PITTSBURGH, Pa.-- The last time the Texans dropped in to visit the Steel City, the team walked away with the biggest and most lopsided win in team history. How quickly that 2002 game was put to bed.
Houston's offense got off to a better offensive start this time around, but was only able to gain 188 total yards to the Steelers' 427. The Texans defense also faced some early challenges from a punishing Pittsburgh offense, which scored 24 points just in the first half and coasted to a 38-3 win.
The Texans were only able to convert three of 12 third downs and weren't much more solid in the red zone, an area they only visited one time all night. Pittsburgh was the more efficient machine, converting 10 of 15 third downs with an 80% red zone efficiency.
Pittsburgh received to get the ball rolling. Both teams punted on their first possessions as the opening offensive series got off to a sputtering start. On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans mixed up the starting combination with ROLB Antwan Peek starting for Kailee Wong, who instead moved from his original right spot to the buc linebacker post.
But Bill Cowher's offense started to find its groove on the second try, marching down field and into the red zone. Leading the Steelers charges was RB Jerome Bettis whose three carries for 14 yards lifted the Pittsburgh offense deep into Houston territory. Just 3:39 later, QB Tommy Maddox found WR Hines Ward right down the middle on a four-yard strike to give the Steelers an early 7-0 jump.
While the Houston defense returned to the sidelines to re-group and re-surface the unit that Pittsburgh was formerly familiar with, Houston's offense wasn't able to get anything going and punted for the second time of the night.
Bettis opened up the floodgates on Pittsburgh's next offensive series, hungry to find the end zone for a second time while proving that "The Bus" hadn't disappeared off the radar. After Plaxico Burress pulled in an impressive 26-yard reception, Bettis picked up runs of 14, 10 and five yards before punching in a one-yard score to increase the Steelers lead to 14.
David Carr and company came to life on their third series, initially finding success in the air. Carr hit WR Derick Armstrong down the sideline for a 13-yard pickup before finding WR Andre Johnson on a slant for 26 additional yards as the first quarter drew to a close.
The Texans offense was just merely three yards from finding the end zone when RB Tony Hollings was pushed back for a two-yard loss to the 5. On third and goal, Carr overthrew WR Corey Bradford sending former Steeler Kris Brown in for a 23-yard field goal. Brown split the uprights and put Houston on the board to close the gap 14-3.
Pittsburgh continued to roll though, answering with a 77-yard scoring drive to extend the lead 21-3. Lining up at quarterback for the first time of the night was Ben Roethlisberger, who got off to an exciting start after finding WR Antwaan Randle El on a 38-yard connection. Texans SS Eric Brown wasn't able to break up the pass after Randle El played hot potato with the pigskin before finally securing the catch at the Houston 8. Soon after, RB Verron Haynes sealed the drive with a two-yard score, putting Pittsburgh ahead 21-3.
Tony Banks took over the reigns at quarterback but the Texans offense wasn't able to generate any points, handing the ball back over to a productive Pittsburgh offense.
The Steelers continued to chip away yards and time of possession, crossing into Houston territory once more before the end of the half. Roethlisberger found his favorite target in Randle El, hitting him on six and 18-yard strikes. The Texans defense was able to keep Pittsburgh out of the end zone, but surrendered a Jeff Reed field goal, giving the Steelers a commanding 24-3 lead at halftime.
Carr finished the first half completing seven of 10 passes for 67 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions and an 88.3 passing rating. Johnson hauled in three catches for 48 yards to lead the Texans receivers with Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney coming up with one snag.
"The first two drives we had bad field position and we made some mental mistakes," Carr recapped. "These are things we can fix. That's what the preseason is for. We still need to mature a little as an offense. We've got some guys who can make plays.
Capers gathered his troops in the locker room and looked forward to gaining better ground in the second half.
"The disapointing thing to me is we played really well last week," head coach Dom Capers said. "I was very disappointed in the way we played in the first half. The Steelers were more ready to play than us. We need to see how we'll respond in the second half."
While there were a few highlights sprinkled throughout the second 30 minutes of play, the Texans weren't able to pull themselves out of a scoring deficit.
Kick returner J.J. Moses took the ball 55 yards on the opening kickoff in the third quarter, but Houston's offense soon turned the ball over on downs.
Texans CB Jason Simmons came up with a big turnover at the beginning of the third quarter to halt the Pittsburgh offensive forces after intercepting Roethlisberger's third-down intended pass to WR Zamir Cobb. Simmons gained an additional 16 yards, giving the ball to Banks.
Banks found WR Kendrick Starling on a reverse, sparking the offense with a 28-yard pickup. But Pittsburgh DT Chris Hoke took the wind out of the Texans offensive sails, sacking Banks for a nine-yard loss and forcing Houston to turn the ball over on downs.
Roethlisberger continued to make things happen, hitting WR Lee Mays on a 19-yarder before RB Dante Brown took charge. Brown bulldozed for 15 yards, putting the Steelers in scoring range. A pass interference call on Texans LB Troy Evans put Pittsburgh on the one-yard line and Brown sealed the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to extend the lead 31-3.
Houston again gave Pittsburgh another scoring shot. Now under the direction of QB Brian St. Pierre, a third Pittsburgh passer was able to lead the unit into the end zone. RB Willie Parker made solid contributions with six rushes in the drive and a final, 25-yard scoring run to put the game out of reach at 38-3.
The Steelers dominating offensive presence never gave Houston a shot to catch up, rushing for 205 yards to the Texxans 54 with 222 yards in the air to Houston's 134 receiving yards.
While the second trip to Pittsburgh was a far cry from the cold December day in 2002, the Texans were able to gain valuable player evaluation reports while recognizing what areas demand attention and tweaking before opening kickoff on September 12.