But the Houston Texans are soft no more. Not after beating the Steelers, 17-10, Sunday, and not after having their way with the Steelers on both sides of the ball.
"I think that will change after today," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said of the label. "I think we played one of the most, if not THE most physical team in the NFL today. I think it says a lot about our team."
The Steelers have been the measuring stick for up-and-comers trying to prove themselves in the physical world of championship football for a long time. But for how long now after Arian Foster ripped through them for 155 rushing yards?
It was the most yardage allowed to one back by the Steelers since Curtis Martin rushed for 174 yards against them in 2003.
"They're a good team, and we had a tough time stopping them," said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton. "They just drove it. There's nothing else to say about it."
It started on the Texans' opening drive. Beset by a penalty on the kickoff return and hindered by two holding penalties, the Texans put a 19-play, 95-yard touchdown drive together that chewed up 10:55 of the first quarter.
The number of plays and the time of the drive are now team records in Houston, and the overall total of 115 yards is the most on a single drive in the NFL since 2006.
It wasn't all Foster on that first drive. Ben Tate ripped off a 20-yarder, but after he left with an injury it was all Foster. And upon his return to the lineup from a hamstring injury, he became the bell cow.
The Steelers now appear to have a real problem with their run defense. After having allowed only one 100-yard rusher in the 50 regular-season games prior to this season, the Steelers have allowed two – Foster and Ray Rice – in four games this season. A third runner, Joseph Addai, gained 86 yards on 17 carries.
The Steelers are allowing an abysmal 4.8 yards per carry.
The worst average allowed throughout their post-merger era is 4.3 in 1999.
"They made some cutbacks and we missed tackles," explained Woodley. "It's just basic fundamental things we need to work on. Today we did a bad job of tackling. I know I did."
Foster explained his success this way:
"I have three lungs," he said. "I got three lungs, so I got one on reserve whenever one gets a little empty and I just tap into the next one. I guess I'm just a genetic freak."
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers had their best running stats (22-118, 5.4) of the season, but the line again had trouble protecting Ben Roethlisberger. He was sacked five more times (14 for the season) and left the game on crutches.
The difficult part for the Steelers is that their problems had little to do with injuries or a lack of preparedness.
"I don't think we lacked a sense of urgency," said Mike Tomlin. "I think fundamental football is better blocking, better tackling."