Week 13 Takeaways: Steelers ground out a win over Falcons

The Pittsburgh Steelers had talked about stacking wins all week ahead of their Week 13 road game against the Atlanta Falcons. That was the mission, but it’d require careful execution on game day. With the 2022 NFL regular season winding down, the Steelers were successful; they ground out a victory over the Falcons, 19-16, and earned back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

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Pittsburgh may not have run-up the score, but run they did. In fact, despite not putting up the most rushing yards of the season, the Steelers played hard-nosed football that saw Najee Harris, Derek Watt, Jaylen Warren, and Benny Snell get grill-to-grill with Falcons defenders.

“Gritty…We knew that’s what (this game) was going to be.” – Najee Harris

With a stadium full of Steelers fans – who always represent and travel well – the Steelers put together a ground game that included 154 yards and chewed up time of possession. Harris (17 carries for 86 yards) finished the game, literally, by running out the clock after a Minkah Fitzpatrick interception shut down any comeback hopes for the Falcons.

The Steelers now need to figure out how to get the passing game and run game synced up to be more effective getting into the end zone. That process has been frustrating for fans, and looked to have gotten into rookie receiver George Pickens‘ head a bit, too. Pickens was once again visually emotive. That’s a patience that takes time to learn, and something worth addressing ahead of Pittsburgh’s first meeting with divisional rivals in Week 14.

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Outside of successful field goals by Matthew Wright, the only points scored by the Steelers was on a 17-yard touchdown toss from Kenny Pickett to Connor Heyward, set up by a Pat Freiermuth catch on the previous play that saw safety Jaylinn Hawkins bowled over and the big tight end tip-toeing along the sideline for 57 yards. The touchdown reception by Heyward is the first of his NFL career.

Older brother, Cameron Heyward, was emotional in his post-game press conference when talking about his brothers’ catch and family ties, also saying how important this win was for the team as a whole.

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The Falcons attempted to pull off a bit of gamesmanship early, but the Steelers were able to read what was being offered. It can only be assumed that when they went ground game-to-ground game against the Washington Commanders and lost, Atlanta wanted to get Pittsburgh to bite hard on the lure of just loading up the box.

Atlanta came out with a pass-heavy set. “I think they were trying to throw us off guard because they knew that we knew they were going to try to run the ball,” said Fitzpatrick. “So, they were getting into big personnel and throwing the ball, which was not something they (had done) often.”

The Steelers run defense was tested, and the Falcons went back to what made them the 2022 team they are in the second half. They ran 22 times for 118 yards compared to just 28 yards on six attempts in the first half, but the Steelers defense did not break down.

“You can never really be surprised,” T.J. Watt said in regard to Atlanta seemingly changed just for Pittsburgh. “At the end of the day, we have to be able to defend what they give us.”

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Danny Smith’s special teams units were much improved in this game compared to Week 12 for the Steelers. That was welcome, considering how dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson can be. Punter Pressley Harvin punted just twice in the game; both in the final quarter. He boomed a kick with the clock ticked down under a minute of game time left that hit the turf and bounced high enough that Miles Boykin was able to down around the two-yard line.

The coverage team limited the Falcons to just 18.3 yards on kickoff returns. Wright was perfect in converting field goals on the day and carefully placed his kickoffs to help prevent big returns.

The Steelers will host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14. Quarterback Lamar Jackson left Sunday’s game with an injury: something worth watching throughout the week.

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