Home field should help Texans

PITTSBURGH – The Houston Texans allowed 76 sacks in their expansion 2002 season. It was the third-most in league history, and judging by their performance in the opener last week they're about to make another run at the record book.

The Texans allowed five sacks last week in Buffalo, and enough pressure on quarterback David Carr to force five turnovers. It was truly an ugly performance, befitting the 22-7 loss to the Bills.

"The score could have been so much worse," reported the Houston Chronicle, "but the defense played above and beyond under some of the circumstances. Because of turnovers, the Bills began three series in Texans territory but had to settle for field goals."

Yes, the Texans played well defensively, but it couldn't counter an offensive performance that left Carr with a passer rating of 12.1.

The No. 1 pick of the 2002 draft passed for only 70 yards against the Bills. He threw three interceptions and fumbled once, so appearances would seem to indicate the Steelers will have an easy time of it today when they take on the Texans at 1 p.m. at Houston's Reliant Stadium.

Of course, the Steelers disagree. They believe the Texans' offensive line will play much better this week without having to battle crowd noise.

"Everybody's giving their line crap now," said defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. "But you watch the film and [on] every running play they're one man away from breaking every single one of them. They're good now but they played bad last week. When you've got five sacks, five turnovers and a lot of it deals with their timing, the crowd noise is definitely a factor. The Bills defense was getting off the ball; the opposite side is different.

"They just played bad, but they're a good football team. Their defense is good; they ended up strong last year. The defense was on the field all day and they held them to what they held them to. That's excellent."

Last year, the Texans ranked 26th in the NFL with 49 sacks allowed. They allowed 22 at home and 27 on the road. The line was intact for 10 games and never had more than one player missing from the lineup.

The only change the Texans made to their offensive front in the off-season was the addition of free agent Victor Riley, who's starting at left tackle.

The Steelers -- who made offers to tackles Stockar McDougle and Adrian Klemm before re-signing Barrett Brooks on March 28 -- passed on Riley, who signed with the Texans in May. If Carr gets time, he has a downfield threat in Andre Johnson (6-2, 221), who's in his third year after being drafted third overall in the 2003 draft. Johnson has 148 catches and 10 touchdowns in 33 games. He averages 14.4 yards per catch.

"He's built like Terrell Owens, but probably a whole lot faster," said Steelers safety Chris Hope, who played against Johnson in college.

The Texans don't have much of a running threat; however, Domanick Davis (5-9, 216) has had his moments. In 30 games, the former LSU back-up averages 4.1 yards per carry.

Defensively, the Texans of coach Dom Capers run a 3-4 defense. Capers was the defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh prior to Dick LeBeau's first stint, but the Texans haven't been able to come close to the pass-rushing numbers of those Steelers defenses under Capers.

In the last two years, the Texans have 43 sacks, the lowest output in the NFL. Last year they were last in the league with 24. Inside linebacker Kailee Wong had 5.5 sacks and Jason Babin had 4.0 to lead the team. Last week, former Steelers cornerback Jason Simmons had the only Texans sack.

In the off-season, the Texans released linebackers Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper, cornerback Aaron Glenn and strong safety Eric Brown. They've been replaced, respectively, by Morlon Greenwood, Antwan Peek, Phillip Buchanon and rookie C.C. Brown.

Buchanon and second-year pro Dunta Robinson give the Texans a pair of solid cornerbacks, which should allow them to turn up the pressure. The Steelers, though, believe their 3-4 scheme is further advanced than the Texans'.

"I think our staff as a whole has a better feel for what works against a 3-4 better than most teams," said guard Alan Faneca.

"No one plays a similar defense to what we play," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "I think our guys move around so much it's hard to identify who people are. I think with (the Texans), they kind of show you what they have and then they'll bring a few things off of it."

Roethlisberger may not play because of a bruised left knee. His status won't be determined until game time, but he expects to play and put his 14-0 regular-season record on the line against the Texans, a week before the Steelers' anticipated showdown with the New England Patriots.

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