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New Faces, Old Opponents: Pittsburgh Steelers

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The Texans face AFC North leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas. Should be a doozy.

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Whether you want to think this season is already over or not, the Texans do play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football (albeit at 3:30 p.m. CST on Christmas). The thought of James Harrison rushing against anyone on our offensive line is a terrifying idea.

This past offseason, the Steelers followed up on a solid 11-5 2016 season with a perfectly executed draft and free agency plan. I have always admired the way the Steelers draft. Highly motivated, statistical leaders in college and/or athletic specimens with high ceilings are the M.O. for the Steelers’ draft choices. I loved Bud Dupree coming out of the 2015 NFL Draft and was upset when the Texans passed on him, allowing him to fall to the Steelers. Along with this draft, Pittsburgh brought in a ton of free agent talent to sure up the depth of the team. Having seasoned veterans providing depth is a major factor when preparing to make a long run in the playoffs. As you will see, the Steelers did both, and that is why they are 11-3 with a shot at a first-round bye.

Through the Draft:

Round 1, Pick 30 (No. 30): T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin.

Picking from the genetic goldmine that is the Watt family was a good decision. The youngest of the Watt brothers is currently on-pace to match J.J. Watt’s first year. He already has six sacks to J.J.’s 5.5 and has two more passes defended than his older brother. At OLB, Watt has been a dominant force against both the pass and the run. His acceleration and great use of hands will be a major issue for the Texans’ patchwork offensive line.

Round 2, Pick 30 (No. 62): JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC.

Possibly one of the best names in the draft is performing like one of the best picks. Coming out of USC, JuJu was known for soft hands and great route running. Touted as the next great USC WR, he has had a breakout year as the WR2 option in Pittsburgh’s offense. When you have Big Ben throwing you the ball, potentially the best WR in the league on the team, and arguably the best RB in the league demanding 7-8 in the box, you have a good chance to make plays. Smith-Schuster gained instant fame from the amazing story of his bike being stolen and duly returned. Now with Antonio Brown out for the game with a calf injury, it will be up to Smith-Schuster to carry the load at receiver.

Round 3, Pick 30 (No. 94): Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee.

Sutton was a quality player for the Volunteers for four years. An ankle injury cut his senior year short and dropped his prospective position in the draft. He has missed the first twelve games of this season with a hamstring injury suffered early in September. Sutton fits the Steelers man-cover corner scheme and has seen increased playing time since he returned to the active roster.

Round 3, Pick 41 (No. 105): James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh.

James Conner’s career is one of the most inspirational stories in sports. His sophomore year at Pitt, he ran for 26 touchdowns and received All-American honors as one of the most effective running backs in the country. His junior season was immediately terminated when he tore his MCL in the opening game. While rehabbing his knee, it was found that he was had Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the form of a lump in his chest. The running back went from All-American to cancer patient in just a couple of weeks. He attacked cancer and his treatments as hard as he runs in football games. Amazingly, he was able to fully recover from cancer and lea his team again in the 2016 season. He was drafted this offseason by the hometown Steelers and got to play in the same stadium he played his college games in. His jersey was the hottest selling rookie uniform in the NFL this offseason, and he was the Steelers’ second string running back behind Le’Veon Bell (which sounds like a great role to have), recording 144 yards before injuring his MCL again. He will be out against the Texans on Monday.

Round 4, Pick 29 (No. 135): Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee.

Dobbs might be the smartest person in the entire draft class. I personally never bought into the hype at Tennessee. He had a good career there, but I thought his throwing motion, along with several egregious interceptions, put him lower on my list of rookie QBs. With Big Ben going down last season, it’s understandable that the Steelers wanted to have a backup plan in place if he happens to miss time. Dobbs is currently the third-string QB behind Landry Jones and will probably be the Steelers’ long term project.

Round 5, Pick 30 (No. 173): Brian Allen, DB, Utah.

He had a full toolkit of talents in college, where he played several positions and helped on special teams. The 6’3” corner from Utah has mainly served as a special teams asset throughout his rookie season. With his size and frame, he doesn’t get bullied by large tight ends and tall receivers.

Round 6, Pick 30 (No. 213): Colin Holba, LS, Louisville.

The rare long snapper draft pick will always receive criticism by many fans. Holba was released by the Steelers and was subsequently signed by the Jaguars when their long snapper was injured. He is currently the starter for the Jags.

Round 7, Pick 30 (No. 248): Keion Adams, DE, Western Michigan.

The final pick in the Steelers’ 2017 draft was a DE/LB who’s a good pass rusher. Unfortunately for him, the Steelers has a ton of his skill position on the roster and he has not been in a game.

Through Free Agency

Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns.

Nothing is better than when a divisional opponent releases their players and you make them one of your own. I guess the Texans do not enjoy that feeling as much as the rest of the NFL. Haden was a lockdown corner for the Browns even through their worst games. He fits perfectly into their scheme. Although he has not had the same production since his rookie year, Haden fills a big hole in the Steelers’ secondary. He has missed a few games after suffering a fractured fibula against the Colts. He will be mostly covering Will Fuller V in the game, with Artie Burns matched up on DeAndre Hopkins.

Tyson Alualu, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tyson was one of the better players on the Jags’ defense during their terrible stretch the last couple seasons. In his eighth year, he signed with the Steelers and has had a healthy season. He currently is the second-string right defensive end behind Stephon Tuitt. Even though he never fully lived up to his draft position, he is a good rotational player in a defense that plays to his strengths.

Coty Sensabaugh, CB, New York Giants.

Sensabaugh started his career with the Titans and had his first interception since 2015 against his former team in Week 11. He plays behind Joe Haden in the secondary and makes a major contribution on special teams.

Justin Hunter, WR, Buffalo Bills.

Also drafted by the Titans, Hunter was considered one of the top WR prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft. His 4.4 speed recorded at the NFL Combine has not translated into success in the NFL. He has three catches this season for 18 yards and one fumble. He may see more playing time with Antonio Brown out, so don’t overlook his potential impact on the game.

Note: Knile Davis not included, as he was released and is a free agent.

The Steelers are looking for a bounce-back victory after one of the most hectic losses that I have seen. They are fully in control of their destiny right now and will rely on Le’Veon Bell to carry the load with Antonio Brown and James Conner out. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be their biggest threat in the passing game; he excels in quick screens and uses his speed to torch corners at any level. Hopefully the Texans do not ruin Christmas like they have ruined this season.