The Steelers came out of their first preseason game with a win, such that it matters, largely on the strength of a Joshua Dobbs touchdown pass and a 15-yard run for a score by Terrell Watson. Today, the team is hoping to see continued progress from their rookie quarterback, but at running back, they will be excited to see James Conner get his first touch.
the biggest debut, however, will be Martavis Bryant, who has been out of football for the past 19 months due to suspension. The Steelers getting him back will be huge in terms of what they can accomplish this season on offense.
On defense, the contributions of five key young players will determine which way the pendulum of progress swings. Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave largely shape the future of this unit. We should be getting a good look at all of them this evening.
It seems as though Anthony Chickillo, and not Dupree, was announced with the starters. Both third-year outside linebackers missed the first game. Perhaps they want to hold Dupree out a bit.
The Steelers sent out a double-whammy of running back as their kick returners with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis back to receive to start off the game. Davis got the kick several yards shy of the end zone and returned it to the 23.
The first play of the game was a screen pass to Bryant, but the play was covered well and the receiver lost three yards on the attempt. On second down, Dobbs hit Toussaint out in the left flat for eight yards, starting over Conner. On third and long, he got hit from behind as he threw, resulting in an incompletion, forcing a three-and-out. Jordan Berry got off a deep kick for 56 yards that resulted in a fair catch, though the returner was early in calling. A hold on the Falcons backed them up even further.
From the nine, it was Hargrave getting into the backfield and making the tackle for a short loss on first down. On second down, Matt Ryan used play-action and found Mohamed Sanu beating Davis for 13 yards to get out from their own end zone.
It was again Sanu and Davis, with a short reception, and Sanu stiff-armed the safety to cross the first-down marker, but he held on to drag him down for the tackle. Burns was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the Falcons near midfield.
Davis and Watt did well to play against the stretch run to the defensive right side, teaming on the tackle for a loss of one. But Watt was doubled up on second down off left tackle for an explosive run up the sideline, the perimeter defense stumbling.
From the 37, Burns blitzed, and was picked up initially but spun out of the block to finish the pressure on Ryan. With the coverage, the quarterback had to throw the ball away. Ryan underthrew his receiver to the left on second down to set up a third and long. The Steelers got some pressure, but Ryan was able to step up in the pocket, finding his tight end with Vince Williams in coverage for 14 yards.
The Falcons quickly attacked down the field on the next play, a skinny post for 18 yards that set up first and goal at the five. The back saw little resistance scoring from that distance on the first attempt, the play well-blocked, as Atlanta went up 7-0 early after driving 91 yards. Certainly a disappointing opening sequence for a unit that features most of its starters.
Following a touchback, Toussaint got the carry on first down for three yards. Bryant was in the slot on that play, something to note. Another handoff to Toussaint for short yardage set up third and four. Dobbs stood firm under pressure, but could only get a short pass off to Eli Rogers short of the first down, resulting in back-to-back three-and-outs, I believe for the second time in as many games. Berry’s punt was well-covered after another very nice punt. Jordan Dangerfield leveled the returner after a 50-plus yard punt.
Matt Schaub checked in for the Falcons at cornerback and handed off on first down, resulting in a gain of three. On second and seven, Hill found a hole up the middle, but Tyler Matakevich was there at the second level to limit the damage. A penalty for illegal use of hands on the tight end negated the gain, setting up second and 16. From the 13, a run to the right gained about four. Now third and long, Gay missed an open-field tackle that resulted in the tight end being able to pick up the first down. Disappointing.
L.T. Walton has been in the game for Hargrave, getting looked at on the sideline. Matt Simms came in for Schaub. A quick completion for another first down on his first snap. From the 40, he fired into a crowd for an incompletion, Chickillo among those in coverage. Watt was there first to make the tackle on second down on a two-yard run to the left. On third and long, the Steelers blitzed Burns again, but Simms got the pass off for a 16-yard gain over the middle between Golden and Davis.
Going after Davis again for 19 yards was Simms off play action. From the 24 now, a tough four-yard run up the middle. Off play action, Golden stayed in coverage but was not on the tight end. Simms found him in between the two safeties for another first down to the five, setting up first and goal on the final play of the first quarter.
Hargrave is being evaluated for a concussion. He suffered a concussion last year that caused him to miss a game.
Under pressure, Simms threw the ball out of the end zone on first down. He looked for a quick hitter over Burns on second down, but the throw was long and the cornerback was in position. On third and goal from five yards out, Marvin Hall dropped a touchdown on an inside slant, beating Ross Cockrell for what should have been a score. The Falcons did make it 10-0 with a field goal.
