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Behind Enemy Lines: With Total Steelers

The Texans are looking for their third win of the season, but they have a tough task facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We got help from Total Steelers to see if we could get some insight on the Steelers for this upcoming game. We discuss Mike Wallace, Troy Polamalu, the Steelers offensive line struggles, the infamous Arian hamstring, Matt Schaub, Wade Phillips and more.

Steelers Gang tackle

Questions from SOTT to Total Steelers

What has the emergence of Mike Wallace meant for the Steelers?

At the risk of hyperbole,it’s completely changed the Steelers offensive philosophy. Since the SuperSteelers of the 70s all the way up until the recent Super Bowl teams, we’ve primarilybeen identified as a ground and pound type of offense. Wallace being such an explosive presence in the passing game has forced them to shift to a more pass happy attack.

How has the injuries on the offensive line changed the Steelers offense?

That balance I justs poke of? The injuries have thrown that completely out of wack. The shuffling along the offense line has rendered the Steelers completely unable to run the ball. Going back over the team’s last eight regular season games (approximately when the revolving door of lineman began), they’ve had zero 100 yard rushing games.

The Steelers have to be one of the most decorated defensive units in the NFL, is there a true weakness to the unit? 

The secondary has been atrocious for several seasons now. You saw it in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals but it was forgotten because they rallied to win. You really saw it in last year’s Super Bowl where Aaron Rodgers torched them. It’s the same reason they always lose to the Patriots when the two teams play. Great quarterbacks who can deliver the ball quickly and accurately routinely pick their secondary apart.

Does Troy Polamalu make the Steelers that much better on defense? With out him they seem mortal. 

Troy is the difference between the Steelers being a good defense and great one. His ability to make plays all over the field cannot be duplicated by anybody else on the team and really anybody else in the NFL. That wild card factor where opposing teams never know where he’s going to be on any given play cannot be underestimated in its importance.

The Steelers seem to still be trying to find their way after a disappointing week 1 showing and trouble with the Colts, what are some of the things that are contributing to this sluggish start? 

It boils down to two things: a banged up offensive line and a lack of pressure on defense. When the line isn’t opening up running lanes, they’re leaving Ben to run for his life. On defense, the team doesn’t seem to generate pressure on the quarterback which is what their entire scheme is predicated on.They have a grand total of one turnover this year because they depend on thatpressure forcing the offense into making mistakes. Also, when they don’tpressure the quarterback, it exposes their weak secondary.

Hines Ward, going into his 14th season, where does he rank in Steelers history? 

Statistically, he’sthe top receiver in Steelers history in catches, yards and touchdowns.Subjectively, you’d have to put him in the top two at the very least. John Stallworth’scareer was a study in sustained excellence. He is the guy who held all the records Hines’ eclipsed. Lynn Swann doesn’t have near either of their numbers(mostly because he only played 9 seasons) but in terms of big game performers,he’s the only one who can match Hines (they were both Super Bowl MVPs,Stallworth was not). So if you go by longevity and stats, it’s Stallworth and Hines. If you go by memorable performances, it’s Hines and Swannie.

Ben Rothlisberger seems to be the catalyst for the Steelers offense, talk about what he needs to do to get the Steelers back to the Superbowl. 

Stay healthy.Honestly, Ben refuses to give up on plays and holds on to the ball forever butthere’s no point on complaining about those things because he’s never going to change.He is what he is and that sandlot style of football he plays may be frustrating at times but it also is what makes him great. As you saw in the game winning drive at the end of the Colts game, he’s still the best clutch-time quarterback in the NFL. There’s nothing he can do about the line or the running game, he just has to survive the inevitable pounding so he’s on the field to lead them to those game-winners.

James Harrison is one of the most fined players in the NFL, does his play define who he really is? 

He’s not a dirtyplayer if that’s what you mean. He’s a target. At one point last season, he should have just drawn a bullseye on the back of his jersey and been done with it. Some of the hits he was flagged and fined for were absolutely no different than hits other players made which went unpenalized. As Michael Vick recently pointed out when he was whining about not getting protected by refs, most intelligent football fans realize there are different rules for different players. Run your fingers through Tom Brady’s greasy hair, you get flagged. Behead Ben Roethlisberger, no flag. No name Patriots safety launches himself at Todd Heap,no flag no fine. James Harrison wipes out a cowardly receiver who ducks into the hit, flags and fines aplenty.

Give me some Steelers to watch on Sunday who are not a household names that can play a vital role in the outcome of the game. 

On defense,Lawrence Timmons. Timmons is sort of Troy Polamalu Lite. He’s an extremely athletic linebacker who can play all over the field. Last season, he would drop back into coverage as easily as he would rush the passer. He’s been quiet thus far this season but this Sunday I think he’ll play a big role in covering tightends and screens to running backs.

