The Steelers by and large had a first half to forget, and that applies equally well to the offense and the defense, nursing a 13-3 deficit that should have been even more imbalanced heading into halftime. Ross Cockrell was beaten for what should have been a touchdown in the red zone and then was burned deep for a big play, but most defenders struggled in some way.
Offensively, Joshua Dobbs’ accuracy has been very questionable, as it was in the first game, and has been the biggest issue with their inability to move the ball. James Conner had a couple of solid runs, but was ultimately unproductive, including a big dropped pass. First-game jitters and all that.
Both Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates got their first touches as well. Bryant fumbled on a jet sweep but came back for an explosive gain on a back-shoulder comeback. Coates got into the game late with just a six-yard reception.
The coverage on the opening kickoff was not up to snuff, resulting in a gain out to the 28. Chris Simms remained in, hitting his receiver for 11 yards with Coty Sensabaugh in coverage. At the 40 now, the ball, Hill, had space off the right side for a first-down run, but a hold was called, Moats being the victim of the hold I believe. Now first and 20, Greg Ducre in at cornerback made the tackle after a five-yard reception. A short run set up third and long. It was Chickillo beating the left tackle around the edge, showing bend to get the quarterback down as he tried to step up into the pocket. A nice showing from the third-year man.
With good blocking provided, Conner showed burst to hit the hole off left guard for 11 yards. This time he was stuffed up the middle after a couple of yards. Dobbs targeted him in a hurry in the flat, a high pass that prevented Conner from being able to turn upfield, and he was met quickly after a short gain. On third and five, the quarterback was forced to scramble and was able to get away, but lost the ball in the process, fumbling out of bounds. The defense was offside, however, and gave the Steelers the first down…
Hargrave was officially ruled out, presumably confirming a concussion. Steven Johnson suffered a hamstring injury and was ruled out.
Dobbs hit Xavier Grimble over the middle of the field, looked like a good catch but the ball ended up coming out. It’s hard to tell if he just dropped it or if the defender stripped it out. A defensive hold gave them five yards anyway. The replay shows that the defender ripped it out, but he needs to hold on to that pass.
Now across midfield, play action from Dobbs yielded a deep pass to Coates, but the coverage was right there with both players standing still. On second down, Conner was lucky to get a yard or two squeezing up the middle. Now third and long, Dobbs looked to the right sideline for Bryant, but it was incomplete. It looked like Bryant jumped the wrong way trying to box out the cornerback. Ducre saved Berry’s punt from going into the end zone, but it looked like he hurt himself in the process.
Simms used play action to try to fire hard over the middle, but the pass sailed. Sensabaugh may have been able to tip it up. On second down from the four, the defense swarmed to bury the back for no gain. Needing 10 yards, Simms threw high to the right, incomplete, forcing a three-and-out deep in the Falcons’ space.
Trey Williams finally got a touch, aggressively fielding the punt in traffic, advancing a few yards rather than opting for a fair catch.
Conner picked up two yards to the Falcons’ 36 on first down. Dobbs spun out of a sack…perhaps even two…on second down and was able to scramble, but ran out of bounds for a loss of four. His third-down pass was a bit behind Conner, but the back dropped it. Again, a rough start as his teammates offered encouragement as he got onto the sideline. Tucker was the closest man inducing another fair catch off of Berry’s punt.
In the second half, Simms continues to play the way he should after playing the way he shouldn’t in the first half, firing inaccurately with frequency. A penalty set the Falcons up with first and 15 from the nine though. Farrington Huguenin made the tackle on a run off the right side for one yard. On second and long, Hilton was targeted on an incomplete pass from the slot. On third down, A Matt Galambos blitz up the middle forced Simms to scramble and Huguenin chased him down after six yards to force a punt.
Off the punt, Williams got another crack at the punt, showing off excellent burst up the middle and showing some moves in open space to eventually force his way into the end zone for the score after 60-plus yards. It was a rare moment of excitement in an otherwise dull preseason game.
Play action for Simms yielded another 17-yarder over the middle to the 41. The back fell forward for about two yards on the following play. On second and long, L.T. Walton made a nice read and scrape off a block to make the run stop, setting up third and seven. Simms fired wide on a pass to the right side on third down. This time, Williams made a good read on the punt, watching it bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
Dobbs hit Justin Hunter on a slant for his first catch as a Steeler. At the 30, however, Conner was bottled up at the line of scrimmage, both in front and from behind. On third and short, Dobbs escaped pressure to his left and should have pitched the ball to Jake McGee, but instead hoped to take it himself. Once he realized he could not make it, he lobbed the ball inaccurately in the tight end’s direction, where it was intercepted. But from the 33, Simms threw inaccurately and gifted an interception to Jordan Dangerfield, which he returned nearly to the line of scrimmage.
