Lest you had forgotten, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not a finesse team. The Black and Gold long ago forged a reputation as a group that left the opposition black and blue, and that approach has served Pittsburgh extremely well in Week 1 games during the current decade.
The Steelers' 38-17 win over the shell-shocked Houston Texans on Sunday made the team 6-0 in openers since 2003, and only one of those games was played within single digits. Pittsburgh's margin of victory in its last six Week 1 outings is 18 points.
The theory here is that while the Steelers are generally a strong team to begin with, their style is particularly difficult to deal with in early September. Teams take great lengths to keep their top players healthy throughout August. They limit their work in the preseason, not even playing many in the final warm-up game, and minimize their chances of injury in summer practice sessions.
Then, as in the case of the Texans on Sunday, they suddenly ask them to stand toe-to-toe with one of the most physical teams in the NFL. It's the equivalent of throwing raw meat to a bear. The Steelers made the Texans pay for their soft, cerebral approach in Week 1, dominating both lines of scrimmage and building a 35-3 lead after three quarters before putting on the brakes. Running back Willie Parker erased all concerns about his injured leg by rushing for 138 yards on 25 carries, also scoring three touchdowns after managing just two all of last season.
Ben Roethlisberger was just about perfect, completing 13-of-14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns to Hines Ward before giving way to Byron Leftwich.
But it was the defense that was vintage Pittsburgh from start to finish, sacking Matt Schaub five times, forcing him into three turnovers, and never allowing running backs Steve Slaton (13 carries, 43 yards) or Steve Slaton (5 carries, 28 yards) to do much damage.
Those predicting a drop-off for the Steelers had better wait a bit on those bold proclamations of the team's demise. "I think that we played a good game in virtually all three phases," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "It was not perfect but I liked the energy and enthusiasm from the people who went out and made plays for this football team. That is what it is about."
Again, it looks like the Steelers will be the hunted in the AFC North. The Browns (0-1) didn't look ready for primetime in a loss to Dallas on Sunday, and the Ravens (1-0) and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco didn't win as much a seemingly disinterested Bengals (0-1) team handed them the game. With a win this Sunday in Cleveland, where the Steelers haven't lost since 2000, the defending division champs will open up a two-game lead on a team that is perceived as its closest competitor in the North. If the Browns want to halt that storyline, they'd better be ready to do some hitting against a team that is, as ever, using physical play as its calling card.
Click on the video link to see Mike Fink's story on Willie Parker's big day.