The first thing that happens after the Texans win a game for me is to look ahead a bit. After the locker room celebration and interviews and everything last week in Jacksonville, I got on the bus and I couldn't help but see…
I didn't know at the time that Texans OL Josh Jones had hurt his hand but that really didn't matter because I thought of Watt and the Steelers and it snapped me right back to reality. Well, the reality of Sunday was that the Texans put on a real show at NRG Stadium on Sunday against Watt and the Steelers with one of the best team performances I can ever remember seeing in that, or any other, building. Let's dive into my Harris Hits from the 30-6 win over the Steelers.
What I meant about a team performance came into view for me when I got into the locker room after the game. I scanned the locker room and every individual player that I saw made an impact play in the game. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Let me give you an example. Second drive of the game and the Texans ran a pin and pull toss to the Steelers sideline…to the right. That meant running right at Watt. WR John Metchie III was responsible for pinning Watt to the inside. Now, geometry tells you that it's not a difficult block. Reality says it's a 195-lb WR blocking a 250-lb uber-stud. Typically, reality overcomes geometry but Metchie III more than held his own and pinned Watt to the inside and opened a huge hole for Dameon Pierce to sprint through for a first down. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
View the best photos from the Week 4 matchup between the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The first drive of the game was one that I feel like I've seen dozens of times over the years with the Texans. Excellent balance. Great execution. All the way down inside the five or ten yard line and then pfffftttt, a mistake, an error, a penalty and a field goal attempt…at best. So, when C.J. Stroud scrambled into the end zone and it was ruled a touchdown, I went nuts. But, the video replay ruled he came up short. Oh no, I remember thinking; I've seen this movie before. Lo and behold, a false start. Ugh. But, then, Stroud flipped a screen pass to Dameon Pierce who scored and, wow, this is different. Then, it was called back for a penalty. DAMMIT. It's happening again. But, after Minkah Fitzpatrick interfered with Texans TE Brevin Jordan, it was tantalizing to think the Texans could actually finally put one in the end zone. Well, the third time was a charm as Stroud threw a TD to Nico Collins two plays later…and there were no flags on the field.
After such a rough performance in front of the Texans fans at home in week two, starting off the game with a seven minute drive AND a touchdown was the PERFECT way to start this matchup against the vaunted Steelers squad.
What happened next, though, might have been the single best individual play I've seen at NRG Stadium in quite some time. Now, rewind back one week to the Steelers win over the Raiders last Sunday night. The Steelers hit speedy WR Calvin Austin deep for a 72-yard touchdown that helped give the Steelers a 23-18 win last week. So, the Steelers dialed up that same exact route again. The Texans looked like they were playing quarters on that side of the field, which essentially put Steven Nelson man-to-man on Austin as he ran the deep post route. Nelson COULD NOT HAVE played that route any better. When Pickett launched deep to Austin, Nelson jumped over the top and stole the ball away for his second interception on the season. I mean, that was as good an interception as I've seen in person in quite some time. Nelson has been ridiculously good but that play was BEYOND GOOD!
Nelson wasn't alone at the cornerback position. Shaq Griffin was excellent in coverage throughout the day. Those two veterans are playing some of the best football that I can remember them ever playing. It's imperative that they continue to play at this rate as we move into the meat of the Texans schedule.
New father Jonathan Greenard came up HUGE with his pressure off the edge all day long. It wasn't just the way that he rushed Steelers QB Kenny Pickett (he had two sacks) but the way that he held the edge in the run game. He came up with a massive play on 4th and one late in the third quarter when it was 16-6. The Texans offense followed up with a drive for a TD to put this one on ice. Greenard and Jerry Hughes registered a total of three sacks, the first time the Texans had a sack since the opener at Baltimore.
The play that Henry To'oTo'o made on George Pickens to negate a TD is one of the best defensive plays I've seen from a Texans player this year. On that play, in that coverage, he's required to carry #3 up the seam and that was Pickens. So, it turns into man-to-man in a way once the route declares. So, To'o To'o has Pickens all the way to the back of the end zone. Pickens did get a step but when the ball arrived, To'o To'o is CLEARLY in perfect position. But, Pickens has glue sticks for hands and as soon as he had his hands on it, I thought he would reel it in. But, To'o To'o never quit on it and ripped it out as the two man most pit hit the ground. INCOMPLETE!!
