HOUSTON – The Steelers rolled into Houston with some momentum after winning their past two games against the Browns and Raiders.
They left Houston battered and bruised with a loss.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett, tight end Pat Freiermuth and left tackle Dan Moore Jr. all left with injuries and the Texans played keep away from the Steelers for much of the first half in a 30-6 victory by Houston.
Moore left in the first half with a knee injury, forcing rookie tackle Broderick Jones into his first extended duty. Pickett and Freiermuth both left in the third quarter a few minutes apart from each other.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 4 game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium
Freiermuth suffered a hamstring injury, while Pickett suffered a knee injury while being sacked on fourth down by Jonathan Greenard on a play that turned the ball over on downs to the Texans (2-2).
The injuries to Freiermuth and Pickett seemed to stall any hopes of a comeback by the Steelers (2-2), who had grabbed some momentum after a very slow start.
The Steelers played easily their worst half of football of the season in the opening two quarters of this game, getting outgained 271-53 and falling behind 16-0.
"Not a good day at the office for us. From an agenda standpoint, we didn't do a lot of the things we desired to do," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whose team allowed 139 yards rushing on 38 carries. "We didn't stop a lot of the things that they desired to do, and thus the outcome. They ran the ball with consistency on us throughout."
Houston took the game's opening kickoff and marched down the field, going 69 yards on 12 plays, eight of which were runs or quarterback scrambles.
They finally scored on a 2-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud to Nico Collins, going up 7-0. Stroud finished , while Collins was a problem for the Steelers throughout the game, catching 7 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Stroud, meanwhile, went 16 of 30 for 306 yards with two touchdowns and was not sacked in the game.
"We've got to start better. Those guys had a great game plan for their team," said Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson. "We've just got to play better. It's not's mystical. We have to continue to look at ourselves and find ways to get better.
"You always want to start out fast on the defensive side of the ball. Coach talks about not warming up to it. When a team does go down and score, we have to go back and look at those first 15 plays and see what was successful, because they're going to come back to them."
The Steelers looked to have a promising drive going themselves on the back of their run game early on, as they picked up two first downs on the ground. But Pickett was sacked on a play-action pass by Jerry Hughes on first down and then intercepted on a deep pass down the middle of the field intended for Calvin Austin by former Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson.
Nelson returned the interception 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 45 to set up a 36-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn for a 10-0 lead.
Following a Steelers punt, Stroud connected with tight end Dalton Schultz for a 29-yard gain down the seam with linebacker Elandon Roberts trailing in coverage before the Texans again stalled out. But Fairbairn stretched Houston's advantage to 13-0 with a 38-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
"We had these spurts where we look good, but we're not doing it efficiently," said Steelers center Mason Cole. "I think we're waiting for the splash plays and when we don't get them, we're not converting third downs. It's just inefficient, bad ball."
The Steelers again quickly punted the ball back to the Texans, but the defense came up with a fourth-down stop, as T.J. Watt pressured Stroud into an incompletion to turn the ball over on downs at the Pittsburgh 28.
The Steelers moved the ball out to midfield, but Jaylen Warren came up a yard short on a third-and-8 catch and the Texans again got the ball back.
The Steelers forced the Texans into their first punt of the game at the two-minute warning, but after picking up a first down, the Steelers stalled when Pat Freiermuth was penalized for offensive pass interference to put them in third-and-14.
That proved critical, as the Texans got the ball back following a punt and Stroud hit Collins again, this time with the receiver turning about a 15-yard catch into a 36-yard catch-and-run, and then tossed an inside screen pass to Collins for a 15-yard gain to set up a 39-yard field goal by Fairbairn on the final play of the half to give the Texans their 16-0 lead.
Coming out of the half, the Steelers went to their running game, as Najee Harris ripped off a 15-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Warren had an 18-yard scamper before the Steelers stalled and kicked a field goal to cut Houston's lead to 16-3.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Steelers got a 32-yard pass from Pickett to Harris as the quarterback rolled to his left and found Harris, who dove for the catch and got up before being touched down, pulling defenders to the Houston 8.
But Freiermuth went down on the back end of the play, and Pickett had incompletions to George Pickens and Allen Robinson in the end zone before getting a 23-yard field goal from Chris Boswell to cut the lead to 16-6.
The Steelers once again got the ball back quickly, this time at their own 24 and moved into Houston territory. But on fourth-and-1 at the Houston 33, Pickett tried to roll to his left and Greenard was there waiting, sacking him and twisting him to the ground.
To add insult to injury, the Texans drove from there and scored on a 6-yard halfback option pass from Devin Singletary to Schultz to push their advantage to 23-6.
Stroud then found Collins behind the Steelers defense on third-and-7 with 3:39 remaining for a 52-yard touchdown to finish off the scoring.
Pickett completed 15 of 23 passes for 114 yards and an interception, while Harris had 14 carries for 71 yards and one reception for 32.
Tomlin said after another uneven game -- even though the Steelers sit at 2-2 -- there could be changes forthcoming.
"Hell yeah we've got to make some changes," Tomlin said. "That was an ugly product we put out there today. We're not going to do the same things and hope for a different outcome. What those changes are, we'll put together a plan in preparation."