Modified Rapture: Falcons @ Steelers
USA Today Sports, Charles LeClaire photo
The start of this game was not promising. Nor the middle, for that matter. You could excuse the Steelers not moving the ball as efficiently with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback as the Falcons did with Matt Ryan at quarterback.
But it got more and more difficult to excuse the Steelers not moving the ball at all as the first teamers for the Falcons stayed on the sideline.
I suppose a bit of perspective is called for here. This is, after all, the Atlanta defense that held the Patriots to three points through most of the Super Bowl. This same Atlanta defense also coughed up a 25 point lead in the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
There is no doubt it’s a good defense, and it was a young one in the Super Bowl, so I presume there isn’t a huge amount of turnover, except for the defensive coordinator. And there is no doubt the Atlanta defense has a huge chip on their shoulder and a lot to prove.
Nonetheless it was disconcerting to see the Steelers’ offense almost completely stymied, and the Atlanta offense seemingly move the ball at will, even as the second teamers came into the game.
And after the first series with Ryan, they were doing it with their third stringer, Matt Simms, as Matt Schaub, the backup to Ryan, apparently hurt his hand three plays in. (Question—do you have to be named Matt to get a gig as a Falcons QB? Just wondering…)
However, in the defense’s defense, if you will, after the touchdown on Atlanta’s opening drive, they were held to two field goals for the entire rest of the game.
And as for the offense, they did manage a field goal early in the 2nd quarter, but they too were held off the board after that until the second half of the game, and that wasn’t an offensive TD—it was thanks to a punt return for a touchdown by Trey Williams. Gosh it would be nice to have someone besides AB who could return punts!
Happily, the offense did finally manage to get a ball into the end zone, this time while quarterbacked by Bart Houston. It was Justin Hunter who caught a pass a few yards short of the end zone and made a commendable extra effort to punch it in.
But the Steelers offense also squandered great field position more than once. I suppose this is not unknown, even with Ben at quarterback and the regulars on the field.
It was a preseason game, and they don’t count for anything except bragging rights. The interest of them is to see who does what (or Watt, thinking of last week’s contest.) So here’s a roundup of the guys whose stock is up, and then, regretfully, a few whose stock is down.
Anthony Chickillo has to head this list. He was everywhere, got two of the sacks and a pass knocked down.
Next, I would think, would be either Trey Williams or Jordan Dangerfield. The punt return for a touchdown turned the mood of the game completely around, but on the other hand Dangerfield had not one but two interceptions. The first was a can of corn, the second considerably more difficult.
James Conner, after a tough start in which he dropped not one but two short passes and tripped over someone twice, seemed to really find his feet, and ended the game with 20 carries for 98 yards. This was, naturally, mainly against third and fourth teamers, but it was also his first NFL action ever, so there’s that. Jake McGee impressed with his blocking, which is part of why Conner got those 96 yards.
Mike Hilton continues to impress, and should have had a safety, except the desperation throw of the QB hit off the arm of another defensive player. He also had a near interception. Of course, close doesn’t count in football, but it was just more evidence that he’s always around the ball.
Farrington Huguenin had another sack this week. (I’m sorry to say I didn’t give him credit for last week’s sack, so hopefully this will make amends.)
Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich played well. Coty Sensabaugh also made some impressive plays later in the game.
L.J. Fort and L.T. Walton both had some nice plays.
Note the dearth of offensive players on this list. Justin Hunter got the touchdown on a nice extra effort but also dropped a handoff. Joshua Dobbs continues to look overmatched, although he cut the interceptions in half this week. Martavis Bryant looked out of sync, which is scarcely surprising. However, Sammie Coates took up some of the slack.
Now for my vote for the biggest winner in this game—Special Teams. Danny Smith has to be a happy man. I thought they were spectacular, with the exception of the rather uninspiring kickoff returns by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis. In fact neither were inspiring at all in this game, unless I missed something.
But I was thrilled and heartened to see that the Atlanta punter was constantly contending with Steelers players in his face, and of course the ever-fabulous Roosevelt Nix blocked a punt that Chickillo recovered, thus adding to the legend. Very little yardage was gained by the Falcons when they did get the ball.
Jordan Berry’s punting was stellar. He really brought his A game yesterday. Part of this was possibly because of excellent protection by his fellow punt teamers. This was partially because of great punts, and partially because of stellar coverage. Atlanta was consistently pinned deep in their own territory to start drives.
And it’s worth noting that Colin Holba’s long snapping must be okay, because nobody is talking about it. Chris Boswell was one-for-one on field goals and 2-for-2 on extra points.
And, of course, there was the punt return TD, something we haven’t seen around here in a while, and the returner for the past six years or so was always Antonio Brown, a guy you hate to see put at risk.
There was bad news on the injury front. Isn’t there always? Javon Hargrave, after dropping the running back for no gain on the very first snap, leaves the game with a possible concussion shortly thereafter, which was later confirmed. [Daniel McCullers came in for him but soon ceded the place to L.T. Walton, who did more with his reps.]
Steven Johnson was having a nice game when he pulled up short with a hamstring injury. That may make in the ILB decision a bit easier as those tend to linger.
Greg Ducre (a CB, in case you’re wondering) had a few nice plays before coming up lame. He had to be helped off the field with what looked like an ankle injury.
All in all, the Steelers pulled out a win in a game it seems Atlanta deserved. The final tallies:
First Downs: ATL 20, PIT 3 (!) Lordy, lordy…
Third down conversions: ATL 5-17, PIT 2-13
Total Yards: ATL 318, PIT 189
Possession: ATL 33:01, PIT 28:59
Most of those stats were even more lopsided until the latter part of the game. But in the end, the only stat that really matters is the final score. And the Steelers’ D shut Atlanta down when it counted.