The Steelers will play their second consecutive road game when they take on the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
The Steelers head into the game with a 2-1 record, while the Texans are 1-2, and coming off a 37-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road.
On a day the Texans will be enshrining their former defensive end J.J. Watt into their Ring of Honor, Coach DeMeco Ryans knows it's another Watt who is going to be garnering his attention – Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.
"He is probably the most impactful defensive player in the league right now," said Ryans.
In addition to Watt, the Texans weighed in on Alex Highsmith, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kenny Pickett and much more.
Coach DeMeco Ryans on quarterback Kenny Pickett:
"Really impressed with Pickett. He does a good job in the quick game of getting the ball out very quickly. I am impressed with the athlete that he is and his ability to create. He can scramble, make plays, it's pretty impressive to see. I didn't know the athlete he was until I popped the tape on. So that has been impressive.
"His ability to throw the deep ball jumps off the tape. A lot of explosive players there with the receiver position. But he does a good job with the ball placement on the outside lanes. They've been able to connect on a few and make some big plays."
Ryans on linebacker T.J. Watt:
"If you want to play great defense, you have to do it on the edges. It starts there. T.J., you can't think of another guy that impacts the game more. He is probably the most impactful defensive player in the league right now. Leading the league in sacks and pressures.
"When you have one guy who can pressure and disrupt the quarterback, it just changes the entire scheme of things defensively. You don't have to blitz as much because you have a guy like T.J. Watt. When T.J. Watt gets help from a guy like (Alex) Highsmith, it's almost unfair. T.J. is impressive."
Ryans on the combination of Watt and Highsmith:
"Yeah, we have our hands full this week with Watt and Highsmith. Two elite edge rushers in this league. (They) cause a lot of problems for a lot of offenses. T.J. is the sack leader [and] pressure leader, so it's definitely going to have our attention this week, and we have to handle him accordingly. Everybody has to handle him, whether it's O-line, quarterback, tight end – it'll take all 11 to get it done knowing we have our hands full with the pass rush this week. (Those) guys have done it for a long time, being successful rushing the passer. They play great defense. The Steelers have always been known for great defense, so we're up for the challenge this week."
Quarterback C.J. Stroud on Watt and Highsmith:
"I have trust and faith in my guys and my job is to get the ball out on time and do whatever it takes to execute. He's a great player – both 90 and 56– definitely two dawgs. Even up front, their tackles are really good, too. This isn't the first time I'm playing against really good ends either. I think he's probably the best defensive player in the league, other than Micah Parsons and a couple of other guys that are standing out in the league right now. You have to be aware of them, but at the same time we have to have confidence in what we're doing. They have to play us, too. We're not just going to lay down and just submit because he's the best player. We're really good players on this side, too. Looking forward to competing against those guys, but I've got to do my part which is just playing clean."
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik on facing Watt and Highsmith with injuries on the line:
"I'd say the challenge is about as high as it gets. T.J. leads the league in sacks. I think he leads the league in pressures. Highsmith on the other side is right up there. I think he's second behind T.J. in forced fumbles over the last two years or something like that. We've talked about it a lot and we have a plan going into it to help everybody across the board on both sides and that impacts everybody. Like I said, it's not just up front. It's receivers, it's tight ends, it's backs, it's quarterback. We know what the challenge is and that's really in the pass game and the run game."
Ryans on trying to stop George Pickens and the receiving corps:
"Pickens is a big-time playmaker. You turn on the tape [and] he pops off the tape. Big-time, explosive playmaker, so we have our challenges there, but credit to him and the plays that he [George Pickens] has made. The quarterback [Kenny Pickett] putting the ball out there – they've taken a couple shots and they've connected on a lot of them, and his speed after the catch and his home run ability – it's definitely a problem for us, and we know we'll have eyes on him."
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke on Pickens:
"He's obviously a dynamic player. Really good at the catch point. Can go up with anybody and make plays at the high point. I would probably say that's one of his specialties. I know this might be blasphemy, but he reminds me a little bit of 'D-Hop' [DeAndre Hopkins] in that sense. They put the ball up to him and they trust that he can go get it. So obviously, one of our sort of keys to victory is not giving up explosive plays, and he's a big factor in that. So, again, we've got to ask our corners to play the technique that we ask them to play, and let the coverages work for them. If it's a coverage that maybe they have to go to work on, they go to work on it. If there's a coverage that we can help in this situation, then we'll do that."
Ryans on Coach Mike Tomlin:
"I met Coach Tomlin when I was coming out as a rookie. He was with the Vikings, his first year as defensive coordinator with the Vikings. I remember sitting down in his office, he was giving me advice, how you come in as a rookie, train. He was telling me how Derrick Brooks trained and giving me advice in that matter.
"Coach Tomlin is someone I always looked up to as a head coach in this league. A guy that has been consistent. Never had a losing season. He is the epitome of what I want to be like. He is a defensive head coach, they play a physical brand of football, they run the ball well. That is how I see myself.
"All the interactions I have had with him he is always very personable, very respectful. Always looking for some advice any time I get the chance to talk to him because I look up to him for the coach he is and how he takes care of his players. All of his players speak highly of him. He truly cares about his players as men off the field, not just on the field. That's been impressive to watch."
Ryans on the Steelers continuity:
"Yeah, Pittsburgh and their organization with Coach Tomlin – you talk about a team that's always in the hunt, very successful organization. Consistent in their approach and how they do things. It's definitely a model for all NFL teams."
Burke on defending against Pickett on short throws and deeper shots down the field:
"That's the balance. In general, it's a quick passing game attack, but then – we just talked about Pickett – they're going to take their shots. Those guys, 19 [Calvin Austin III] can run, you know what I mean? [Pat] Freiermuth can get in the seam and those sorts of things, so it is a balance."
Special teams coordinator Frank Ross on how the Steelers are built:
"Talking about teams that are built the right way. Talking about teams that have been consistent in foundation. You have Danny Smith and Mike Tomlin, who have been at the hip for many years now – longer than I've been coaching in the league myself. The consistency year in and year out and I have familiarity just watching them on television. That unit plays hard and when you're playing a tough physical football team like Pittsburgh, you have to make sure that you match their level of intensity. Their blocking style is more physical than other teams. Their protection style is more physical than other teams, so we have to make sure we're representing our end on the way as well and execute with good precision in the kicking game this weekend."
Ryans on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick:
"The thing that jumps out about Minkah is his football IQ. Defensively you can do a lot with Minkah because he is patrolling the middle of the field. Smart player, you can see him communicating a lot on tape. He is a game-changer. When you have a player who is smart, you can move him around to multiple positions.
"Having a piece like that is almost like a cheat code when you have Minkah Fitzpatrick and the plays he is able to make from so many different spots. When you have a guy who is smart, physical, tough player, it's a game-changer."
Ryans on some of the challenges the Steelers offense can present:
"For us, at the linebacker spot – when it comes to this offense – it's going to start with the run game. We have to stop the run. They have big, physical offensive linemen. They want to lean on you. They want to control the game, so we have to be ready to get off of blocks and make plays. Strong tackles, really good [running] backs – both backs are really good backs. Strong backs – they run the ball hard. So that's where our challenge will come in, making sure we're swarming and we're tackling how we need to tackle to stop the run game."
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