texans (2-1) face the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) in Week 4 on Pink Ribbon Day at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.
Return of Foster: Texans running back Arian Foster is expected to return to the starting lineup on Sunday after sitting out in Week 3 with a hamstring injury.
Foster was a full participant in practice all week and reported "no issues" with his hamstring, which he injured in the preseason. Texans coach Gary Kubiak hopes his 2010 All-Pro running back is good to go for the rest of the season after resting last weekend.
"He looks good," Kubiak said on Friday. "I think it's still our job to watch the reps. We'll watch him, but we're going to put him back to work full-time and see how he holds up."
Foster has played all of one half this season, in Week 2 at Miami. Second-year running back Ben Tate has filled in capably during his absence, ranking fifth in the league with 301 rushing yards. But the Texans have struggled inside the red zone, ranking 29th with five touchdowns in 16 trips. They ranked fifth in the red zone last season with Foster, who led the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns.
The Steelers have had a top-three rushing defense in each of the last seven seasons under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. They ranked first in 2010, allowing only 62.8 rushing yards per game. They've allowed an uncharacteristically high 99.5 yards per game this season.
Foster should help the Texans not only as a runner and receiver but as a blocker against LeBeau's aggressive blitzes.
"Arian has been a three-down player on a consistent basis," Kubiak said. "Playing somebody as complicated as this, obviously it's nice to have him back."
Corralling Big Ben: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 241) has been sacked more than any quarterback in the league since 2006, but that doesn't mean he's easy to bring down.
"Big Ben" is an expert at improving and making plays on the go, and he rarely goes down on initial contact.
"He's a big quarterback who makes a lot of plays that aren't even drawn up," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said. "He's a playmaker and a guy who shows up on Sunday. He makes a lot of plays that are broken plays or plays that are from a smart move to extend the play.
"You attack him almost like he's not a quarterback. You attack him like he's a running back. Watching film, he definitely breaks a lot of tackles and makes a lot of plays the ordinary quarterback doesn't."
That said, Roethlisberger already has been sacked nine times and lost four fumbles this season, and the Steelers' offensive line is in disarray. Starting left tackle Jonathan Scott and starting right guard Doug Legursky are out with injuries, which could make Roethlisberger even more susceptible to pressure from Mario Williams and company.
Defending Wallace: Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has posted six consecutive 100-yard receiving games dating back to 2010. The explosive third-year pro had five catches for 144 yards last Sunday at Indianapolis, including a career-long 81-yard touchdown.
Wallace ranks second in the NFL with 377 receiving yards this season after ranking fifth in 2010, when he had 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 60 catches. He has averaged 19.9 yards per catch in his career, tied for best in the league over the last three seasons.
"Wallace can run well after the catch," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "Usually, the guys that are speed guys are only speed guys. He's speed and movement, and I think that makes a difference."
A third-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2009, Wallace has 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is familiar with Wallace from his time with the AFC North Bengals, and it'll be up to him – along with Jason Allen, Brice McCain and Brandon Harris – to keep Wallace in check if Kareem Jackson (knee) and Sherrick McManis (hamstring) end up missing the game of injuries.
Steelers defense: The Steelers' second-ranked defense is led by two "Defensive MVPs," as the Texans have referred to them all week. Strong safety Troy Polamalu was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Linebacker James Harrison won the award in 2008.
"They're an excellent defensive team," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "They always have been; very well coached. They present a lot of problems for you, so you have to get a lot of reps in the week of the game and you got to do everything you can to stay out of negative football plays." One of the great football players this game's seen in a long time, no doubt."
Polamalu had seven interceptions last season and has accounted for 40 turnovers in his eight-year career. Like Roethlisberger, he has an uncanny knack for freelancing and making unscripted plays.
"The crazy thing about it is, when he does it, it always seems to work out in his favor," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "He always makes a great play behind it, but like Coach Kubiak said, we have to try to keep him and James Harrison off the stat sheet. It'll be hard to do that, but at the same time, they're both great players and they have a great defense as a whole. It'll be a big test for us, but if we go out and do the things that we know how to do as a team, we'll be fine."
Interior rush: The interior offensive and defensive lines for both teams could be critical to the outcome of the game on Sunday.
The Texans have struggled to stop the run up the middle, allowing 105.7 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. The Steelers have struggled to run the ball, period, averaging 3.3 yards per carry as a team. One of the two has to give this week.
The Texans' interior pass rush has been outstanding with defensive ends Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt, who slide inside in passing situations. They'll be going against an All-Pro center in Maurkice Pouncey, a fourth-year starter in left guard Chris Kemoeatu and an injury fill-in at right guard.
Watt (6-6, 289) got his first-career sack last week. Smith leads the Texans with 3.0 sacks, one in each game, and made no bones about his distaste for the Steelers this week some two years his Arizona Cardinals lost to them in Super Bowl XLIII.
"Me personally, I got to say it: I just don't like them," Smith said. ."They took my Super Bowl from me. They got my rings in their back pocket. I ain't ever goin' forget that. There's a couple snaps out there I wish I could have had back, so every time I play them, they're going to get the ninja and the dog, two in one."
On the other side, Texans center Chris Myers (6-4, 289) gives up more than 35 pounds to Steelers nose tackle Casey "Big Snack" Hampton (6-1, 325). Look for the Texans to potentially give Myers help with right guard Mike Brisiel or left guard Wade Smith to stop the disruptive Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowler.