Adjusting on the fly as required

The ability of players to individually and collectively adjust is as critical as the schematic changes they're asked to make over the course of a game.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was praising the Steelers' ability to do both following Sunday afternoon's come-from-behind, 28-21 decision over the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

"I thought the guys did a nice job, players and coaches, of communicating," Tomlin emphasized.

The adjustments on defense worked well enough for the Steelers to pitch a second-half shutout after allowing 209 total net yards and surrendering 11 first downs and 21 points in the first two quarters.

Tomlin acknowledged such a poor defensive half can "put a bad taste in your mouth."

Any frustration the Steelers' defense may have been experiencing was eventually taken out on the Texans.

Houston's second-half totals included two first downs and 59 total net yards.

Tomlin cited an alteration to the pass rush designed to prevent Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson from escaping the pocket and extending plays to break down Steelers' zone coverages among the "minor technical adjustments" the Steelers made.

Watson went 14-for-18 passing for 202 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 150.5 in the first half.

He finished 19-for-27 for 264 yards, with two TDs, one interception and a passer rating of 110.7.

Watson was sacked five times overall, three times in the final two quarters.

"More than anything I liked the group's ability to adjust and to communicate in the midst of it," Tomlin said of his defense. "There wasn't a lot of 'blink' in the group. They absorbed the necessary adjustments, and sometimes that's necessary. People are going to have good plans, they work, too, and so we had to do some adjusting.

"Kudos to the coaches and those guys for communicating and not blinking in the midst of some of those things that have to transpire when those things happen."

AND THEN THERE WAS BEN: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's appearance was the 221st of his career in the regular season, which broke a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mike Webster for first place on the Steelers' all-time list for games played.

"It's such an honor to be up there with that name, with Mike Webster," Roethlisberger reflected. "Obviously, what he meant for this franchise, the Hall-of-Famer, the person, and we all know the story. But what he did, you know he was 'Iron Mike' for a reason. They're never going to call me 'Iron Ben' because there's only one 'Iron Mike.'

"I'm just humbled and honored to be in the same category as him. It's not like I passed him. I just feel like I joined him today, and really, it's not me. It's all the guys that I played with, especially the linemen because they're the ones blocking for me. And I've played with some really good linemen and tight ends and backs and guys that just really kept me upright and have allowed me to play this long. I'm thankful to all of them and this kind of record is really a joint thing for all of them and me."

LEADER OF THE BACK PACK: The Steelers rushed 38 times for 166 yards (a 4.4 average) and had six players carry the ball, counting Roethlisberger.

Four running backs had at least one carry, including rookie Anthony McFarland (6-42-7.0 in his NFL debut), but in the end it was James Conner who emerged as the Bell Cow again.

Conner carried 18 times for 109 yards (6.1 per attempt), including a 12-yard effort on what became the game-winning touchdown.

"James is our feature runner, I've mentioned that repeatedly," Tomlin emphasized. "It doesn't mean that we won't play others. But it does mean as we distribute carries and particularly as we find our rhythm in the game, usually that would include him unless somebody else has an unusual hot hand.

"We don't care who gets the credit or who makes the plays, that's just the approach that we take."

RUN TO WIN: The Steelers' final two possessions consisted of a 12-play, 79-yard drive in 7:03 for a touchdown and a 28-21 lead, and an 11-play effort that advanced the ball 66 yards prior to three clock-killing kneel-downs and chewed up the final 4:47 of regulation.

They ran the ball a combined 11 times for 72 yards on the two marches, not counting Roethlisberger's three kneel-downs that ended the game.

"That's what you like to do, close it out like that running the ball like that," offered guard David DeCastro, who made his 2020 debut after missing the Steelers' first two games with a sprained knee. "The defense really pulled through and gave us a chance to control the game and we were able to do that. This team's pretty special when you can play that complementary football. The first half wasn't very pretty but we hung in there.

"That's the way you draw it up."

Added Roethlisberger: "When we get to do the best play in football, which is the 'Victory,' three weeks in a row, that's an awesome feeling."

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 3 game against the Houston Texans at Heinz Field

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