PITTSBURGH -- For nearly three quarters, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense and defense weren’t playing complementary football.
Mike Hilton’s interception of Deshaun Watson just a few plays into the fourth quarter turned the tide for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense capitalized on the swing of momentum, still tangible even in an empty Heinz Field, and methodically drove down the field after converting a third-and-5 to Eric Ebron with a 14-yard pass play, eventually ending in a 12-yard touchdown run by James Conner.
The Steelers capped it off with a 2-point conversion on a pass from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster, giving them a seven-point lead with just more than six minutes to play.
The defense picked up right where the offense left off as T.J. Watt drilled Watson for an 11-yard sack on the first play of the Texans’ series and eventually forced another three-and-out. Houston never got the ball back.
It was the kind of reciprocal play the Steelers lacked last season, and the kind that will make it successful with Roethlisberger back.
With the win, the Steelers are 3-0 for the first time in a decade.
Despite a long, steady drive in their first series, the offense struggled in the first half. The Steelers went three-and-out in their next two drives before finally figuring it out in the fourth drive.
Similarly, the Steelers' defense couldn’t find a rhythm, either, allowing Watson to pick apart the secondary with laserlike precision as the line couldn’t get pressure on him.
But by the fourth quarter, the Steelers figured it out to complete the comeback.
Buy on a breakout performance: Three weeks ago, rookie Anthony McFarland was inactive for the Steelers’ season opener. A week ago, he was active but he didn’t play.
Against the Texans, McFarland got on the field during the Steelers’ first series and picked up 7 yards in his first carry. He finished with six carries for 42 yards.
Later in the first half, McFarland ripped off a 20-yard run on a drive that ended with Ebron’s first touchdown as a Steeler.
McFarland was also the first running back to see action after halftime, and the Steelers went to him four plays in a row.
Although Conner is still the Steelers’ featured back, McFarland’s game-breaking speed complements Conner’s bruising style.
Surprising stat: The Steelers entered Sunday’s game with a reputation for bringing all kinds of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and with a matchup against the Texans’ shaky line, it seemed the Steelers were primed for a big day.
But that’s not what happened -- at least initially.
Through the first half, the Steelers allowed Watson to complete 14 of 18 attempts with two touchdowns. They sacked him only twice. At halftime, Watson had an impressive 150.5 passer rating. The Steelers’ third sack, though, came at a crucial time, when Stephon Tuitt brought Watson down on third down and forced the Texans to punt after a quick three-and-out late in the third quarter.
That seemed to open the floodgates for the Steelers. Bud Dupree picked up a sack on the Texans’ next drive, and on the next, Watt drilled Watson and Hilton snagged his throw. By the end of the game, the Steelers had five sacks.
Promising trend: The Steelers' tight ends were productive on Sunday. They added Ebron in free agency to be a red zone target and a big body over the middle.
He was underutilized in the passing game, though, during his first two games.
The Steelers made up for that in a big way Sunday as Ebron snagged his first Steelers touchdown and finished with four catches for 38 yards.
Not only that, but the Steelers also got fellow tight end Vance McDonald involved more, going to him three times.
McDonald caught all three targets and finished with 35 yards.