Statement Game for WHO in Houston?

Each NFL win or loss carries the same weight in the standings. That’s the Gospel Mike Tomlin has preached both after the Debacle in Baltimore and the Shut Out Over Seattle.

Tomlin is wise to preach those points as they convey a healthy perspective.

The entire “On Any Given Sunday” philosophy is another way of saying that one win or loss represents 1/16th of the body of work by which the teams regular season will be measured.

Late in the season, of course, things change a little as teams lose margin for error and opportunities for second chances disappear.

Those games come in November and December. But then are the games that come earlier, the games whose importance grows beyond their mathematical significance.

Commentators dub those “Statement Games.”

Statement games can be tricky things. Sometimes they’re anticipated. During Bill Cowher’s 1992 rookie season, the Steelers stood at 4-2 heading into a three week stretch that would take them to Buffalo, Kansas City, and would bring Houston to Pittsburgh.

Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest commented that a win in any of the three games would be and “upset” and that this three game stretch would tell Steelers Nation what they really had.

The Steelers came out 2-1, and in winning against Kansas City and Houston, Cowher Power had officially made Pittsburgh a contender.

1992 was of course a long time ago, and the Steelers have been contenders ever since, with the exception of the dark days of 1998 and 1999.

2011 brings them to a very different place.

Having gone to 3 Super Bowls in six years, the narrative that the media would like to hang on their necks is: “Too old, Too Slow, Too Much Time Has passed.”

The Houston Texans find themselves in the opposite situation.

Since Gary Kubiack’s arrival in 2006 they have perennially been the AFC’s up and comer always unable to make it over the hump.

With Peyton Manning’s injury, 2011 is supposed to be the year that changes, and it is against the Steelers that they’re scripted to make such a statement.

But once the whistle blows, it is the men playing between the little white lines that dictate the script, not the scribes. I don’t pretend to know enough about the Houston Texans to offer detailed pre-game match up analysis. (For that, I’ll refer you to Behind the Steel Curtain’s Pre Game Zone Blitz.)

The Steelers strengths and liabilities are better known to me.

The Steelers offensive line is not a team strength and has not been for some time. But for all that has been said about the line thus far much of what has ailed the line can be cured with just a little cohesion. If these men can function just a little better as a single unit, then the Steelers have the offensive weapons to compete in Texas.

Things are a little different on the defensive side of the ball.

Thus far the Steelers secondary has not been the glaring liability everyone said it would be. No, this is another incarnation of the WoodsonLake secondaries of the 90’s, but thus far the men are playing well, and Troy Polamalu is making his presence felt.

The Steelers once-vaunted run defense is showing cracks. This is not good as Houston is phenomenal at running the ball.

Is the shakeyness of the Steelers run defense attributable to cut blocking or to the aging of Aaron Smith and, yes, Casey Hampton?

The truth is probably a little bit of both. That brings us to the game’s “X” factor, the Steelers linebackers. In 2011 the only linebacker to make a “Splash” play is James Harrison. LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have been quiet.

Therefore the game on the defensive side of the ball for Pittsburgh will come down to their ability to involve their linebackers.

It ain’t bragging if you can do it, but just saying it don’t make it so.” Houston Oilers coach, Bum Philips

Steel Curtain Rising quoted the Texas football icon when the Steelers opened the 2008 season against the Texans and it seems only appropriate to quote him again.

Early in that game the Texans thought they were ready to “Do It” and got stuffed on 1st down and that set the tone for the whole game.

Here we are in 2011 and the Houston Texans once again think they can “Do It.” Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have other ideas.

Time to see who is right.

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