On offense, AntonioBrown. Hines Ward is increasingly becoming more of a short yardage possession type receiver who Ben looks to on third down or goal line situations. AB is a much better complement to Mike Wallace in terms of playing in the open field.If the Texans worry too much about Wallace, Brown could have a big game taking advantage of the space he opens up.

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Does the age of the Steelers cause concern for the fans that a decline might be coming soon?

Depends on your definition of decline. Truthfully, the Steelers aren’t really that old, just some of their bigger name players are. LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are both fairly young. Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace are entering their prime. So they have a nucleus in place where I don’t think they’ll ever hit rock bottom. However, guys like Harrison, Hines, and Troy are all getting up there and those are the kind of special players which got this team over the hump from playoff team to Super Bowl champion. The Steelers will be okay as long as they have guys like Ben and Woodley but the window between being playoff also-rans and Super Bowl contenders is rapidly closing.And one thing about Steeler Nation is anything less than a Super Bowl championship and we consider the year a failure.

Questions from Total Steelers to SOTT 

Houston Texans, 2011 Offensive Line

Houston Texans, 2011 Offensive Line

What's up with Arian Foster?

His hamstring has been giving him issues since training camp, and he reinjured it during the third preseason game and then re aggravated it against the Dolphins in week 2. He said he could have gone against the Saints, but he wanted to make sure he was healthy for the rest of the season. I would expect to see him Sunday, but how much is going to be a big question.

The offense seems to have no problems scoring even when he's out. What does he bring to the offense that they miss without him?
The red zone presence is important, but more than anything he gives the Texans offense a confidence than can be seen. He is such a good one cut runner he makes the Texans offensive line even better. He can catch the ball, but he gives the Texans a real threat running the ball that can gain big chunks of yards at a time.

Last season your secondary would seemingly get torched on a weekly basis, what steps have they taken to address that weakness?

They actually opened the check book and signed Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning who have provided some real players that the Texans have never had in their 9 year existence. They have combined for three interceptions this year which is mind-blowing here in Houston, because we are not used to defense being played like that. Also, the Texans moved Glover Quin to safety, who played corner last year, and has made a good transition. He has given up some touchdowns but he is proving he can tackle from the safety position which is a good sign.

You hired ex-Cowboys coach Wade Phillips as DC. What sort of influence has he had, either good or bad?

He has been the best addition to the Texans this offseason, and has made the Texans a better defensive team. During training camp he was in player's faces and letting them know what was right and wrong. The defensive players have responded well and it has shown, but it will be interesting on how the Texans respond after a tough loss to the Saints.

Last Sunday, the Steelers got tortured by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Who on your defense should we worry about getting after Big Ben?

Mario Williams is the first because of the disruptions he has been causing off the edge, but the biggest concern will be Antonio Smith. He has a sack in all three games so far this season and has proved to be the team's most consistent pass rusher to the point. Both Smith and Williams can provide pressure when needed from the inside or outside.

Is Matt Schaub a championship caliber quarterback?

Depends which one you are talking about, division champion, yes, for the Super Bowl, work in progress. Schaub has not been able to be clutch when needed and he has struggled with that since being here in Houston. He has been great for the Texans but when he is called to make a clutch throw in crunch time, he has failed. In order for the Texans to take that next step he needs to take a step as a quarterback in those situations.

Every fantasy football fan is aware of Andre Johnson so you would think opposing defenses would as well. But every week he seemingly puts up big numbers. Why can't anybody stop him?

He is a worker, and does everything right, plus it helps when Matt Schaub looks for him when he gets in trouble. Johnson is the hardest working Texans player, and is the "true" leader of the team. Even during training camp he takes no plays off and it translates to the field. He is a threat to go deep or make something out of a short pass, but what is over looked is the fact he knows how to read defenses and find his spots. He makes the Texans offense a real threat when he is on the field.

 Last week, you suffered your first loss to the Saints. What did the loss expose in terms of potential weaknesses?

The biggest issue it exposed was how the lack of pass rush affects the secondary play. The Texans were content rushing only 4 against the Saints giving Brees time to complete passes which lead to an ugly sight and replays of what occurred last season on defense. The coverage is only as good as the pass rush, but Wade Phillips is going to have to figure out how to cover 4 and 5 wide receiver sets more efficiently.

The Texans are the only NFL franchise yet to qualify for a post-season playoff game. What's it gonna take to get over that hump?

Consistency. They have to get better in every phase of the game, but the mentality to get over the losing has been the hardest part. The Texans have the talent but being able to put it together game after game has been an issue since 2002.

If the Texans are to win on Sunday, who has to have a huge game?
I think it rests on Head Coach Gary Kubiak and see if he can break the mold after a tough loss to come back and get a win. It is times like these when the Texans could be in jeopardy of losing 3 in a row, that is how it always has been. It is up to Kubiak to prove that this is a new team and a new mentality in Houston that they can come back and forget last week. This is a bigger test than last week, because after a big loss they are facing a conference power and it could prove important late in the season if the Texans are fighting for a playoff spot. It is games like these that could define the Texans season at the end of the year.

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