Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t about to panic, while slow starts have the Houston Texans searching for solutions.
The Steelers will likely need a better performance from their star quarterback as they try to send the Texans to a third straight loss in a Monday night matchup of .500 teams.
Pittsburgh (3-3) has alternated wins and losses through its first six games, and surely will be looking to maintain that trend after falling 31-10 at Cleveland last weekend.
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Despite failing to string any wins together and occupying the AFC North cellar, the Steelers aren’t overly concerned and a three-game homestand could be one reason why.
They’ve won six of eight games at Heinz Field, but lost 27-24 to Tampa Bay in the most recent in Week 4.
"There’s no time to panic," said Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 17 times for the second-highest total in the NFL entering Week 7. "You guys are waiting for us to panic. We’re not panicking."
That calm demeanor has defined Roethlisberger’s career, and that attitude should help as he tries to bounce back from perhaps his worst performance of the season. He had a season-low 64.4 passer rating, completed half of his 42 passes for 228 yards and his interception led to a Cleveland touchdown.
Roethlisberger had a 112.3 rating and threw for six TDs over the previous three games.
"Ben is always a calm guy in the huddle," said running back Le’Veon Bell, who has no touchdowns in five weeks. "Obviously when guys aren’t making plays there’s a little bit of frustration about everything. But he’s not throwing fits or tantrums about anything. He understands guys are going to make mistakes."
Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense will have to deal with J.J. Watt, Houston’s star defensive end who leads the NFL with 20 hits on quarterbacks his season and has four of his team’s 10 sacks.
That unit could become a bit more formidable with the potential return of rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who has been out since Week 1 after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. There’s a 50-50 chance the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft plays Monday, Coach Bill O’Brien said Friday.
Cornerback Kareem Jackson feels having Clowney available could go a long way to aiding the pass defense.
"It (would) help a lot," Jackson said. "Just going in the game knowing we won’t have to cover as long. The guys we’ve had up front, they’ve been doing a great job thus far and to add (Clowney) is definitely going to make things that much better."
Another slow start proved too much to overcome for the Texans (3-3), who totaled two yards of offense and fell behind Indianapolis 24-0 after one quarter last Thursday en route to a 33-28 loss. That was the fifth time this season Houston has been shut out in the first quarter, including four straight games with the offense averaging 40.5 yards.
That won’t be easy to improve against the Steelers, who allow 44.7 yards per game in the first quarter.
"If we start the game with a positive play – first down, gain four, gain five; second-and-5, then gain three (and) then it’s a positive or manageable third down," O’Brien said. "We get that first first-down, we’re able to get into a good tempo, a good rhythm and we’re going."
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of the main culprits in those slow starts, ranking last in the AFC with a 58.9 passer rating in the first quarter. That number drops to 21.8 over the past four games after he missed on all four of his pass attempts last week.
"What the film shows us is that everybody on offense has to play better. Everybody," O’Brien said.
Houston’s defense certainly isn’t without blame, ranking 27th in the league in offensive yards allowed (397.2). The Texans have surrendered 694 total passing yards and five touchdowns in back-to-back losses.
Houston fell behind 21-0 in a 38-17 loss in its most recent visit to Pittsburgh on Sept. 7, 2008.