Defense looking for better results


It might be that the best way to get Ben Roethlisberger on the ground is to leap on his back and call 911, or at least yell for a few teammates to help out.

"We emphasize just holding him up so our teammates can come and give us help," safety Troy Nolan said. "His guys are taught to scramble and run around."

Last week, the Texans had to deal with the quick-release strikes of Drew Brees. Sunday will be a whole new challenge against a 6-foot-5 moving piece of granite. Brees was quick. Roethlisberger just doesn't go down.

"On film, you see him get out of a lot of sacks, and that's the most frustrating thing for a defensive lineman when you have him wrapped up and he gets out," rookie defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We need to get him wrapped up and not let him go. He's one of the best at escaping, and he can also throw on the run."

Going against Roethlisberger will take a special effort.

"We have to approach him different, like he's a big tight end or running back," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "You have to wrap up and make sure you secure the tackle and get him to the ground. You say that, but you have to go out and to it. He's a strong guy. It's going to be some work."

For three quarters, the Texans' defense plugged the powerful Saints offense and Brees. All they had to do was finish; keep the pressure on a little longer.

Didn't happen.  Brees was Brees. He engineered 23-fourth quarter points, and once again the Texans were left trying to explain how they let another one get away. The Texans hope it was a lesson learned.

"It's the winning edge, we've talked about it before," nose tackle Shaun Cody said. "Good teams close out those situations, so we've got to figure it out. Three quarters of the game, we put our foot down as a defense and were playing pretty good against a good offense.  We just didn't close the door."

And so, the Texans' defense has been dramatically knocked off its perch atop the NFL stat sheet. They were No. 1 last week in total defense.

This week, they find themselves in the middle of the pack.

They've got the feeling of a chip on their shoulder as they prepare for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

"Definitely," Watt said. "We wanted to win that game last week, and we had a chance to win it. So we're excited to come out here before the home crowd and give these guys a good show."

After being battered by Brees and the Saints' talented offense, the Texans dropped from first to 14th in total defense, allowing 332.0 yards per game. They also dropped to 11th in passing yards per game at 226.3.

The Steelers have injuries in their offensive line, but that's not what coach Gary Kubiak sees.

"I see a good football team," Kubiak said. "They've got some guys nicked. Everybody in the league somewhere has players nicked up.

"I see a quarterback (Roethlisberger) there running around making plays like he always does. They've got great team speed and they are making really big plays in the passing game.

"They've earned all the respect they get in this league. They were two plays away from being the world champions last year. I've got a lot of respect for what they do and how they do it. We've got to line up and man up and play as good as we can play. It will take everyone we've got."

The Texans are definitely improved over last season when they ranked near the bottom of almost all the NFL defensive statistics.

Defensive end Antonio Smith has a sack in each of the first three games. Cornerback Johnathon Joseph has interceptions in back-to-back games, and the first-round pick Watt has played like a veteran with a fumble recovery, blocked kick and sack in successive games. Linebacker Mario Williams became the first Texan to record 50 career sacks.

But the defense isn't sitting around reading its stats. Players are focused on correcting mistakes before Sunday.

"I think that was a game that gives you a bad taste in your mouth," linebacker Brian Cushing said of the 40-33 loss at New Orleans. "We think we should have won but weren't able to get it done. So we're eager to play the next one.

"It's 26-17 with 10 minutes left in the game. It's frustrating, but the way you learn to play four quarters is to go back and look at the mistakes you made in the fourth quarter. We did that. We're going to iron out the details and play a full game."

The Texans' front seven could take advantage of the Steelers' injuries up front on offense.

"They are a good team, and that's a big challenge," Watt said. "Anytime you're put in a situation like that, you have to capitalize on it. Obviously, they are a little banged up, so we as a defensive line want to go out there and do everything we can to take advantage of that situation."

The Texans are concentrating on putting more pressure on the quarterback. They'll be facing a different target on Sunday against Roethlisberger.

"Ben is the key," Ryans said. "They are all off-schedule. Drew is just quick and the ball is coming out right now. (Ben) moves around in the pocket and finds a way to make a play."

The Texans are studying what they did right for three quarters against the Saints and putting that to work on getting ready for the Steelers offense.

"He's a big quarterback who makes a lot of plays that aren't even drawn up," Cushing said. "He's a playmaker and a guy who shows up on Sunday. He makes a lot of plays that are broken plays or plays that are from a smart move to extend the play.

"You attack him almost like he's not a quarterback. You attack him like he's a running back. Watching film, he definitely breaks a lot of tackles and makes a lot of plays the ordinary quarterback doesn't."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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