The Steelers took down the Texans 28-21 on Sunday as a strong second-half performance propelled them past a struggling team. Pittsburgh did not look sharp on either side of the ball through the first two quarters, but half-time adjustments and a ball-possessive offensive approach ensured that the Steelers maintained their undefeated mark. How did all of the position groups perform on Sunday? We have their grades below.
Quarterback: (A-) Ben Roethlisberger built on his already impressive return from an elbow surgery as he tossed two touchdowns and accumulated 237 yards through the air against the Houston defense. Perhaps the most important stat though is that he did not turn the ball over. This was the first time that Pittsburgh had not turned the ball in 25 games. The only mark against Roethlisberger would be his inability to find his receivers downfield on Sunday, as he did not complete a pass more than 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage. However, as we have seen through the early portion of the season, this is more of an outlier than stat to be fearful of.
Running Backs: (A) The unit headed by James Conner had an outstanding day on the ground against the NFL’s 31st ranked rush defense. Conner himself rushed for 109 yards and a score while tacking on 40 receiving yards. In addition to Conner, rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. rushed 6 times for 42 yards, including a 20-yard scamper. Benny Snell Jr. did not find as much success as his other backs, but he did pick up a crucial first down on the Steelers’ lone second-half touchdown drive.
Pass catchers: (A) It was an extremely balanced effort on Sunday for Pittsburgh’s receivers and tight ends as nobody totaled more than 60 yards. However, 5 players did put up more than 30 receiving yards and consistently helped Roethlisberger move the chains. Eric Ebron was the standout performer as he caught 5 passes for 52 yards and a score. WR Juju Smith-Schuster played a major role too as he too found the endzone while also tallying 43 receiving yards. The days of Roethlisberger consistently targeting former Steeler wideout Antonio Brown have passed, but it has certainly opened the door for all of Pittsburgh’s young talent to showcase their own talents.
Offensive Line: (A-) A great day for the Pittsburgh offensive line as they were able to keep their quarterback relatively clean. Houston was only able to get to Roethlisberger twice for a loss, and they struggled getting pressure on him all day. The Steelers certainly benefitted from the return of RG David DeCastro as he and his teammates were able to open massive running lanes for their backs to explode through. The most noteworthy performance came from the inexperienced RT Chuks Okorafor though, as he neutralized DE J.J watt to the tune of zero sacks allowed and only 4 tackles.
Defensive Line: (A+) A near-perfect day for the Steelers defensive front as they held Houston to just 29 rushing yards on Sunday. They completely shut down RB David Johnson, and maybe most impressive was their ability to contain star QB Deshaun Watson. They managed to only let Watson rush for 5 yards and for the most part they did not let Watson do his signature improvisation. DE Stephon Tuitt was able to sack Watson, while DE Tyson Alualu also had a critical pass deflection. We knew coming into the season how dominant this group was, and they have not disappointed thus far.
Linebackers: (B+) It was a good showing for the Pittsburgh linebackers as they continued their now typical harassment of opposing teams QB’s. Watt, Dupree, Bush, and Williams all got credit for a sack against Houston as they took advantage of a weak Texans offensive line. The hiccup in the groups’ performance came in pass coverage as they let Watson complete too many intermediate routes over the middle of the field. Watson consistently picked up first downs on shallow drags and mid-level “in” routes in the first half, but after a few adjustments that were resolved in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Defensive Backs: (B) It was a tale of two halves for the Steelers’ defensive backs in week 3. They were forced to play zone for the majority of the day in an effort to shut down any run lanes for Deshaun Watson, but they left far too much cushion for the Houston wide receivers in the process. Watson passed for 202 yards in the first half while also tacking on 2 touchdowns, and it looked like we may have been heading for a shootout. However, the Steelers secondary returned to their 2019 form in the second half as they only allowed 5 completions while the Steelers’ defense held Houston to just 2 first down in the final 30 minutes of the game. The turning point in the game came when CB Mike Hilton secured an interception on a 3rd down early in the 4th quarter that gave the offense the ball back still down just 1 point. While it wasn’t a picture-perfect start for the defensive backs, it was a beautiful finish.
Coaching: (A) Although it was a slow start, the Steelers coaching staff put on a show in the 2nd half. DC Keith Butler and HC Mike Tomlin turned their defense around during the short break and allowed absolutely nothing to the Houston offense in the 2nd half. OC Randy Fichtner, who is often criticized for his play-calling, deserves a lot of recognition for his decisions in the 2nd half. Not only did the Steelers score twice in the 2nd half, but they held the ball in the 4th quarter for over 12 minutes. This masterful performance thwarted any hope of a comeback for HC Bill O’Brien, and dropped his team to 0-3. The coaching staff plays a major role in every game in the NFL, but the disparity between the two staffs was glaring at Heinz Field this week.