Digging deeper with 5 leftovers from Steelers’ win over Falcons

October 13, 2018

Five things we learned about Steelers 41, Falcons 17:

1. A little time of possession goes a long way.

The Steelers actually controlled the clock less than the Falcons, who held a slight edge in possession time (30 minutes, 52 seconds to 29:08). Still, the Steelers moved the chains and kept the clock moving at critical junctures of the game.

On the first possession, the Steelers moved 78 yards in eight plays and took 4:16 off the clock while building a 6-0 lead. They came back with a 97-yard drive that lasted 4:16 on their second possession, getting an 18-yard touchdown catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 13-0 lead.

The best was left for the Steelers’ first possession of the second half. After forcing a punt, the Steelers went 85 yards in 12 plays and wound 7:06 off the clock before Antonio Brown’s 9-yard touchdown catch turned a three-point lead into a 20-10 advantage.

Equally as important was the Steelers committing to James Conner on the drive. Conner carried four times for 24 yards and took a screen pass 28 yards.

2. Special teams showed some special qualities.

Aside from Chris Boswell’s third missed extra point of the season, there wasn’t much not to like about the performance of the special teams, which was without two key members in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Nat Berhe.

Roosevelt Nix perfectly timed his rush in the third quarter and blocked a punt that gave the Steelers possession at the Falcons 18 and set up Conner’s 2-yard touchdown run for a 27-10 lead.

Jordan Berry had a 46.7 net average on his three punts, pinning two of his attempts inside the 20. The Falcons also didn’t start a drive that began with a kickoff beyond their 25. Boswell had five touchbacks, and the Falcons got 23 and 21 yards on the two times they had returns.

3. The big boys up front were unsung heroes.

To a man, Steelers players said the win was accomplished because of the play of the offensive and defensive lines.

One week after Conner rushed for a season-low 19 yards, the offensive line accepted the challenge and showed a renewed commitment to opening holes for the second-year running back. Conner averaged 5.2 yards per attempt while gaining 110 yards on 21 carries. This helped the Steelers achieve perfect balance on offense - 29 running plays, 29 passing plays.

Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, was not sacked after being dropped nine times in the first four games.

On defense, a consistent push from the front four that often included linebacker T.J. Watt provided dividends. Watt had a game-high three sacks, and Cam Heyward had one-and-a-half. Moreover, the Steelers held the Falcons to 62 yards rushing and a 3.3 average on 19 attempts.

4. The Steelers won without a consistent third receiving option.

Antonio Brown had his breakout game with six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns, and JuJu Smith-Schuster contributed an 18-yard touchdown catch among his four receptions for 34 yards. The other components of the passing game, aside from Conner, were not a factor.

The rest of the pass-catchers combined for five receptions on eight targets for 40 yards. Jesse James led with two catches for 20 yards. Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble and Ryan Switzer had one catch apiece, while rookie James Washington didn’t have a catch on either of his targets and was flagged for pass interference.

5. Mike Tomlin should expect a call from the league office.

The NFL frowns on coaches criticizing officials. It’s particularly troublesome when the coach is a member of the competition committee.

And so it is that Mike Tomlin should expect to be reprimanded (and possibly fined) for his postgame comments. Tomlin didn’t directly criticize John Parry’s crew, per se, but he made it clear he’s fed up with the way the game has been officiated this season with an emphasis on the kid gloves treatment that quarterbacks are receiving.

Tomlin was asked about Bud Dupree being called twice for illegal use of the hands.

“Those look like legitimate calls,” Tomlin said. “We got to be better there, but some of the other stuff is a joke. We got to get better (as the) National Football League. These penalties are costing people games and jobs. We got to get them correct, so I am (ticked) about it, to be quite honest with you, but that’s all I will say on it.”

Tomlin likely was referring to the roughing the passer penalty called against T.J. Watt and the unnecessary roughness personal foul on Jon Bostic after his half-sack of Matt Ryan.

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