Steelers scouting report

Yes, it is a preseason game. Yes, it technically doesn't count. And finally, yes, the Texans aren't exactly building an extravagant game plan for Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But that does not mean the game is less important.

"Our goal is to go into Pittsburgh and see how much improvement we can make over our performance last Saturday night," Texans head coach Dom Capers said. "It's always a big challenge when you go on the road the first time and deal with all the distractions of playing on the road – the crowd noise and the focus and concentration it takes."

The Texans look to make some more history Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh for the first preseason game between the two teams. A win and the Texans would have won back-to-back preseason games for the first time in team history.

Yes, it is a preseason game. But it's no fun to think of it that way.

LAST WEEK:The Texans shutout the Dallas Cowboys 18-0 at Reliant Stadium Aug. 14. Running back Tony Hollings led the team in receiving (32 yards) and rushing (57 yards). Quarterback David Carr went 7-of-8 for 89 yards and a touchdown.

The Steelers lost 27-21 at Detroit the same night. Pittsburgh put up 388 yards of offense but was unable to overcome a 27-14 fourth quarter deficit. Brian St. Pierre and Ben Roethlisberger both threw

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touchdown passes.

Safety Troy Polamalu was the team's leading rusher after taking a direct snap on a punt and running 64 yards to the Lions' nine-yard-line. The play set up Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El.

TEXANS ON OFFENSE:The Steelers gave up 186 yards, but three touchdowns to the Lions – a young offense similar to the Texans.

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the Steelers defense is the 3-4 scheme. The Texans run a similar defense. Capers was defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 1992-94.

The Steelers system boasts stronger defensive linemen than most 3-4 schemes. Casey Hampton made the Pro-Bowl last season and defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen led the team with eight sacks.

But statistically, the Steelers defense was a shadow of its former self in 2003.

Pittsburgh finished ninth in the league in defense playing in one of the worst offensive divisions in football. For perspective, the Cincinnati Bengals finished 13th in total offense last season, leading the AFC South (Baltimore 21, Pittsburgh, 22, Cleveland 26).

Polamalu is making strides in his second season and linebacker Joey Porter enters the 2004 season without injury problems.

Porter played in 14 games totaling 65 tackles last season, missing the start of the season after being shot in the buttocks outside a Denver nightclub.

Pittsburgh released linebacker Jason Gildon at the end of the season. Gildon and his 77 career sacks are now with the Buffalo Bills.

The team used three of eight draft picks on defense, headed by second-round draft pick cornerback Ricardo Colclough. Starting corners Deshea Townsend and Chad Scott have a combined 14 years NFL experience.

The Texans are coming off a solid performance against the Cowboys. Carr's quarterback rating was next to perfect.

"I liked the consistency we came out with on both sides of the football early in the game. I thought we came out and we were efficient," Capers said. "Now we'll be going against a different style of defense, a 3-4 defense, they certainly come after you and put a lot of pressure on you."

Tight end Mark Bruener, who spent the first nine years of his career with the Steelers, is careful not to over exaggerate the team's performance against the Cowboys.

"It's a good feeling, but then it's something you need to be careful with," he said. "You need to make sure that you sustain that approach and you sustain that level. You don't want to peek to early, but it's nice to get that feeling early so you know what it taste like."

TEXANS ON DEFENSE:Injuries locked Pittsburgh into a 6-10 finish in 2003. The offensive line was banged up for most of the season and the running game struggled because of it.

The line is healthy now and the addition of free agent running back Duce Staley appears to be paying dividends. The Steelers needed help in the backfield after finishing an uncharacteristic 31 st in rushing offense last season.

Jerome Bettis is still on the roster. "The Bus" took a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh and figures into the power running game Cowher wants to get back to.

Amos Zereoue, the Steelers second leading rusher in 2003, is now with the Oakland Raiders.

The passing game is still potent and will be perhaps the biggest test the Texans face all preseason. Randle El, Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward are three of the more versatile receivers in the league.

The Steelers threw for 215 yards against the Lions last week.

It's just another string of challenges for rookie cornerback Dunta Robinson, who held Cowboys wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Antonio Bryant to two catches for 40 yards.

And while the preseason might not be as important as Week One, every game is a test for Robinson, who will be one of two rookie starters on defense.

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"Every week it's going to be some superstar receiver," Robinson said. "I'm trying to make a name for myself and the only way you can do that is by facing the best. Hopefully once I make enough plays they'll stop throwing it at me.

"To me, (preseason games) mean a lot because that's my first test to see how I do on a consistent basis before the regular season. I've just got to go out there and play well."

Tommy Maddox was the league's comeback player two seasons ago and is still the starter at quarterback. Roethlisberger was drafted to be the quarterback of the future, but the Steelers may end up playing him at some point during the season.

He will get plenty of action in the preseason.

Randle El is one of the more versatile offensive threats in the league. A quarterback at Indiana, Randle El was second only to Dante Hall in kick returns last season.

Ward and Burress combined for 3 catches and 41 yards against the Lions.

"I expect a very physical game," Robinson said. "They're a good team, we're a good team. We're out to prove something and it starts in the preseason. I expect us to go out and compete and I expect us to win."

**

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THE LAST MEETING: **In one of the most bizarre games in NFL history the Texans beat the Steelers 24-6 at Heinz Field (2002).

The Texans' defense scored three times in the game. Cornerback Aaron Glenn returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

The offense managed only 47 yards and three first downs. The Steelers had an amazing 422 yards of offense but converted on only two field goals.

"Our defense played one of the most courageous games that I've been around that day," Capers said. "The Steelers ran, I can't remember how many plays. But it was like our defense played a game and a half, possibly two games that day and they just kept going back out on the field and making plays. They'd make big plays and got the takeaways and returns for touchdowns. It just goes to show you that no matter what happens on one side, if you do that, you have an excellent chance of winning."

CONNECTIONS:Kicker Kris Brown, Bruener and cornerback Jason Simmons are all former Steelers.

Four coaches have ties to Pennsylvania: Joe Pendry (Pittsburgh), Dan Riley (Penn State), Joe Marciano (Dunmore, Pa.) and Tony Marciano (Scranton, Pa.).

Five Steelers have ties to Texas: Cornerback Terry Fair (Houston), Hampton (Galveston), Maddox (Hurst), wide receiver Lee Mays (El Paso), long snapper Chance Pearce (Houston) and wide receiver Brian Robinson (Houston).

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