Steelers run their way to OT win

Dale Lolley likes the way the Steelers ran the ball without their star quarterback in the saddle. That and more notes in this SCI column.

There's no doubt the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. And there's also no doubt that in this day and age, you need a quarterback to help you navigate your way through the playoffs.

But as we saw in Sunday's 15-9 victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Atlanta Falcons, defense and running the ball can still be an effective way to win games during the regular season.

The Steelers weren't pretty against the Falcons but they were effective.

The defense dominated the line of scrimmage against the Falcons limiting Michael Turner to 42 yards on 19 carries. That forced the Falcons into a one-dimension attack of Matt Ryan throwing the ball to Roddy White, again and again.

And as we saw, if you go to the well too often, Troy Polamalu is going to make you pay.

White was targeted by Ryan on a ridiculous 23 of his 44 pass attempts, with 13 going for completions. But those 13 receptions went for just 111 yards with a long gain of 18 yards.

It was Dick LeBeau Defense 101. Make the opponent dink and dunk its way down the field because more often than not, they're going to come up short if you keep them in third-and-long situations.

The Steelers also controlled the clock, running a pretty conservative offense. Atlanta ran 71 plays compared to just 50 for Pittsburgh. But the Steelers controlled the time of possession, 32:06 to 30:29.

As Hines Ward said following the game, they wanted quarterback Dennis Dixon to learn that it's OK to punt. They wanted Dixon to manage the game and though he made some bad throws -- including one interception -- he didn't do anything to cost the Steelers the game.

It was a game plan straight out of the Bill Cowher playbook: Run the ball, play good defense and hopefully win it at the end.

Of course, Cowher didn't win a Super Bowl using that style of play. Cowher didn't win a Super Bowl until Ben Roethlisberger came along.

But with Roethlisberger sitting out the next three games, it's probably the best chance the Steelers have of keeping their head above water.

* A lot of other defensive players will get more the press coming out of this game, but linebacker Lawrence Timmons was the Steelers' most impressive defensive player Sunday.

Timmons was all over the field, making 11 tackles, including three for a loss. And prior to Polamalu's interception, he very nearly made what would have been the play of the game on a blitz up the middle, forcing Ryan to fumble -- a play that was overturned by replay.

* Atlanta must have spent the entire offseason looking at film of the 2009 Steelers and what worked against them. We saw the spread. We saw the no-huddle. We saw unbalanced lines.

We saw none of it work consistently.

None of those things are quite as effective against this defense when Aaron Smith and Polamalu are in the game.

* I've seen every game that Ward has played in his career in person and can tell you that his effort against the Falcons was one of the top five of his career.

With Dixon at quarterback, Ward said earlier in the week that the players were going to have to step up their game. He backed that up on the field Sunday.

His 24-yard catch over the middle on third-and-9 early in the fourth quarter in which he leaped and tipped the ball to himself as he fell to the ground was as good a reception as you will see.

He immediately followed that up with a 25-yard reception that gave him his team-record 26th 100-yard receiving game. Ward also went over 900 catches and 11,000 yards in his career during that drive.

For good measure, Ward also sealed off the end on Rashard Mendenhall's game-winning 50-yard TD run in overtime.

It was all classic Ward.

* Just in case the Steelers haven't figured this out yet, the right side of their line -- guard Trai Essex and tackle Flozell Adams -- is massive and if you're trying to gain a yard, that's likely the direction I would run.

* Mike Tomlin said after the game that if the Steelers had won the toss, he would have elected to go on offense.

Had that happened, we may be re-hashing an Atlanta victory.

Given the choice, I'm putting my defense on the field instead of trusting my Dixon-led offense. But that's why Tomlin is paid the big bucks.

* The Steelers will be OK if Casey Hampton misses next week's game at Tennessee with the hamstring injury he suffered Sunday. It doesn't appear to be serious and Chris Hoke is a more than capable replacement.

As for left tackle Starks's ankle injury, that's a different matter.

Jonathan Scott was OK there in limited action against the Falcons, but the Steelers will likely give Tony Hills the starting nod if Starks can't play - and that appears as if it will be the case.

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)

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