View From Sideline

Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley is back with his grim notebook from Reliant Stadium. Hint: The Steelers' punter is the highlight.

Reliant Stadium is gi-normous. The largest crowd in Texans franchise history was announced Sunday for the Steelers-Texans game. The volume level seemed loud even when the pre-game warmups commenced and the stadium was only a third filled. Then there were those loudspeakers on the sideline floor of Reliant stadium. What I couldn't figure out was why they seemed to feel the need to have loudspeakers on the sidelines. And why were they pointing towards the field of play, not the fans if they were there just for the music?

* Anyhow, after seeing how the Steelers defense had struggled with zone-blocking schemes in Baltimore and Indy, I was anxious to see if the defense had an answer yet. The first series said they haven't found an answer yet.

* After the defense allowed 19 plays and 115 yards on the opening drive, the offensive players had to re-do their pregame warmup. Ziggy Hood, well aware of the cutback and the chop block that Houston runs, closed on a backside cut by Arian Foster a little too late. Hood was trying desperately to protect his legs from being capped at the knees. But this made him slow and he didn't get to his gap. This was a typical sighting of any defensive lineman throughout the first half. After 10:55 of grinding work in the trenches, a tired defensive unit came over to the sidelines to suck some oxygen, gulp Gatorade and listen to John Mitchell and Dick LeBeau discuss defense. That drive was so long I mulched a whole bag of Peanut M&Ms.

* In the three previous games in which Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called the shots in for the Texans, they played pretty much a vanilla look. This day was different. Phillips blitzed time and again. By the way, while walking to the Steelers locker room before the game, I saw Wade in the tunnel. He looked to be a spitting image of former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Sorry, I know this is useless but that's how my mind works.

* When Mike Wallace busted a short pass for 22-yards, I saw him get up and turn towards the tackler. When a flag came out, I assumed some sort of roughing but I was surprised to find out Wallace got called for taunting. What he said I have no idea, but I can't believe that the official flagged him for trash talking. Pretty thin-skinned official if you ask me.

* In the second quarter, Casey Hampton got a push going up the middle against Houston center Chris Myers on a pass rush. Casey had sunk an uppercut under the arm of Meyers and his tremendous ham hock power had given him the edge of Myers' frame and turned him so much that Myers began crumpling like a metal folding chair I once sat on. From my vantage point on the sideline, I saw Myers' hand come up in the mush of Hamp. Myers was trying to slow the rush of Hampton by pushing his chin up, thereby reducing Casey's ability to use leverage. The hand to the face was standard fare back in the day, but it was a penalty on this day. It brought back an Owen Daniels 27-yard pass reception.

* After a fierce collision near the sidelines, James Harrison came off the field looking stunned. The docs were all over him checking his eyes, poking around his orbital socket to test for a possible fracture. He was suffering from double vision. Took me back to a time I had a violent collision and while on the sideline told the doc that I was experiencing double vision in one eye, OK in the other. Doc looked at me, smiled and said, "Just aim for the middle guy."

* With the score 10-7 Texans, and Rashard Mendenhall having just scored from three yards out, I cruised by the table on the sideline to see Mendenhall getting his hamstring worked on. This did not bode particularly well, considering that the Steelers had just started to get a little bit of a running game going. In the first half the Steelers ran their Pike Play with Big Juicy (Chris Kemoeatu) pulling and they were getting a lot of penetration from the NT. The disruptive gap-hitter (whether it was a NT or a 3-technique DE reducing to the outside shoulder of the G, they each took their turn) was knocking Chris off his path when he tried to pull. So the Steelers adjusted their blocking scheme. They double-teamed at the point of attack and single-blocked the NT with Pouncey. Whammo, Isaac Redman starts tearing it up.

* When Matt Schaub tossed a 9-yard pass to Daniels over the middle for a first down, it sure looked to me that the ball got turf. There was a lot of scurrying on the sidelines, but with two timeouts already burned, and no replays going up on the Jumbotron, challenging the call was a moot point.

* I'm not sure I can adequately describe the scene of the crime or count the number of bodies Arian Foster left in his wake when he torched a cutback for 42 yards and put the winning points on the scoreboard. When the defensive players came back to the bench, it was a look of discouragement such as I haven't seen on the defensive end of the sidelines for quite some time.

* Daniel Sepulveda rocketed a 58-yard punt from his own end zone that blew me away. It soared up in the air like it was a hang glider catching a strong air-conditioning breeze and nearly went five seconds in hang time on the coach's watch on the sideline. Not that I'm not a Sepulveda fan, but the fact that I'm talking about the hang time of a punt tells you that things were not looking good.

* First and forever from their own 1-yard line, with the Texans' pass rush smelling victory, the Steelers were in a position where you have to man-up and anything goes to keep No. 7 on his feet. There is no place you'll find greater intensity in the huddle than right here, right now. From my viewpoint, I could see the faces, and I knew the stresses. But the protection broke down, and Ben got rolled up, though a penalty negated an interception.

* Questions abound in the wake of a 17-10 loss, and no greater question arises in my mind than the health of No. 7 as he used crutches to move down the aisle of the airplane just before we take-off.

"Houston, we have a problem!"

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