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Houston Texans

Running of the Steelers


The official program says the Texans are playing the Steelers on Sunday. If you listen to some of the Houston players, Pittsburgh could as easily be called the Bullies. That's what their running game is known for and that's what the Texans expect.

"Those guys are like they've always been," defensive end Anthony Weaver said. "They want to be physical. They want to be the big bully out there on the block and kind of push you around.

"It's important for us on the D-line to hit them back. They want to hit you in the mouth, and unless you fight back they're going to keep doing it."

So, what's the mindset?

"You take a couple of extra pain killers and get your pads low and let's go," Weaver laughed. "Their running game is well-documented and now they've got that quarterback there with all the confidence in the world. They are well-balanced."

{QUOTE}The Texans' defense, and especially the defensive line, will get a lot of scrutiny in Sunday's opener against the run-oriented Steelers. While trying to get a stronger pass rush, they'd best not overlook the Steelers' rushing attack with Willie Parker and rookie Rashard Mendenhall.

"That's the number one duty every week is to be good on run defense," linebacker Zac Diles said. "That's a point they emphasize every week, but you see that they do like to run the ball so that's really a point this week."

While the Steelers have a lengthy reputation for strong running games, the Texans have been weak against the run despite having three former No. 1 draft picks on the defensive line.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans expects the Texans to be better this season.

"We have a lot of eight-man in the box," Ryans said. "We are stacking the box so everyone is fast downhill, trying to stop the run. They like to get on the edge a lot with pulling a tackle and guard outside and get (Willie) Parker to the edge, because he's such a fast guy. If he gets to the edge, he runs by a lot of people."

The Texans don't have a pounding running back like retired Jerome Bettis to stop this time. That won't make it any easier.

"They don't need it (Bettis)," defensive end N.D. Kalu said. "They have pounding-type guys blocking for him. That's a harder mix when you've got those offensive linemen that want to pound you and then you've got a guy like Parker who wants to get to that edge and he's very fast and elusive.

"Bettis was great, but they don't have a drop-off with Parker back there."

The Texans ranked 19th in the NFL against the run last season. Pittsburgh's run offense was third in the league, and Parker ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,316 rushing yards.

"They're a great physical team," Kalu said. "They are a lot like the Dallas Cowboys, and we know we won't get a chance to go after the quarterback if they're running it down our throats. That's our main objective on the D-line."

It's the same old Pittsburgh, ramming the ball down the field on the ground.

"That's what they're known for, that black-and-blue type of running," Kalu said. "They want to hit you in the mouth and see where your heart's at. It's going to be a great test for us to send a message to the city of Houston that we're tough up front if we can take them on."

The Texans and Steelers have split the two games they've played. Houston won a bizarre 24-6 game in 2002 in which the Texans had 47 yards of total offense. The Steelers got revenge in 2005 with a 27-7 victory.

"They try to fire off on you with their O-line," Ryans said. "You've got to be cognizant of that. They have that attitude, but we have to go and be physical with them and hit."

The Steelers don't try anything exotic. They just line up and run at you.

"As long as we're gap-sound, we should be fine," Ryans said. "They don't run anything like 'Oh my God, how can we stop this play.' The way they get into formations, they move around a lot, so we've just got to be locked in."

The Texans are ready for a game-long ground war.

"Even if we stop it, they're going to continue to run it," Kalu said. "That's their mode. Whether they're down or not, they're going to run the ball. We have to keep stuffing them the whole game."

That's something few teams have been able to do against the Steelers.

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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