PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-3) AT HOUSTON TEXANS (4-10)
KICKOFF: Monday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium. TV: NBC, Mike Tirico, Kurt Warner, Heather Cox (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 3-2, and have won three of the past four. In the most recent meeting, the Steelers beat the Texans 30-23 at Heinz Field in 2014. The Steelers are 1-1 in Houston. They beat the Texans 27-7 in 2005 and dropped a 17-7 decision in 2011.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Not having Antonio Brown available for the first time this season, the Steelers will turn back into a team that relies more on the run. For a four-game stretch before Brown’s injury, the Steelers rode the hot right arm of Ben Roethlisberger.
Once Brown was injured early in the second quarter against the Patriots, the Steelers wasted little time changing their game plan. Le’Veon Bell became the focal point. He rushed 24 times for 117 yards and scored a touchdown. Bell will remain a big part of the passing game in Brown’s absence, too.
The Texans will try to contain Bell and hope to be less vulnerable against the pass with Brown out.
When the Steelers are on defense, their goal will be to shut down the running game and to put third-string quarterback T.J. Yates into obvious passing situations. Yates has completed just 45.6 percent of his passes since taking over for Tom Savage. He was 12 for 31 for 128 yards in the Texans’ 45-7 loss to the Jaguars.
The Texans have scored just 23 points combined in the two games Yates has played. If the Texans can’t run on the Steelers, they will have little chance for success moving the ball.
The Texans will be wary of the Steelers’ pass rush after struggling to protect Yates against Jacksonville.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden. Haden will return to the lineup after missing five games with a fractured fibula. His first assignment will not be an easy one. Hopkins is second in the NFL with 1,313 yards, and he continues to put up big numbers no matter who is playing quarterback. The Texans are down to third-stringer T.J. Yates, but Hopkins has 229 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games.
–Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva vs. Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney. Villanueva has to bounce back after a rough game against the Patriots in which he was called for a critical holding penalty and a false start late in the game. He will have his hands full against Clowney, who leads the Texans with nine sacks. The former No. 1 overall pick has a variety of pass-rush moves, and Villanueva has to keep him in check.
SATURDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: WR Antonio Brown (calf)
–Questionable: G Ramon Foster (concussion), CB Coty Sensabaugh (shoulder)
–Out: G Jeff Allen (concussion), T Kendall Lamm (concussion), LB LaTroy Lewis (shoulder)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. He moves up the depth chart as the top backup to Le’Veon Bell with James Conner out with a sprained knee. Toussaint began the season on the practice squad and was elevated to the active roster a month ago. The Steelers would like to keep Bell healthy for the playoffs and Toussaint can limit his touches by filling in on occasion. Toussaint has the faith of the coaches and players. He played a big part in the Steelers’ 2015 playoff run after Bell and DeAngelo Williams were lost for the season.
FAST FACTS: Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL with 1,849 scrimmage yards and 1,222 rushing yards. He had 165 scrimmage yards and a rushing TD last week. In his past four games, he has 655 scrimmage yards and five TDs. He also leads NFL RBs with 80 catches and is one of four RBs in league history with 80 catches in two seasons. … WR JuJu Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 114 yards last week. He has at least 95 yards and a TD in two of his past three road games. He is tied for third among rookies with five TD catches and ranks third with 699 yards. … LB Vince Williams had his first career interception last week and has a sack in each of his past two road games. … DE Cameron Heyward had a sack in Week 15. He has five sacks in his past five games and is tied for sixth in the AFC with a career-high 10 sacks. … Houston RB Lamar Miller has 631 scrimmage yards and three TDs in his past seven at home. He is one of three RBs in franchise history (Domanick Williams and Arian Foster) with 1,000 scrimmage yards in consecutive seasons. … WR DeAndre Hopkins leads the NFL with 12 TD catches and is tied for fourth with 92 catches. He can become the second player in franchise history with multiple 100-catch seasons. … LB Benardrick McKinney has five tackles for loss in his past six home games. He is one of four AFC players with 80 tackles (83) and 10 tackles for loss (10).
PREDICTION: The Steelers are 6-1 on the road. Even without Brown, they have what they need to beat a third-string QB.