HOUSTON — It sounds like a cross between a riddle and a math problem: How in tarnation did the Houston Texans go 115 yards on 19 plays for their opening touchdown drive against the Steelers?
First, the riddle answer comes courtesy of Casey Hampton, the Steelers’ nose tackle who whipped off his helmet and barked at anyone within earshot after the extra point: “We were just missing a whole bunch of tackles.”
Next, the math: The Texans took a holding penalty on the opening kickoff that moved the ball back to their 5-yard line. Two other holding penalties cost 20 more yards, meaning they had to cover the original 95 yards plus that.
Small wonder that Houston quarterback Matt Schaub said the drive “just really set the tone.”
Elegantly mixing run and pass in a way the visitors once did, the Texans ran on seven of the first 12 plays, including Ben Tate’s 20-yarder through right tackle — blowing through inside linebacker James Farrior — that put the ball at their 49. There were 46 rushing yards from Arian Foster, three third-down conversions, and it was capped by Schaub’s 1-yard touchdown toss to tight end Owen Daniels, wide open after a deftly executed play-action fake.
That all started with Houston’s offensive line getting all kinds of push against the Steelers.
“For the line to block as it did and for Arian to run as he did, we established a kind of physical attitude, something we’ve been wanting to do all season,” Texans center Chris Myers said. “They’ve been a top defense for years, and for us to come out and run the ball speaks volumes.”
The drive itself put the Steelers in a bad spot, and not just because their defense was humbled in a way no one could recall having seen. It consumed 10 minutes, 55 seconds, and the Steelers’ offense wasn’t able to find any rhythm until the second half.
“When they’ve got the ball that length of time, you’re not going to establish anything, be it running or passing,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
And that, of course, was because the Steelers were unable for one interminable drive to stop either of those facets from Houston.
“They beat us with our own game plan,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “They controlled the clock and ran the ball. They executed their game plan, and we didn’t.”
“They’re a good team, and we had a tough time stopping them. They just drove it,” Hampton said. “We’ve got to get back to basics and figure out how to get people down. It’s uncharacteristic of us, missing tackles. Not taking anything away from them, but we’ve got to make plays when there’s an opportunity to make plays.”
Especially when there are 19 such opportunities.