Texans 17, Steelers 10: No Longer Bullied, These Texans Are The Bullies
Big day for the Texans
Photo by Marco Torres
See more pics from the Texans' third win in our slideshow.
Led by a dynamic running game and relentless pass rush, the Texans beat and bullied defending AFC champion Pittsburgh to the point that Ben Roethlisberger compared the Texans to the Ravens.
"That defense is physical," Roethlisberger said after the game.
As physical as the Ravens?
"Yup," answered Roethlisberger, who left Reliant Stadium with a walking boot on his injured left foot.
If the Week 3 collapse against New Orleans offered flashbacks to 2010, Sunday's performance cemented that the culture of the now 3-1 Texans has finally changed for the better.
By old standards, the Texans had a bad day. Andre Johnson left the game early in the second quarter with a strained hamstring. Without his top wideout, Matt Schaub was forced to play the role of game manager, throwing for just 138 yards.
Moreover, Texan touchdowns on special teams and defense were wiped away by two penalties -- one of them silly and the other simply a blown call. It was the perfect setup for a meltdown and a typical aftermath filled with could-have-beens.
Only this time, the Texans turned the tables and overcame those obstacles, imposing their physical will on the always tough-minded Steelers (2-2).
"We talked about mental toughness," team owner Bob McNair said after the game. "Physically, we have been tough enough, but mentally sometimes we haven't. Hopefully this is an indication that that mental toughness is there."
Nursing a 10-0 lead, the Texan offense went into a funk in the middle two quarters without Johnson. On the other side, the Steelers found success running against the Texans' new 3-4 front, scoring a touchdown on the half's opening drive and moving inside the Houston 10-yard line on the second.
But on a crucial third-and-2 at the Houston 9, safety Danieal Manning blitzed and stuffed Rashard Mendenhall at the line of scrimmage, forcing a tying field goal to keep Pittsburgh from going in front.
From there, the Houston offense awakened. Schaub loosened the Steelers' defense by finding Owen Daniels downfield on a pair of throws, the first for 9 yards and the second for 30.
Then, Arian Foster took a designed stretch run to the left and cut back right. Using his superb vision, Foster darted toward an enormous hole on the opposite side of the unbalanced Pittsburgh defense, rushing 43 yards for a touchdown. The Texans never trailed again.
"They [Pittsburgh] have been a top-two team since 2004 and to be able and come out here and run the ball speaks volumes," said center Chris Myers.
"The attitude is different around here," Myers noted. "We were confident in what we could do. We knew we were going to go out there and get it done and score a touchdown."
Foster ran 30 times for 155 yards and the touchdown in his second attempted return from a right hamstring injury, showing no ill effects against one of the league's most hard-hitting defenses. He was aided by an offensive line that was outstanding for most of the afternoon.
"It was my first game back, really fully and I felt 100 percent." Foster said.
As it turned out, Foster's score was all Wade Phillips' defense would need. The final four Pittsburgh drives, in order, ended with a quick three-and-out, a 4th-and-26 after sacks from Antonio Smith and Mario Williams, a four-and-out and an interception.
"This was probably one of the best games we've had as far as pressure goes," said Williams. "We were coming every play."
It's not that things are perfect for the Texans. In addition to Johnson's injury, the offense again struggled when playing with a lead. Holding 26-17 and 26-24 leads against the Saints, the Texan offense went three-and-out once and was intercepted on the third play of the other.
With a 17-10 lead on Sunday, the Texans went three-and-out on each of their final three possessions. Kubiak stubbornly held to the ground game, opting not to give Schaub another chance to go playaction and find Daniels over the top.
With the old Texans, the conservative Kubiak calls might have cost them. Then again, with the new Texans, maybe playing it safe is a defensible position.
After all, even against a two-time Super Bowl winner known for fourth-quarter comebacks, the Texans defense was at its best when the stakes were highest.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times, twice by Williams. Two of those sacks came in the final quarter. Another pass was intercepted.
"That's what great teams are made of," said left tackle Duane Brown. "When the offense is down, the defense steps up and gives us the ball back. I can't say enough about those guys, they fly around making plays by hitting the quarterback."
Moreover, the newcomers -- Manning at safety and Johnathan Joseph at cornerback -- continued to excel. In addition to his crucial stop on 3rd-and-2, Manning blocked a field goal at the end of the first half.
Joseph, meanwhile, helped limit Roethlisberger to 16-of-30 passing for 206 yards and an ugly QB rating of 61.3. Joseph also showed his penchant for playmaking by scoring a pair of touchdowns, even though both were called back due to unrelated penalties.
The Texans will face another key test next Sunday when the rejuvenated Oakland Raiders (2-2) visit Reliant. Led by Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders take pride in running the ball and playing physical.
Against the old Texans, that might be enough to bully the Texans into submission. Especially without Andre Johnson.
But for the third time in four games, these Texans proved that they are the bully. And they like it.
"Now we believe when we play a game, we aren't the underdog," said Smith. "We have to go in with the belief that we can beat every team we play; that we can beat the Patriots or the Steelers.
"This team has a confidence in itself, it has a belief. It is about the work ethic. I believe we have the ability to be a championship team and all we need is to keep the belief in ourselves."
Check out Sean Pendergast's updated season game card here.