NFL Week 3: What we learned from Sunday's games

Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Houston Texans 21

1) The expected mismatch between the Steelers pass rush and the much-maligned pass protection of the Texans offensive line played out how one might expect — Blitzburgh notched five sacks and Texans QB Deshaun Watson often had to put his near-magical escapability to use. The only real bright spot for Houston was the protection Watson got on a crucial TD drive at the end of the first half. Houston kept him clean on a five-play, 75-yard drive that took only 50 seconds and gave the Texans a 21-17 lead entering the half. Short of that, however, the Texans are back to the drawing board on pass protection. An improved rushing attack might be a big help, but Houston’s running game was non-existent for the second week in a row.

2) The first-ever meeting of the Watt brothers in the same NFL game — Houston’s J.J. and Pittsburgh’s T.J. and Derek — resulted in family bragging rights for T.J. While the Steelers offensive line kept J.J., the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, largely in check, T.J. Watt finished with a sack, two tackles for loss, and was generally a pain the Texans’ neck. He forced an incompletion with heavy pressure on Watson on the first play of the game, leading to a three-and-out, and consistently worked his way into the Texans backfield. Derek, the Steelers’ fullback, exited with a hamstring injury.

3) James Conner was not the tonic a beleaguered Texans run defense needed. The fourth-year pro ran wild for the Steelers, particularly in the second half when a worn down Houston defense began yielding at the point of attack. He’s well-suited as a power runner behind a physical offensive front, which sets up QB Ben Roethlisberger nicely for play-action. It marked Conner’s second consecutive game over the 100-yard and 6-ypc marks, and Roethlisberger found him in the passing game for another 40 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the Texans run defense, ranked 30th in the NFL entering play Sunday, showed no signs of climbing from that position.

— Chase Goodbread

Buffalo Bills 35, Los Angeles Rams 32

1) We might never know what a technically sound Josh Allen looks like, but who cares? Now in his third year, the Buffalo quarterback’s play is at once exhilarating and exasperating. Never was it more evident than Sunday, when he led four consecutive TD drives to open a 28-3 lead, then unraveled long enough to help the Rams engineer a furious comeback, then snatched the win with a three-yard TD pass to Tyler Kroft with the final seconds ticking away. His unorthodox style only gets more fun to witness. One sequence in particular drove that truth home when Allen, on a second-quarter TD drive, slung a 39-yard completion to Gabriel Davis while on the run, throwing off balance, and with no pressure from the Rams pass rush anywhere near him. It would’ve been easy to set his feet, but doing so couldn’t have placed the ball in Davis’ hands any more accurately. A few plays later, Allen burrowed into the end zone on an option keeper for the Bills’ second TD.

2) If the rib injury to Rams rookie RB Cam Akers hampers him on an ongoing basis, the L.A. rushing attack should still hold up just fine. Darrell Henderson shredded the Bills defense with decisive cuts that got him into the Bills secondary on numerous runs. Credit the Rams offensive line for opening some nice lanes, but Henderson picked up plenty of yards on unblocked defenders with a quick, slashing style. What was expected to be more of a platoon between Henderson and Malcom Brown ended up being Henderson’s show: He finished with 114 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

3) The Bills are for real. After knocking off less impressive foes in the Jets and Dolphins to start the season, the Rams were supposed to have been a far stiffer test. For nearly three quarters, they weren’t. But in taking the Rams’ best second-half punch – Los Angeles took its only lead of the game late in the fourth quarter to cap a remarkable comeback – Buffalo regrouped and managed a game-winning TD drive despite incurring a 12-yard sack and a 15-yard penalty on the possession. The Bills defense struggled mightily in the second half and wound up allowing nearly 500 yards, but until further notice, consider this Buffalo offense good enough to carry a winning team. 

— Chase Goodbread

Cleveland Browns 34, Washington Football Team 20

1) If you’ve been paying attention, you know this truth: Nick Chubb is very good. Chubb became the first Browns runner to break 100 yards and score two rushing touchdowns in two straight games since Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly in 1967, which was just two years after the legendary Jim Brown retired. It took Kevin Stefanski a dreadful, lifeless third quarter to finally commit to the ground game, but for the second week in a row the Browns pounded the run when it mattered most, with Chubb scoring his second touchdown of the day on a 20-yard rush to give the Browns a two-score lead. Kareem Hunt found his victories in between, gaining 46 yards on 16 carries, and made his biggest mark as a receiver, catching a touchdown pass and making an incredible grab on third down to extend a drive that allowed the Browns to burn more than five minutes of clock and tack on three points on a Cody Parkey field goal. It was tough sledding early against Washington’s stellar defensive front, but these Browns continue to prove they will go as their runners go.

2) Dwayne Haskins looked like an improved quarterback in Week 1, but he took a couple of steps back Sunday that will take plenty of film study and practice field work to correct. Haskins looked more like the rookie he once was, tying a career high by tossing avoidable interceptions on three occasions and fumbling late in the fourth, allowing Cleveland a clock-eating possession that put the game away. With less than two minutes left and the Browns facing fourth down, Ron Rivera elected not to use any of his three timeouts, instead waving the white flag and accepting Sunday just was not his quarterback’s day. Washington has handed the keys to the former Ohio State standout, and while he’s not working with the best cast, he needs to be better than he was in Week 3.

3) It’s tough to tell if the Browns are a quality football team, or just playing lesser competition in the last two weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Haskins’ interceptions were pretty ugly passes, and he should’ve had another in the first half had his teammate not played excellent defense, while Cleveland’s defense again couldn’t do all that much to stop Washington’s progress. Myles Garrett came through with another clutch strip sack and Larry Ogunjobi again made an impact up front, but the Browns’ secondary continues to have a tough time. Against better competition, the Browns likely watch their lead slip away in a loss, not a two-score victory heavily aided by mistakes made by the opposing quarterback.

— Nick Shook

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