To'o To'o and teammate Christian Harris have played exceptional football the past two weeks. They played with a burr up their saddle on Sunday and FLEW around all day long. I can't say enough how much progress I see in those two youngsters playing together now for the second season - one at Alabama and one in Houston.
I've sort of buried the lede. The Texans piled up 451 yards of total offense. They scored 30 points. They gave up no sacks. Say those numbers again but, at the same time, keep in mind the Texans were starting their third different left tackle, their second left guard and just one of the starters that was expected to start on the OL in 2023. There were just as many OL active today as OL on IR, PUP or inactive due to injury. So, against the team that leads the league in sacks, the Texans OL gave up none. Nada. Nothing. Not one. I can't even tell you the number of tweets that I saw from Houston and Pittsburgh media/analysts/fans over the weekend that featured some version of "Poor C.J. Stroud".
OC Bobby Slowik was in his bag, as the young kids say, but no more so than when he called for a halfback pass from Devin Singletary to Dalton Schultz to essentially end this game. I asked DeMeco in our postgame interview what he was thinking when he heard that play call. He coolly told me that Coach Slowik had it the whole way and he did. Slowik's offensive plan was brilliant. Stroud got rid of the ball quickly. Slowik made sure that the OTs got help when they needed it on T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, but it was the run game that Slowik really got going.
What I loved most about the run attack today was the downhill nature of the run game today. Dameon Pierce ran downhill all day long. Most of the runs Slowik called for Pierce were perfect for him and perfect for the OL. They could explode off the snap and GET INTO defenders, knowing that Pierce was FIRING into the hole quickly on downhill runs. Dameon ran today as if he was trying to prove a point on every run and Devin 'Motor' Singletary ran well as well. I love the combination of those two and today was a great example of what that run game can be in the future.
How about 'Motor'? He had one catch, ran it seven times, had a tremendous return out of the end zone on the first play of the game and threw a TD. I mean, c'mon, that was awesome.
When Nico Collins racked up 146 yards in week two, it was a career high that day but he saved even more for Sunday. He caught seven passes for another career high. He finished with 168 yards, a new career single game high, and two TD, another career high. The end of the first half drive was a testament to the connection that C.J. Stroud has with him - two catches . Nico caught both passes to set up a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal at the final buzzer of the first half. He ran away from dudes. He ran over guys. He ran through them. Nico Collins has been a stud through four games and it needs to continue.
I guess if I buried the lede earlier, I probably did it WAY more so by not putting a focus on QB C.J. Stroud earlier than this in my Hits. But, I'll be honest, it's hard to properly express how good he's REALLY been in the first four weeks of the season. He stood up in front of the assembled masses on Wednesday at his presser and when he was asked about the greatness that is T.J. Watt and the Steelers, Stroud said "we've got to be weary of them, but at the same time, we've got to have confidence in what we're doing. They've got to play us, too." I heard that and I knew this cat is one of a kind…and I'll get behind him 24/7/365. Then, he went out on that field on Sunday and maestro'd the hell out of that game. The numbers are ridiculous and there are too many to even mention. But, it's one dime after another. It's a scramble for a first down. It's an audible to a play that works. It's his calm and his poise that drive this machine. He has no fear. He'll throw an interception at some point; it's going to happen and it'll just be one more learning instance. I said on Draft Night "COME SLING IT, 7!!" and he's putting on a clinic when he does every single weekend. And, my gosh, it's a blast to watch every Sunday. Now, it's time to prepare for the Falcons.
The game plan that both sides of the ball put together was brilliant. The third down defense was awesome, again. I can't say enough about all levels of each unit on the field. Special teams came through with three Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals. The defense held the Steelers to 225 total yards and no touchdowns. The offense put up 30 and 451 yards total offense. Slowik's offense was 50% on third down and gave up no sacks. The Texans won the turnover battle. It was as complete a Texans win as I can remember.
Man, there's so much to feel great about after that win and a two game winning streak. Now, if a two game winning streak is GREAT, a three game streak is, well, you already know.
And, now I'm seeing Bijan Robinson, which means it's time for the Falcons.