Bart Houston checked into the game after Dobbs’ interception. His first pass was a screen to Marcus Tucker, who made a couple players miss, but only for a short gain. Conner had another solid run for a first down on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Hunter got the ball on the end-around, but dropped it. He tried to recover, flipping the field the other way, but he was still brought down for a loss of four. Hunter did not look natural in that role. Under pressure, Houston threw the ball away on second down. Now third and 14, McGee was out in front on a screen for Hunter, but the play never really developed as the Falcons had the numbers on that side of the field. The play would have been negated by an illegal formation penalty anyway, declined because it failed. Berry punted 44 yards, returnable, but the coverage got down there pretty quickly. McGee was among those down there, and Atlanta was docked for a hold in addition.
L.J. Fort knifed in on second down for a loss of three. Now third and 12 following a false start, Hilton was sent on the blitz and hit the quarterback. Simms got the ball out, but he threw the ball to no defender and not get it out to the line of scrimmage. That would have resulted in a safety due to intentional grounding in the end zone had Johnny Maxey not tipped the ball at the line.
Williams got another shot at a return, but even with some nice moves at the start of the play, could only pick up a handful of yards. Still, the offense was set up near midfield, looking to take the lead.
From the 47, Houston threw to Coates over the middle for seven yards. Conner was given another hole off the left side, and when he’s had the real estate, he has been able to capitalize, showing surprising quickness. Here he picked up 17 yards. It was again Houston to Coates over the middle on the checkdown, this for about five yards to the 25. McGee was the lead edge blocker on an explosive run for Conner around the left side to set up first and goal.
From there, at the three, Houston threw too high out of the end zone for Tucker. Conner got the carry on second down and get close to paradise there. On third and inches, the Steelers were docked for a delay of game, a huge momentum buster. Now from the six, Houston fired to Hunter short of the goal line to the one, but he made a nice move to get the ball across the line, spinning away from the cornerback. After a review of the play, the Steelers seized their first lead of the game, 17-13.
Malik Golden, the other #30 on the 90-man roster, made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff at the 14-yard line. Roy Philon stepped onto the stage, getting a sack for himself on first down. Simms completed over the middle for nine yards to set up third and 10. Huguenin got the sack, with Brandon Dixon blitzing.
McGee springing another first-down run for Conner. I like McGee.
Across midfield, Conner bounced out to the right side this time but only picked up two yards. Off play action, Houston fired deep to Hunter down the right sideline, but the receiver couldn’t quite get under it. Hunter seemed to be looking for the flag rather than attempting to fight for the ball. On third and eight, Conner got the carry but with little room to work with, for the purpose of keeping the clock going. The Falcons used their first timeout with 2:35 remaining. Dixon was among those down the field inducing a fair catch.
Fort batted down a Simms pass on second and two on the blitz. On third and two, the receiver bobbled the ball short of the first down, and Dangerfield read the play, and the tip, snatching it for his second interception of the game.
The Steelerse offense now possesses the ball in field goal range with 2:14 remaining, Atlanta with two timeouts.
From the 17, Conner slipped in the backfield for a loss of a few yards. McGee was out in front blocking, the back tripping over his foot. McGee blocking again, this time Conner stayed on his feet. Conner the edge for a good gain. Third and two, the back was taken down from behind to set up fourth and one, hitting the two-minute warning. Tomlin chose to be aggressive on fourth down, letting Dobbs throw it, and he ended up throwing it…into triple coverage to Hunter, where it was predictably intercepted in the end zone, putting the Falcons at the 20.
Simms fired quickly for 17 yards on first down. Austin Gearing was in coverage to break up the second play of the drive. His second-down pass was too long, JaCorey Shepherd in one-on-one coverage. On third and 10, Terrish Webb, the UDFA rookie out of Pittsburgh, broke up the pass. Now fourth down, Atlanta down to one timeout and 1:16 remaining, Huguenin pressured Simms out of the pocket, but he scrambled and got a good ball out deep. Dixon was in coverage and turned to bat the ball away, essentially sealing the game.