It's amazing how quickly things can ebb and flow in the National Football League. Less than two weeks ago, the Houston Texans, who came into the season generating as much excitement as they have since the early Deshaun Watson Era, had one again sucked the life out of their fan base with an embarrassing 31-20 loss in their home opener to the Colts.
Talk radio was a sea of "same old Texans" phone calls, social media was a cesspool of vitriol, at least with the fans who still cared, and the question wasn't "How many games will the Texans win?" any more, but instead, "How many weeks until they win a single game?"
That was back on the heels of Week 2 of the season. This weekend the Texans are back home for a Week 4 matchup with the Steelers, and, well, something funny happened on the way to Week 4 — Week 3 in Jacksonville. The Texans went to Jacksonville and found their mojo again, whacking the division favorite Jaguars 37-17 and garnering a ton of national attention in the process.
Now, with J.J. Watt going into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime, this game against the Steelers presents another chance for the Texans to try their rediscovered hope on for size. Let's hope this goes better than the Colts game!
Here are four things to watch for on Sunday:
4. Watt Family Reunion
The Texans' opportunity to even their record at 2-2 is noteworthy, and snapping 10 game losing streak at home would be awfully nice, but the headliner for Texans fans on Sunday is Watt's enshrinement into the team's Ring of Honor, alongside Andre Johnson and the late Bob McNair. We did a deep dive on this yesterday, but it's worth repeating — when Watt left the team in 2021, this is a day that felt like it might be many years away. The organization was in a bad place when he left. It's a testament to the McNairs for recognizing their mistakes and fixing them, as well as the cachet of DeMeco Ryans as head coach. Those two things probably helped accelerate Watt's desire to "come home" and reunite with the team for whom he won three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
3. Return of Jalen Pitre
The Texans have been the most injured team in the NFL thus far, with 12 players on injured reserve and several more nursing injuries while still on the active roster. The mere randomness of the NFL should work in the Texans favor over the next month or so, you would hope. At the very least, they will get Pitre back this week. The second year safety was named a captain before the season, but missed the last two games with a bruised lung. With Steelers QB Kenny Pickett struggling early this season, having a ball hawk like Pitre back in the secondary, next to fellow safety Jimmie Ward, should give the Texans a great chance of winning the turnover battle on Sunday.
2. Tank Dell
Anyone who watched Texans training camp saw what kind of impact Dell, the diminutive rookie out of UH was making from Day 1. The dude just got open all the time. Against his own teammates in practice, against the Dolphins in joint practices, against the Patriots in the preseason, and this past Sunday against the Jaguars, where he tallied 145 yards on five catches, and the two longest plays from scrimmage this season, a 43-yard catch in the first quarter and a 68-yard touchdown to seal the game. The Steelers' pass rush is fearsome, so the chances to throw deep shots to Dell may only present themselves once or twice all game. The Texans need to take advantage when it does.
1. Texans offensive line stepping up in weight class
Oh, did I mention the Steelers' pass rush? I did? Okay, you know the watt that we ate inducting into the Ring of Honor on Sunday? Well, he has a baby brother, and that baby brother's name is T.J., and he has begun his own little stretch of trophy hoarding. Watt currently leads the NFL in sacks with six through three games. (For you non math majors, that's a pace of 34 sacks for the season.) The Texans will be trying to protect C.J. Stroud from Watt, as well as Alex Highsmith, with backup tackles. Starters Laremy Tunsil (knee) and Tytus Howard (hand) remain out for this game. Stroud took a beating in the first two games, but was only hit four times against Jacksonville. This Steelers defense might resume the rapid pounding that Stroud suffered in Weeks 1 and 2.
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Steelers 20
SPREAD: Texans +3
SEASON RECORD: 1-2 SU, 2-1 ATS
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