Davis fumbled getting a running start outside the end zone on the return, but he picked it up and made the most of it out past the 20. Conner checked into the game, was tripped up after three yards. When the crowd realized he was in, they cheered. On second down, off play action, Dobbs looked for Darrius Heyward-Bey, incomplete, but the cornerback was flagged for pass interference, resulting in the Steelers’ first first down of the day via penalty.
Set up near midfield, Dobbs faked the handoff to the back, giving the ball to Bryant on a sweep. He was hit hard behind the line of scrimmage, however, and fumbled, the ball rolling out of bounds. Probably the hardest hit Bryant has taken pretty much in years.
Conner got the ball again for his second carry, looking quick with the ball. He picked up four yards, but it looked more impressive than that. Bryant got away with a push-off on an underthrown pass from Dobbs to the right sideline for 20-plus yards, but I think both he and the team needed that.
From the 24 now, the rookie quarterback threw low and wide to Heyward-Bey down the seam, incomplete. On second down, Conner got the handoff, but Courney Upshaw got into the backfield and pulled the back down for a six-yard loss. Heyward-Bey limped off the field. Now third and 16, Conner split into the slot, Jesse James getting the ball on a screen for 12 yards, short of the first down, but DeCastro was ruled down the field too early, a 10-yard penalty. On third and 21, the play was a quick draw to Conner up the middle that picked up 11 and got the Steelers back into field goal range. Chris Boswell’s field goal was right down the middle to make it 10-3.
It was Knile Davis making the good tackle on the kickoff, at the 15-yard line. That is how you make a roster.
Stephon Tuitt buried the back on a left pitch, but he checked out of the game after making the tackle. The Steelers got pressure, but Simms was able to scramble up the middle for a gain of a handful. Gay got a hit on the quarterback on the blitz, but Simms got the ball out for a first down. Williams was in coverage for a six-yard gain.
From the 25, it was Tuitt, back in, and Walton making the tackle on a one-yard run up the middle. Cockrell was beaten vertically for 45 yards on the next play, something that did not happen a lot last season. He cannot do that during the regular season.
Chickillo did not bite on play action, beating his man and chasing Simms down, trying to run away but resulting in a loss of 13. But yet again he came back with a sharp pass down the middle for an explosive play. Golden laid a big hit, but it doesn’t matter if the play is still made. Golden left the game himself.
From the 21, the interior defense allowed nothing up the middle. Cockrell was beaten again for 11 yards to set up first and goal. A quick snap resulted in a high pass on a screen that was not wellplaced but dropped. On third down, Williams defended the pass to the back for their first actual stop on third down. Good play for the new buck. Still, another field goal made it 13-3.
Toussaint this time got the return, past the 25, but Davis and Nix aided the effort in their blocking.
Conner was pushed out to the left sideline with late-developing blocking, but by then the safety charged in and cut the back down for no gain. On second down, Dobbs fired to David Johnson for the first down. He overthrew Justin Hunter over the middle of the field on the following play. A pass in the flat to James picked up six yards to hit the two-minute warning. On third down, Dobbs flushed out to the right and flipped the ball to Conner, but he turned his head too quickly and dropped the ball for what should have been a good conversion and more. Brandon Dixon for the second down was down the field in coverage on the ensuing punt, another good one from Berry.
After a one-yard gain on first down, a short completion to the back for five yards drew the first timeout from Atlanta with 1:19 remaining. On third and four, Simms seemed to feel Watt’s pressure up the middle, which could have resulted in him misfiring down the field incomplete. The Falcons finally punted. It looked like the Steelers forced the punting team into their punter.
With over a minute and three timeouts, the offense returned near midfield. A quick pass to James picked up just two, but he got out of bounds. On second down, Sammie Coates got his first touch, a short catch turning up the right sideline for six. On third and two, Dobbs overthrew Conner incomplete. Neither rookie is having the game they had hoped to have. Berry’s fourth punt was fair caught at the 15, Dixon again down there.
A quick pass to the tight end over the middle inbounds for Simms on first down. L.J. Fort showed some athleticism limiting the damage on a dump-off to the back a couple plays later after an offsides penalty gave the Falcons a first down. With 21 seconds remaining, from the 30, Moats pressured around the edge, forcing Simms to step up and fire inaccurately down the field. Hilton was in coverage. On third and eight, a draw was stopped by Chickillo after a handful. The Steelers used a timeout with eight seconds remaining. Nix blocked the punt but the half ended.