It was supposed to be a shoot-out. It was supposed to be a game where defense was at a minimum and offense was at a premium. Somebody forgot to tell the Steelers that.
In a matchup of two of the best offenses (reportedly) in the league, the Steelers got their first home win in what turned out to be a more than comfortable 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. When halftime rolled around with the Steelers clinging to a 13-10 lead, it didn’t feel like it was going to be a one-side affair, but the second half was pretty much all Steelers. For once this season we weren’t all left biting our finger nails as the game’s final moments ticked away.
Let’s take a look at the (mostly) Good, the Bad and the (predictably) Ugly from the Steelers matchup with the Falcons.
21 carries, 110 yards (5.2 average), 2 TDs, 4 receptions, 75 yards (total 185 scrimmage yards)
Both Joe Kuzma and I agreed that if you got James Conner 20-25 touches he would be successful. With 21 carries and 4 receptions that’s 25 touches, and Conner responded with a great game.
If Bell were to come back this week, he would not be a better answer in this offense than James Conner is. At some point, yes, Bell is a better back and a better option, but he is not right now. If Conner can continue to have this kind of success (he’s already had 2 runs longer than any run Bell had last year) then that argument will be mute.
8 Tackles (6 solo, 2 assists), 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Watt absolutely dominated the right side of the Falcons line. He also earned a Grown Ass Man award all for himself, and while his older brother may be accusing of copying his season stats, that is something T.J. has that J.J. won’t be getting anytime soon.
Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, because the Steelers need Watt to be this kind of explosive play maker and not the guy who disappeared for the last few games.
The Rest of the Defense
Say what you will (and I know many of you yinzers out there are), but this is not a bad offensive team. All week long we had to hear about how this might be the best offensive unit in the NFL. Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan – they were all going to feast on the Steelers secondary.
How’d that work out?
Julio Jones didn’t have a catch, not a single catch, until the game was already decided. He finished with 5. Ridley had 4 and the only passing TD given up was to Mohamed Sanu.
Did the Steelers suddenly clone Joe Haden? No, it was still Artie Burns, Cam Sutton, Mike Hilton and Joe Haden patrolling the secondary with Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds. The difference was the fact that the Steelers got pressure, and as Coach Tomlin so often says, pressure and coverage work hand in hand.
As a result, the Steelers held the Falcons on third down to only 6-14 (43%) and on fourth down to 1-3 (33%). They amassed 6 total sacks, and pressured the Atlanta quarterbacks throughout the game.
It wasn’t perfect, but you’ll take this kind of performance without question every week.
Special Teams hasn’t been awful this year, but they haven’t always been good. This was a good performance, especially by much maligned punter Jordan Berry, who had 3 punts which averaged 47.7 yards per punt, and netted an impressive 46.7 yards per punt. He also dropped two of them inside the 20, and one beauty that was downed at the Atlanta 2.
Then throw in the work of Rosie Nix with the most determined and craziest looking blocked punt I ever saw.
Hell, I’d have put them in the good just because of the shot of Danny Smith chewing a million pieces of gum all at once.
The Offensive Line
Alejandro Villanueva got a “Cam Hewyard Grown-Ass Man” award from me on game recap podcast for how well he played, but Marcus Gilbert could have earned one as well. The tandem of Steelers tackles managed to keep Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley, Jr. away from Ben Roethlisberger for the most part (no sacks, 2 QB hits between the two). The entire unit did a great job of opening up holes for James Conner the entire game.
They did what they should have done, dominated and under sized Atlanta defensive front that was hampered by missing Grady Jarrett.
11/12, 155 yards, 2 TD
Was it a tale of two Ben’s or a tale of two halves? I don’t know but we definitely got doses of good Ben and bad Ben. To be fair, it was mostly good, especially in the second half. Ben and Antonio Brown seemed to get their Wi-Fi link (yes, that’s already getting tired, I agree) connected as he hit Brown early with a vintage throw and catch for 15 yards and finished the first drive of the third quarter with a short throw to Brown for a touchdown.
As an encore, Ben launched a beautiful ball to a streaking Brown for a 47-yard score later in the third quarter.
But it wasn’t all good.
Bad Ben (First Half)
9/17, 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
The first half felt like what the past few second halves have been like. Ben missing open targets, making poor decisions, trying to force the ball to Antonio Brown with an occasional solid throw mixed in. That pretty much covered it. Ben missed throws to Brown (multiple times), Vance McDonald, Jesse James, James Washington but also made a very nice throw to Juju Smith-Schuster for a touchdown.
He closed the half with an absolutely awful decision to throw a jump ball into the end zone for Brown which ended up being intercepted by Da’Montae Kazee. Ben said after the game that he didn’t see the safety coming over to cover, and considering this was one of the few times that the Falcons got pressure on him, I believe him. Regardless, he needs to throw that ball away and give Chris Boswell a shot at 3 points rather than making a desperate heave into what ended up being triple coverage.
As I said earlier, Ben was more good than bad, but that was arguably the worst play of the game and perhaps Ben’s worst decision of the year.
The Refs Stink
Let’s all just assume that this is going to stay this way. I mean, until the refs and the league finally figure out what roughing the passer actually is, then the calls that were made against T.J. Watt and Jon Bostic are going to continue.
In the meantime, I’ll just continue to point out how odiferous the officiating is. Mike Tomlin is, of course, welcome to chime in as often as he likes, but I am not going to get fined by the league.
This was a really good team win. I don’t want to close on a downer, but I’m going to.
Despite all this, these are still your last place Steelers That’s right folks, they are dead last in the AFC North because of their 0-1-1 divisional record. The next 3 games are critical to their season and the best thing that can be said is that this game showed a lot of promise and hope that they can turn the season around.
Let’s hope they can keep the Wi-Fi connected.