Three losses to sub .500 teams and the masses were out to say Mike Tomlin didn't have his football team prepared. I didn't agree with the masses, just as I don't think it was the head coach having his team properly motivated that led to a Steelers victory today. I think it was good game planning on both sides of the ball and very good special teams play against Devin Hester that led to a Steelers victory. And that all starts with the head coach.
The staff is doing everything it can with the secondary and pass rush that is has. William Gay can make plays. I love him as a No. 3. He'd can be solid as a No. 2. But being forced to have him as the No. 1 is asking a whole lot. Especially when there isn't a stud pass rusher this defense can lean on.
I look at what the Buffalo Bills did today against Aaron Rodgers. That's what a No. 1 pick at defensive end, No. 3 overall pick at defensive tackle, and two first-round picks at cornerback can do for you.
Andy Dalton went 14 for 24 for 117 yards and an interception this week. Not exactly the same type of numbers he had against the Steelers. The Browns have two No. 1 picks at cornerback and a very athletic third-round guy in Buster Skrines.
Matt Ryan had plenty of time to throw. He seemed to complete crossing routes with ease, as the crossing receiver had plenty of time to clear open over the Steelers' zone coverage. At one point, Ryan was 18 for 22 with a couple of errant throws to open receivers early in the game. The Falcons had a lot of success on bubble screens as well. A big reason for the Falcons' success there was due to the necessary soft cushions of the Steelers' mediocre cornerbacks.
That said, this defense played hard. They were sticking guys. On one play in particular, the Steelers blitzed, hit Ryan hard, then stuck the running back when Ryan dumped it off to escape the pressure.
Of course, the biggest stick was the textbook hit by Jason Worilds. Tomlin's halftime response on being "all about protecting quarterbacks" was the perfect response. Part of great leadership is modeling accountability under most any circumstance. However, a fan's perspective allows me to view modern-day officiating in the modern-day NFL as handing the Falcons seven points. Otherwise, the Steelers' defense might have held the Falcons to 13 points to go with a pick-6.
Gay might have given up some receptions here and there, but the "winner" that is Will made the biggest play of the game with his third pick-6 of the season. The defense did enough to help an offense that seems so close to getting over the drive-stalling hump which occurs early in most games.
The recent success the Steelers have had in the run game made the Falcons sell out in that department. It set up huge plays in the passing game off play-action. I would have liked to have seen a little more from under center and a little less from the pistol. But the pistol is twice as good to me as being in the shotgun. We don't see the sacks and turnovers out of it as we do from shotgun overuse. So we're halfway there.
The most important aspect on offense this week was zero turnovers and only one sack allowed. That will win them a lot of football games.
Thirty-eight pass attempts and 20 running plays sounds out of balance. But the way the Falcons were committed to stopping the run/taking away the counter, they had to lean more on the pass. And they still stuck to the run, still handing Le'Veon Bell the ball 20 times.
The Steelers' crucial drive at the end of the first half was a big part of the pass-to-run ratio. It was highlighted by a beautiful throw by Ben Roethlisberger and catch by Antonio Brown that set up the touchdown. Brown is so good I almost fail to recognize the great plays he makes. That's when you know a player is great, when their amazing plays become expected.
Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant are developing into ideal complements for Brown. It was good to see Wheaton making big plays Sunday. And Heath Miller might have another two good years left -- at least.
So let's keep Matt Spaeth and Will Johnson with Heath. I like how they complement this offense. In basketball, a well-built team has a rim defender and rebounder to go with its low-post scorer; or a ball distributor to go with its scorer. Brown, Bell, Bryant and Miller make for enough scorers on this team. But role players win championships, too.
I love the aggressive nature in which the offense closed out the game. The Steelers didn't sit on it. With the Falcons doing everything to sell out on the run, the Steelers ran their second-half, four-minute drill as if they were playing in the first half. That takes stones. The final play was a statement by the head coach that they don't live in their fears and that they play to win.
Well done, Coach.