While they were more competitive in their Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers than they had been through two games, the Houston Texans’ early-season weaknesses continued to be on display.
Houston, which fell to 0-3 with a 28-21 loss, struggled to run the ball on offense, stop the Steelers’ rushing attack in the fourth quarter and protect Deshaun Watson. Watson displayed some of his patented playmaking ability, but he was sacked late in the game on a critical drive by T.J. Watt and was forced to scramble more than he’d like to.
The Texans have had the NFL’s toughest schedule through three weeks, but that won’t make recovering from a three-game losing streak to open the season any easier.
QB breakdown: Watson completed 19 of 27 passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the majority of his success came in the first half. The Texans were shut out in the second half for the first time in the last three seasons. Watson spread the ball around early and had five different players (running back David Johnson, receivers Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb and tight end Jordan Akins) catch a pass of at least 20 yards in the first half of a game for the first time in franchise history.
Troubling trend: For the second week in a row, the Texans’ running game was not effective. Houston combined for 29 yards on 15 carries, led by Johnson, who had 23 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. There were plenty of times on Sunday when Johnson didn’t have much of a chance with a Steelers defender making contact with him in the backfield.
Troubling trend II: Through three games, the Texans still don’t have a takeaway. And in all three games, Houston has turned the ball over to lose the takeaway battle. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver and head coach Bill O’Brien have talked about the importance of forcing turnovers, but don’t have anything to show for it in three weeks According to ESPN Stats & Information, this game ended the Steelers’ streak of 25 consecutive games with a turnover.
Troubling trend III: Run defense in the fourth quarter. A week after allowing 153 rushing yards in the fourth quarter to the Baltimore Ravens, Houston’s defense again couldn’t get off the field in Pittsburgh. On Sunday, the Steelers were led by James Conner, who had 109 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and Anthony McFarland had 42 rushing yards on six attempts. Conner averaged 9.3 yards per rush in the fourth quarter.