(SportsRadio 610) -- The Texans didn’t play well enough to beat the Steelers on Sunday.
Or, at least not all of them.
Deshaun Watson was dynamic in the first half. He found wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass in the first quarter to give the Texans a 7-3 lead.
Watson picked the Steelers’ defense apart with deep passes to David Johnson and Kenny Stills, and found Will Fuller over the middle to set up a touchdown run by Johnson.
There was the touchdown pass to Fuller later in the second quarter to help give the Texans a 21-17 lead, which they took into halftime.
Watson was 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) for 202 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 150.5 passer rating in the first half. It was the highest quarterback rating for a Texans quarterback since 2011.
For all of the discussion about Houston struggling on opening drives - they failed to score again on Sunday’s - the Texans started this game well, Watson especially.
Defensively, they got off the field and gave the offense chances in that beleaguered third quarter.
The Texans’ defense held Pittsburgh to a field goal after 12 plays over 5:06 to start the second half.
Only for the offense to go three-and-out, with runs to Johnson on first and second down for a total of three yards, then a short pass to Johnson on third down for another three yards, though they needed seven.
Then the defense forced a Steelers three-and-out. Carlos Watkins sacked Ben Roethlisberger on first down. Zach Cunningham and J.J. Watt held up James Conner on second down and backup cornerback Phillip Gaines stopped Steelers receiver James Washington a yard short of the sticks on third down.
The next Texans’ offensive possession was disappointing. Watson scrambled for five yards on first down, but Johnson could only get one yard on second down and Watson was sacked on third down.
After another three-and-out forced by the Texans’ defense, Watson and the offense were able to move the ball, up until his interception while trying to extend the play.
When it was over, Watson was sacked a season-high five times, bringing the total sack number three games into the season to 13.
“We’ve got to protect him better,” O’Brien said. “That’s not always on the offensive line. Sometimes that’s getting rid of the ball a little bit quicker, or tight ends, receivers, running backs understanding the protection and what we’re trying to do. But we can’t keep going that way.
“He’s taken a lot of hits and we’ve got to get that better. We work hard on it and we’ve got to keep working hard on it and we’ve got to figure that out.”
Watson is known to hold the ball for a long time on pass plays, but it resulted in positive plays for the Texans more often than not.
In the second quarter, on 3rd and 6, the Texans offensive line provided Watson with a clean pocket and he was able to find Kenny Stills for 20 yards.
Later in that drive, as the pocket collapses, Watson avoids two or three Steelers pass rushers, shifts through the pocket, steps up and delivers a strike to Fuller to set up the short touchdown run by Johnson.
That same type of ambition led to an interception in the fourth quarter, but they had already missed enough opportunities and wasted a spectacular first half performance by Watson with so many ineffective runs and sacks given up on early downs.
“It’s really just trying to make a play,” Watson said after the game. “Sometimes, my instincts take over and it’s good, sometimes it backfires. I just try to do what I can to get a spark for this team. A lot of guys in this locker room have a lot of trust and faith in what I’m doing. And so I do the same thing. Sometimes it works, and then sometimes it don’t. But at the same time, I just try to do the best I can to have success for this offense.”
The defense gave up another 169 yards on the ground (and gained just 29 of their own), but they were on the field a lot in Pittsburgh.
They gave up just two scoring drives in that second half, one of them a field goal after being out there for five minutes.
“I think they were on the field a lot,” O’Brien said. “Some of that had to do with not being able to convert third downs on offense. I think we had a bunch of three-and-outs and the defense was right back out there.
“You’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, they’re going to wear you down if they possess the ball like that. We’ve got to play the run better, but I think as a team, we have to play better complimentary football.”
The Texans weren’t able to pass protect, or run the ball consistently.
Watson and the defense showed up to play.