(Photo credit: Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports)
DeMeco Ryans knows defensive talent when he sees it, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have it in spades.
The former Pro Bowl linebacker and San Francisco defensive coordinator was a fast riser through the coaching ranks before landing with the Houston Texans. Now Ryans is coming off his first win as ahead coach as Houston prepares to host Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Texans (1-2) blitzed the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 37-17 win in Week 3. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud went 20-for-30 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but dealing with Pittsburgh's defense will be a greater challenge.
Ryans called pass rusher T.J. Watt "probably the most impactful defensive player in the league." Watt has already racked up a league-high six sacks and two fumble recoveries (tied with Colts defensive end Kwity Paye) through three games.
As for the secondary?
"It's almost like a cheat code when you've got Minkah Fitzpatrick," Ryans said.
The veteran safety does not yet have an interception in 2023, but he has backstopped a unit that has eight takeaways, tied for second-most in the league.
"Gotta be aware of them, but at the same time, we've got to have confidence in what we're doing, and they've got to play us too," Stroud said. "Like, we're not just going to lay down and submit because (Watt) is the best player."
Stroud's fellow rookies also had nice showings against Jacksonville. Third overall pick Will Anderson Jr. had four tackles and two quarterback hits in addition to blocking a field-goal attempt. Wide receiver Tank Dell broke out for five catches, 145 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers (2-1) earned a 23-18 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday night, but their flight home was delayed after it made an emergency landing in Kansas City. They finally made it home Monday afternoon and scrapped the day's agenda.
"I don't want it to become an excuse," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh is getting more out of second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett after he tossed two interceptions in a 30-7 loss to the 49ers in Week 1. He threw for two touchdowns and a season-best 8.4 yards per attempt (his highest in any career start) in the win over the Raiders.
The Steelers rank 30th in the NFL in rushing offense (67 yards per game), but they surpassed 100 yards for the first time against Las Vegas with 105. Najee Harris received 19 carries of his season total of 35.
Harris said Pittsburgh's success came after simplifying its playbook for the run game, but Tomlin refuted that idea later in the week.
"It's a delicate balance. ... There's a lot of layers to these discussions to be quite honest with you," Tomlin said. "I don't know what Naj was referring to when he made that statement."
Tomlin also denied a report that offensive coordinator Matt Canada was given a more hands-on role in working with Pickett.
Pickett sees similarities on tape between his Week 1 experience against the 49ers and what Ryans runs in Houston.
"Obviously San Fran kept a lot of the same things that the head coach now does at the Texans, who's a great coach," Pickett said. "Did an unbelievable job at San Fran, now is doing a great job in Houston. So it's going to be a tough task for us to do a lot of really good things."
Wide receiver Allen Robinson (ankle), tight end Connor Heyward (ankle), tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (elbow), guard James Daniels (groin), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (foot) and punter Pressley Harvin III (hamstring) missed the Steelers' practice on Wednesday with injuries.
The Texans could once again be without left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee), who has missed two straight games. Tunsil sat out Wednesday, as did tackle Josh Jones (hand), linebacker Denzel Perryman (hand/wrist) and cornerback Tavierre Thomas (hand). Cornerback Shaquill Griffin (foot) was among those limited.
--Field Level Media