Texans' 'D' learning how to finish games

Posted Oct. 03, 2011 @ 2:14 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

Starting strong hasn't been an issue for the Texans this season. They have outscored their opponents 76-13 in the first half. On Sunday, Houston's opening drive covered 95 yards on 19 plays, taking 10:55 off the clock and resulting in an Owen Daniels one-yard score for a 7-0 lead over Pittsburgh. The Texans would build that lead to 10-0 before halftime. But for the second week in a row, the Texans came out flat to begin the second half, allowing the Steelers to score on their first two possessions and draw even at 10 with one quarter to play.

The difference between a Week Three loss to the Saints and a Week Four triumph over Pittsburgh: Houston's "D" clamped down just in the nick of time, overwhelming an undermatched Steelers' offensive line and preserving a huge 17-10 victory over the defending AFC champions.

The PFW Spin

It wasn't pretty for the Texans, who committed nine penalties for 64 yards, negating two Johnathan Joseph TDs — a Danieal Manning blocked field goal returned 61 yards by Joseph on the last play of the first half and a Roethlisberger interception returned 22 yards on the Steelers' final drive of the game.

Despite the sloppy play, Houston dominated the action for the first 30 minutes before again sputtering to begin the second half. A patchwork Pittsburgh O-line pushed the Texans down the field on the opening drive of the third quarter, driving 74 yards and consuming nearly eight minutes off the clock before a three-yard Rashard Mendenhall TD run. With the Texans badly needing a strong drive to respond, they instead quietly went three and out, putting the ball back into the hands of the Steelers. Pittsburgh continued to impose its will, calling eight consecutive runs to put Shaun Suisham in position for a game-tying 26-yard field goal.

Then, the light turned back on for the Texans. RB Arian Foster scored from 42 yards out on a gorgeous cutback run in which he made both Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley whiff on his way into the open field. Foster, making only his second start of the season was heroic. With Ben Tate and Andre Johnson sidelined because of injuries, Foster shouldered the load, piling up 155 yards on 30 carries — the highest rushing yardage total against a Pittsburgh defense since 2003.

And the Texans' defense seemed to feed off Foster in the fourth quarter. Shaun Cody sacked Ben Roethlisberger on the first series following Foster's scoring gallop, leading to a three-and-out. On the Texans' next defensive possession, Antonio Smith and Mario Williams collapsed the pocket on consecutive plays, bringing down Roethlisberger. After a turnover on downs on their next offensive series, the Steelers were left with one final gasp. Pinned back on their own goal line — thanks to a perfectly executed 45-yard Brett Hartmann punt downed by Brice McCain — the Steelers were left with a little more than one minute to try and drive 99 yards for the tying score.

A roughing-the-passer penalty by rookie J.J. Watt nullified Joseph's pick-six on first down. But three plays later, Jason Allen, who played a very physical game starting in place of the injured Kareem Jackson, secured the victory with an interception deep in Houston territory.

For the Texans, a team trying to shed a reputation for lacking toughness and the mental fortitude to close out games, Sunday was a statement. Sure, they let the Steelers hang around too long. But unlike the week before in New Orleans, Houston did what it needed to do to escape with the win over a good football team.

Last season, the Texans would have found a way to lose this game. On Sunday, their ferocious fourth-quarter "D" wouldn't let that happen.