First half notes - Steelers lead Falcons 20-7

Here are some first half notes from the Georgia Dome.

FIRST QUARTER

The first thing about Sunday’s game was the crowd. It was at least 50/50 between the Falcons fans and the Packers fans. Before the game the Steelers fans were really loud for their players on the field. They obviously travel well.

Seeing Julio Jones in sweats before the game could not have given Falcons fans any comfort, particularly with yellow Steelers flags being waved all around the Georgia Dome. Jones has been tremendous the last two games, so it’ll be interesting to see how Atlanta can put points on the board with him out.

Pittsburgh drove down the field on their first drive, but Ben Roethlisberger was pressured by Kroy Biermann on a third down play. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal, which should have been considered a victory for the Atlanta defense considering how easy Pittsburgh drove down the field.

With Jones out, the Falcons started off with a running play and Steven Jackson got eight yards on the first play from scrimmage. But the Falcons got greedy and went back to Jackson, who was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Stephon Tuitt. Jackson then got a 12-yard run later in the drive. Pittsburgh was ninth in the NFL in rush defense coming into the game, but the Falcons were aggressive running the ball early. Their first play stalled, however, and Matt Bosher had to punt.

Big play - the referee threw a flag, which would have negated Le’veon Bell’s long 44-yard completion. But the refs met and waved off the flag.

Later in the drive, Paul Soliai and Prince Shembo got a big sack on Roethlisberger. Then Robert McClain made a great defensive play on Martavis Bryant in the end zone to break up a potential touchdown.

The Falcons held the Steelers to two field goals on the first two drives.

The most amazing stat of the first quarter was the time of possession. Pittsburgh had the ball for 10:53, while Atlanta controlled it for 4:07.

SECOND QUARTER

For the first play of the second quarter, William Gay intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and took it all the way back for a touchdown. That gave Pittsburgh a comfortable 13-0 lead after the PAT. That’s the one thing the Falcons did not need – to hand Pittsburgh points.

The Falcons finally gave Devonta Freeman the ball on the second drive of the second quarter. Freeman picked up 10 yards on the run.

Ryan’s passes early on were high. He was not sharp.

Atlanta’s special teams struggled as well, allowing several big runs. Bell had a 31-yard run on Pittsburgh’s first offensive drive of the second quarter.

Tyson Jackson knocked down a pass from Roethlisberger. The Falcons forced Pittsburgh to punt. Good to see Jackson do something significant for a change.

Matt Ryan got crushed on a sack by Jason Worilds. They called a roughing the passer penalty on the play and it gave Atlanta new life. The hit on Ryan had to be one of the hardest he’s taken in the NFL. But defensive players cannot have a hard sack on a quarterback anymore. I know they are trying to protect the quarterback, but it’s really silly that a hard hit is going to result in a penalty. The wusification of sports can be too much to take at times.

Devin Hester’s catch on Atlanta’s first touchdown was his best of the season. Hester has had some issues making tough catches this year as a receiver.

Guard Jon Asamoah left the game with a back injury. He is questionable to come back into the game. Asamoah was first injured last Monday against the Packers.

The times Heath Miller caught passes for Pittsburgh, Steeler fans screamed all at one, “Heath.” It is really a split crowd here at the Georgia Dome.

Replay saved the Steelers on a play with :31 seconds left as Antonio Brown was in bounds on a pass play. It was a 20-yard reception that gave Pittsburgh first-and-goal on the Atlanta one-yard line. The Steelers scored on the next play on a run by Bell. That gave the Steelers a 20-7 lead after the PAT heading into halftime.

The Atlanta defense is not playing bad, really. They’ve given up a few big plays, like the one that set up the last touchdown for Pittsburgh right before the half. But they held the Steelers to a couple of field goals when they had driven down the field.

The Falcons certainly could have used some points before halftime, but Pittsburgh’s secondary covered Atlanta’s receivers well and Ryan had no open targets. So the Falcons came up short and trail by 13 in front of a half-friendly crowd at the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta has only 46 yards rushing in the first half on 12 attempts. Jackson has 26 yards on six attempts.



Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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