NT Casey Hampton vs. C Chris Meyers
It hasn't necessarily been a slow start for Hampton, the Steelers' dominant nose tackle, but the rush defense has been surprisingly porous at times this season. Not all of that is on Hampton, though. He's seeing the field less-and-less, as teams spread out receivers on both sides, forcing the Steelers to counter with a nickel back in lieu of Hampton. He'll be a key component of the Steelers' defensive effort against Houston, one of the top passing and rushing offenses in the league.
Meyers is one of the more underrated players in the NFL. The former sixth-round draft pick may not carry with him a name like Mangold, Mack or Pouncey, but the Texans have gone from 22nd in the NFL in rushing to 7th overall since Meyers arrived from Denver in 2007. He's playing at a high level again this year, and the Texans will have the 2010 rushing champ, Arian Foster, back for this game.
A nationally televised audience saw Taylor's ill-advised gamble fail to pay off against Indianapolis. It's unfortunate, because Taylor has played at a very high level so far this year. Teams aren't really looking in his direction, and he's a big part of the reason the Steelers are currently the league's stingiest pass defense at 164 yards per game.
Johnson is one of the league's best, and is a tough match-up for any cornerback. He's tied with Steelers WR Mike Wallace and former Steelers WR Nate Washington for second in receptions in the NFL with 21. A true No. 1 receiver, Johnson can run all routes at any distance, and can score from anywhere on the field. Holding him to even five catches would be a successful day for Taylor.
WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Johnathan Joseph
Wallace became the first player since the Rams' Isaac Bruce in 1995 to post six consecutive 100-yard receiving games after shredding Indianapolis for 144 yards and a touchdown. It's nothing fancy for him, either, he's doing it simply by beating his opponent, and he's done that for 377 yards so far this year, the second-highest total in the league.
Joseph was brought in from Cincinnati to help solidify a horrid Houston pass defense, and the results have been mixed thus far. While other sore thumbs in the Texans' secondary stand out more than Joseph, he hasn't exactly been spectacular. Wallace has gotten the better of Joseph in their previous three meetings, although not by a huge margin.
Essex gets the nod this week over injured starter Jonathan Scott. One gets the sense he's being thrown into the fire. Williams, one of the league's most formidable defenders, teams with Watt, a rookie, for frequent QB pressures. They do it a variety of ways, too, with Williams standing up and down, and Watt stunting inside as well as taking the tackle outside.
It's a tough assignment for Essex, who must recognize which one is coming from where, and successfully hold the edge. If the Steelers wish to use any of their speed receivers down the field, Essex will have to protect Roethlisberger in five and seven-step drops. If he cannot, the Steelers will struggle to move the ball.