Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El vs. Texans CB Dunta Robinson
Antwaan Randle El (5-foot-10, 192 pounds) is no longer a former college quarterback trying to find his way as a wide receiver in the NFL. The fourth-year pro and first-year starter demonstrated his firm grasp of the position in the regular-season opener on Sept. 11 when he adjusted beautifully on the ball and turned an under-thrown bomb from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into a 63-yeard touchdown reception.
The play went into the books as the longest reception of Randle El's career, the longest completion of Roethlisberger's career and the longest Steelers completion in their history at Heinz Field. It also backed up Randle El's preseason declaration that he's capable of stretching the field in the same fashion that Plaxico Burress once did for the Steelers.
Randle El finished with two catches for a game-high 89 yards in the opener against Tennessee. In addition to being able to get deep, he possess the ability to "high-point" the ball better than any of his Steelers teammates in the estimation of head coach Bill Cowher. No wonder Cowher considers Randle El a special player and one the Steelers must endeavor to get the football to as often as possible.
Dunta Robinson (5-foot-10, 186 pounds), a first-round pick of the Texans in 2004, made his 17th start in his 17th NFL game in the Texans' 22-7 loss on Sept. 11 at Buffalo. Although he wasn't able to get his hands on the ball against the Bills, Robinson's six interceptions tied for first among NFL rookies a season ago (along with Chris Gamble of Carolina).
Robinson is a solid cover corner, and he also produced three sacks among his 85 tackles and finished with 19 passes defensed.
Although he's not the most physical of NFL corners as far as involvement in the running game is concerned, Robinson demonstrated an increasing ability to produce big plays as last season progressed. He led all NFL corners in tackles (53), sacks (three), interceptions 9three) and forced fumbles (three) over the final eight games. Two of the fumbles Robinson forced were returned for touchdowns.
The Texans flip-flop their cornerbacks, as the Steelers do with their wide receivers, so the matchup will actually involve Steelers receiver Hines Ward and Texans cornerback Phillip Buchanon, as well. But no matter who's playing where, the Steelers should see their share of one-on-one matchups outside.
The Texans figure to come in determined to take away the Steelers' running game.
That means strong safety C.C. Brown is destined to spend a lot of time in and around the box, which means Randle El and Ward will have their opportunities to work against one-on-one coverage. They'll have to take advantage of such opportunities when the Steelers opt to strike deep. The Titans trust their corners to hold up and allow the defense to load up against the run.
Randle El and Ward must also show up as blockers in the event the creating of a crowd inside compels running back Willie Parker to spill running plays outside. EDGE: Steelers.
LAST WEEK: Guard Alan Faneca and the Steelers offensive line dominated Albert Haynesworth and the Tennessee defensive line. The Steelers ran the ball 41 times, averaged 5.0 yards per carry, didn't allow a sack and won, 34-7.