“It ain’t bragging if you can do it. But just saying it don’t make it so….” - Bum Philips, head coach, Houston Oilers, 1975-1980.
Entering the 2008 season the Houston Texans were supposed to be one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. In surge of carpe diem, Texan head coach Gary Kubiack attempted to strut his tuff by going for it on fourth down at mid-field on the opening drive. That was a bold move, worthy of an elite team, and rather brash, considering the pedigree of the Steelers run defense….
….Perhaps someone should have reminded Kubiack of Bum Philip’s old dictum, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it. But just saying it don’t make it so…” because quarterback Matt Schaub, went for it, came up short, and Pittsburgh dominated thereafter.
The Steelers defeated the Texans 38 to 17, but two garbage time Houston touchdowns made the game less lopsided than it really was. It only took the Steelers eight plays to score on a 7 yard Willie Parker run after the Texan’s failed fourth down gamble.
Parker’s leg bothered him, it didn’t show, as he ran for 138 yards on 25 carries, finishing the day with three touchdowns.
Ben Roethlisberger was also in championship form, completing thirteen of fourteen passes for zero interceptions and two touchdowns to Hines Ward.
Perhaps more importantly, the offensive line protected Ben. They fended off a defensive front that featured three first round draft picks, including Mario Williams; Big Ben was sacked only twice. While offensive also opened the 2007 season by playing “better than expected,” today’s performance was encouraging.
The Steelers defense completely shut down the Texans’ offense, with a combination of “splash” plays and a stifling run defense that limited Houston to 75 yards rushing.
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley led the defense. Harrison posted three sacks and a forced fumble, while Woodley made the most out of his first NFL start recording a sack (or two, depending on whose numbers you believe), a fumble recovery, and an interception. Tory Polamalu also made his presence felt by bringing down his first interception in nearly two years.
The Steelers special teams also turned in a strong, if not spectacular performance, limiting Houston return ace Andre Davis to a 18.5 yard average on six kickoff returns, and the Texan punt return unit only averaged 2.5 yards on 2 returns.
Credit the Texan defense for taking the long ball away from Big Ben and Santonio Holmes. Holmes average close to 18 yards a catch last year, but Houston limited him to 2 grabs for 19 yards today. Roethlisberger made them pay for it however, by hitting Health Miller and Hines Ward underneath 9 times.
Rashard Mendenhall’s NFL debut was less than stellar and that, along with Byron Leftwich going 0-4 in the fourth quarter, was perhaps the only note of concern. Mendenhall netted just 28 yards for his ten carries, although he did do a respectable job as a kick returner.
Things get difficult for the Steelers in a hurry as they face off against the Cleveland Browns, whom many are picking to win the AFC North.