Early stand by defense sets tone
By Joe Starkey
Monday, September 8, 2008

[url="http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_587070.html"]http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 87070.html[/url]

Picked by many to be a surprise team this season, the Houston Texans did not disappoint Sunday.

They were surprisingly inept in a 38-17 loss to the Steelers.

"We got manhandled," coach Gary Kubiak said. "They beat us in every phase there was to beat us in."

Kubiak said he liked "the way we came out of the tunnel," but that proved to be a high point for the seventh-year Texans, who've never had a winning season and dropped to 4-21 in their past 25 road games.

Momentum turned on the game's first drive, when Kubiak opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers' 48-yard line. At least one official signaled first down after quarterback Matt Schaub plowed into a pile on a sneak, but a measurement left the ball inches short. The Steelers proceeded to go eight plays in 52 yards to take a 7-0 lead.

Kubiak, who challenged the spotting of the ball on Schaub's sneak, said referee Terry McAulay twice signaled first down before the ball was spotted for a measurement.

"I said, '(Terry), you signaled first down; what happened between that and the spotting of the ball?'" Kubiak said. "I felt good being aggressive there ... but after that, it just snowballed."

Schaub's take: "That was a pretty poor call on (the officials') part."

Schaub figured if the Texans could have kept that seven-play drive alive, they might have "set the tone for the game" with a touchdown or a field goal. Instead, the Steelers set the tone and steamrolled their way to 183 rushing yards while holding the Texans to 75 and sacking Schaub five times.

Those who worried about the Steelers' offensive line should be glad they don't root for the Texans. Leaks sprung everywhere, most notably on the left side, where rookie tackle Duane Brown played turnstile to Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

Texans fullback Vonta Leach missed a block in the first quarter, allowing linebacker LaMarr Woodley to flatten Schaub, and center Chris Myers was blasted five yards into the backfield by nose tackle Casey Hampton to destroy a running play.

Rookie tailback and former West Virginia star Steve Slaton made his debut for the Texans, on the field where he burned Pitt for 215 yards rushing and 345 total yards in 2006.

Slaton had 43 yards on 13 carries yesterday.

"I was hoping it would be similar to what happened my sophomore year (in '06)," he said, "but I was facing a little better defense."

Houston's best player, defensive end Mario Williams, had six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, but he did most of his damage after the Steelers had taken a 21-0 lead, one that would stretch to 35-3 early in the second half.

The Steelers often ran right at Williams, experiencing much success. Willie Parker had 138 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Twice, the Steelers appeared to sucker Williams into rushing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Parker touchdown runs.

Williams acknowledged he was fooled on Parker's 13-yard scoring run -- a draw play -- on second-and-12 early in the second quarter.

"That was a great play," he said.

Nobody had a longer day than second-year cornerback Fred Bennett, who whiffed several times against Parker, struggled against receiver Hines Ward and was nearly buried alive by Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu on third-quarter run.

By the fourth quarter, Williams had a sick feeling in his stomach.

"I look over on their bench, and I see Ben with his hat on," Williams said.

There was no need for Roethlisberger to play any longer. The Texans were toast.

Joe Starkey can be reached at [email="jstarkey@tribweb.com"]jstarkey@tribweb.com[/email] or 412-320-7810