It would be unwise to overreact to the performance of a team during the preseason. A team could readily go 0-4 in the preseason and go on to win the Super Bowl. Exhibition performances are largely not accurate barometers of team quality.
Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to have some level of disappointment over how their first-team defensive unit—or how much of it was out there for the game—performed against an admittedly explosive Atlanta Falcons offense that never the less was without some of its most important contributors, including a couple of Pro Bowl skill position players at running back and wide receiver.
While it would not be out of the ordinary that Matt Ryan—last year’s MVP—could come in and carve up anybody’s defense for one drive and then leave, it is really what followed that is troubling, because Ryan’s backup, Matt Schaub, played just a bit before leaving, subbed in by Matt Simms, and it was Simms who followed up with some additional carving.
For some reason, in some way, Simms looked very good during his playing time in the first half, and yet much less so in the second half. The most reasonable explanation of external factors would be that the Falcons’ depth on offense is not as good as the Steelers’ depth on defense, but the reality is that the quarterback just played rather well in the first half.
And he took advantage of much of the Steelers’ first-team defense, even if they were unit without key players such as Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell, Bud Dupree, and James Harrison—and only briefly had Javon Hargrave, in addition.
Outside of a couple of plays, perhaps, the run defense was pretty solid. Of the seven runs on the Falcons’ first two drives, for example, only one of them was a ‘successful’ one relative to down and distance circumstances, though that one run did go for 16 yards. Only two of their 13 designed runs in the first half—the other a conversion on third and one—were positive plays.
The pass defense? Now that was another matter entirely. Alex Kozora will be bringing you some details on that later in the day, but the struggles were obvious. I’ll leave the first drive up to him to talk about, but Simms also got the better of the unit.
On third and 10, on Schaub’s last throw, he got the pass out to his tight end, who was able to break a tackle in the flat to rumble for the 10 yards needed. On the next play, 11 yards. On third and eight, Simms found his receiver splitting the two safeties for 15 yards. Then 19 yards between Sean Davis and Ross Cockrell.
The only reason that that drive did not end with a second consecutive touchdown is because the wide receiver dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the end zone, having beaten Cockrell on an inside slant. He was burned on the next drive on a go route for 44 yards. Some of this is due to lack of game-planning during the season, but the results suggest there is still work to do.