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Deep Steel Blueprint: Rich, Gooey Center Needs To Be Filled With Nougat

Before I delve into a Deep Steel Blueprint, I have to express a ton of joy about Sunday’s game. As The 506 shows us, the Houston Texans are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in, what is essentially, a nationally broadcast game. On behalf of those outside the southeast part of Texas, with the exception of a few areas, I can say it will be a Durgasend to not have to search for a way to watch or be behind in watching a broadcast. Everyone should be able to watch at the same time, which will make for a fun gamethread.

My joy at being freed from being forced by NFL television rules to watch only Minnesota-Kansas City aside, I am also optimistic about Sunday’s game. I am respectful of the history of Pittsburgh's professional football franchise, but the present is not as intimidating as I thought it would be when the schedule came out.

So far, Pittsburgh’s been dominated in Baltimore, shut out an eastern-traveling and awful Seattle team (no offense, UT), and struggled in Lucas Oil Stadium against the Indianapolis ManninglessColts. The offensive line is held together by duct tape and journeymen, and the defense is starting to gray. 

Even with all of these encouraging signs, you have to wonder what the Texans will need to do to beat the Steelers. Wonder no more and hit the jump.

I could go the easy and obvious answer: run the ball. The Steelers sit 19th in run defense DVOA on Football Outsiders, are allowing 4.6 yards per carry, and nearly gave up 100 to the vaunted Colts' rushing attack. A healthy Arian Foster and Ben Tate duo could have a good day as the offensive line attacks a Steeler front seven where five of the starters are 33 or older and don’t appear to have that signature Steelers explosiveness that makes Dick LeBeau’s scheme so deadly.

However, that’s too easy and widespread. I don’t want to put together some rehash of what everyone else is saying and waste your time and mine. Instead, I’ll say the key to a Sunday victory lies in the hands of Shaun Cody, Earl Mitchell, DeMeco Ryans, and Brian Cushing.

The Steelers' offensive line isn’t very good. Heck, it’s not even very average, thanks to all the injuries. It’s a thin group, which has contributed to Rashad Mendenhall rushing for 3.0 yards per carry.

"TDC," says the educated BRB reader, "Who cares? Their line sucks and Mike Wallace is destroying defenses left and right! Let’s talk about coverage schemes and maybe even allowing Johnathan Joseph to press at will. Their running game won’t matter!" Except it will if they stick with their plan.

Regardless of your opinion on Maurkice Pouncey, the Gator alumnus is Pittsburgh’s best lineman and the 70% of running plays between the guards is a good reflection of that. Of course, FO rates them top-5 in running to the right, but they’re running up the middle 70% of the time...where the Texans are dead last in adjusted line yards. This is also why teams have run up the middle against them a staggering 84% of the time.

If trends hold out, and they will because football coaches are stubborn and the tackle situation isn’t great for Pittsburgh, the Steelers will send Mendenhall up the middle at the woeful Houston interior in hopes of gashing Houston and controlling the ball.

There’s a time where scheme and tactics will work, but this isn’t one of those times. Houston’s defensive chances depend on improved performance from a rich, gooey center.

Ryans and Cushing have shown more life over the past two weeks, and they’ll both need to keep returning to form. Ryans needs to continue to find that explosive burst to fill the gap and finish a play, while Cushing has to avoid overthinking a play and get back to reacting and playing aggressively. Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell also need to do something other than be blocked out of the play, or else Mendenhall will walk Pittsburgh to a win.

That’s what I see as Sunday’s critical match-up, but what about you, BRB faithful? Sound off in the comments below.

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