By JOHN McCLAIN
The Houston Chronicle
September 27, 2011
The worst thing you can say about a team is that it chokes.
The second-worst thing you can say about a team is that it's soft - mentally and physically.
The Texans haven't blown any 35-3 leads, so they're not known as chokers. But they are known as a soft team, and they don't like it.
Mike Lombardi was the first to slap that label on them last season, when they were blowing so many games in the fourth quarter and overtime. He reiterated it before the draft and during training camp.
Naturally, Lombardi isn't their favorite NFL.com columnist or NFL Network analyst, but there's one way to prove him wrong. Blowing two leads in the fourth quarter at the Superdome and surrendering 23 points in the process is not the right way to do it.
Beating the best
Fortunately for the Texans, they have another chance to dispel the notion Sunday at Reliant Stadium. If people think you're not tough enough, then beat the team that, year in and year out, is the toughest in the NFL.
When you think of physical teams, which is the first that comes to mind? The Pittsburgh Steelers, of course.
Perennially, the Steelers are the toughest on offense, defense and special teams. But it starts with a defense that just seems to pack a little more punch than that of their opponents.
Can you imagine a Dick LeBeau defense allowing 23 points in the fourth quarter? Can you imagine the Steelers allowing the same two-point conversion pass twice? Of course you can't. Because they're the Steelers.
Defense sets the standard for the Steelers' physical philosophy. Counting this season, the Steelers have ranked outside of the top 10 in defense two times in the last 15 years. They've been in the top five eight times.
Since LeBeau returned as their defensive coordinator in 2004, they've been out of the top five in defense one time. This season, they rank second.
LeBeau's philosophy is to stop the run first and then turn loose his blitzers in passing situations. From 2004 through 2010, the Steelers ranked in the top three in run defense.
The last two times the Texans have played the Steelers, they've been embarrassed. Pittsburgh dominated them so thoroughly it was laughable.
Remember that game at Reliant in September of 2005? The Texans left the roof open to wear down the Steelers, who wore their black jerseys. The only ones worn down were Texans fans in the heat. The Steelers frolicked in the heat and humidity and departed with a 27-7 victory.
In 2008, the Texans went to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers wiped the Heinz Field floor with them and won 38-17.
The Steelers are a Super Bowl contender just about every year. The Texans are still trying to make the playoffs for the first time.
The Steelers lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay in February. Three games into this season, they're struggling on offense. Their line has been decimated by injuries. They might be 2-1, but they haven't run the ball the way they want.
Defensively, the Steelers may be getting older, but that makes them more irritable. They can still be nasty and dominant. They can still make life miserable for quarterbacks.
For a team like the Texans with so much to prove, beat the Steelers, and people around the country will take notice.
Sunday is the perfect opportunity for the Texans to prove they're not the same old Texans that can't score in the red zone and can't protect a fourth-quarter lead. They can prove the fourth-quarter collapse at New Orleans was an abnormality.
Sunday isn't the time to wilt at the sight of black-and-gold jerseys, but it is the time for the Texans to muscle up, get tough and treat Reliant Stadium like it's an octagon.