Steelers finding their groove during 3-0 start

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin calls it “complementary” football, the ability of one unit of the Pittsburgh Steelers to feed off the other.

The longtime Steelers coach insists it’s not a one-way street either. The offense can feed the defense just as easily as the defense can feed the offense.

However Tomlin wants to describe it, it was on full display in Sunday’s 28-21 comeback victory over Houston. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw passes to eight different players. Four running backs got at least one carry. Five different defenders were credited with at least a half sack. Fourteen defenders had at least one tackle.

“We just went out there and dominated,” wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said.

At least in the second half, when the defense held the Texans to 51 yards while Roethlisberger led three drives that lasted 11 plays or more as the Steelers improved to 3-0 for the first time in a decade. Roethlisberger spread it around all game, including on the 79-yard go-ahead touchdown drive that ended with a 12-yard sprint by running back James Conner.

Six different skill position players touched the ball on the drive, a showcase of the depth Tomlin stressed will be necessary if the Steelers want to contend in the AFC.

“We’re going utilize all our eligibles,” Tomlin said. “It’s important that we have a balanced group, that we can run it, we can throw it. That we have a variety of people to throw to it. We like the versatility of the group, the specialization of the group, and it allows us to move the ball fluidly.”

Having a defense that makes quick work of opponents helps. The Texans had the ball four times in the second half. Three of the drives ended with three plays and a punt. The other in defensive back Mike Hilton’s fifth career interception. Houston managed just 51 yards and two first downs over the final two quarters, a stark contrast from the first half when Pittsburgh looked tentative at times while Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson went to work.

“We gave up some possessions early,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes that can put a bad taste in your mouth, but they didn’t allow it to spoil the day.”

Or the month. The previous time Pittsburgh started 3-0, it reached the Super Bowl. The competition, however, hasn’t exactly been tough. The Steelers’ three wins are over teams who are now a combined 0-9. A sterner test awaits in Tennessee next Sunday against the unbeaten Titans (3-0).

Still, being 3-0 beats the alternative, particularly for a team that has occasionally stubbed its toe against inferior clubs. Not so much in 2020.

“We’re a four-quarter team,” Conner said. “Our defense allowed us to get back in. When the defense is making three-and-out stops, keep putting us back on offense, we’ve got to get it going eventually.”


Conner’s season began with concerns about his ability to stay healthy after tweaking his left ankle early in a win over the Giants. He’s responded with consecutive 100-yard performances, the 109-yard effort on Sunday, the first time he’s topped the century mark in back-to-back games since Weeks 7 and 8 in 2018.


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