The Steelers and Falcons meet today at Heinz Field as a pair of underachieving teams who came out of the first quarter of the season with just one win apiece. Barring a tie, one of them will add a second.
The Falcons will try to do so without Grady Jarrett, while the Steelers will be down two defensive starters in Vince Williams and Morgan Burnett, who is missing his third game in a row.
The other inactives for the Steelers include Darrius Heyward-Bey due to injury, as well as healthy scratches Mason Rudolph, Zach Banner, L.T. Walton, and Marcus Allen. Brian Allen, recently promoted from the practice squad, is active as a sixth cornerback after the team dressed just four in the season opener.
The Steelers opened the game with the ball, Ryan Switzer only getting out to about the 22. James Conner picked up three yards on first down, and Ben Roethlisberger fired short to Jesse James for six to set up an early third and one. Conner made good on the conversion.
Roethlisberger eventually checked down to Conner, who found a big crease thanks to a great downfield seal block by Vance McDonald for an explosive play. A snap later, he broke free off right tackle for a 30-yard gain, I believe the longest run of his career. Now first and goal from the eight, he picked up three yards to the five. He punched it in two plays later for his fourth rushing touchdown of the season, and the Steelers first touchdown of the first quarter all year. Chris Boswell missed the extra point, his third miss on an extra point of the year.
Artie Burns tattooed the kick returner on the ensuing return just short of the 25. Following a four-yard run on first down, Matt Ryan was forced to toss the ball away on second off play action. Now third and six, the pocket began to close, but Ryan got the pass out quickly to his tight end for 14. L.J. Fort missed a tackle near the first-down marker. Freeman was tackled for four yards on the following play, and then another four to set up third and short. Calvin Ridley converted out of the slot against Burns.
Freeman added another three yards across midfield. Hooper added six on a short pass to the Steelers’ 33. On third and one, Mohamed Sanu took a Wildcat snap and ran it up the middle, but the Falcons were flagged for an illegal formation. Now third and six, Ryan was taken down for a sack, Fort blitzing late. The quarterback turtled. Bosher’s punt was downed at the five, but a hold on Roosevelt Nix put them on the 2.5.
Conner fought for three yards up the middle on first down. Off play action on second down, Roethlisberger threw a short pass to Antonio Brown, who tried to get to the perimeter, but was wrangled down for three yards. Now third and four, Roethlisberger fired a short pass to Conner out of the slot for the first down, essentially a screen behind two tight ends.
Following an incompletion and a nine-yard gain, it was third and one. Conner took a sweep for a first down and more, hitting a spin move for extra yardage. Roethlisberger fired behind Brown on a screen, his second bad pass to Brown so far. Then he overthrew Brown after a pump fake to make it third and 10 from the 42. Under pressure, he rolled out and looked for James deep, who was essentially double covered. The pass was nearly picked off, but the Falcons were flagged for pass interference.
Now down to the Falcons’ 20, Stevan Ridley checked in for a short gain on first down. Roethlisberger couldn’t connect with James Washington on second down, throwing before the rookie was turned around. Now third and eight, he ripped one to the back of the end zone for JuJu Smith-Schuster, his first catch of the game and his second touchdown of the year. The second touchdown in as many drives as well. Boswell was good on his second extra point attempt.
Tevin Coleman rushed for eight yards off the left side to end the first quarter. He got the first down to open the second quarter. T.J. Watt got the sack on the following play, his fourth sack of the year to take sole possession of first place on the team. Mike Hilton blitzed as well. Now second and 14, Mohamed Sanu took a screen pass for 15 yards.
Ryan overthrew his tight end off play action. Freeman lost a yard on second down. Now third and long, Ryan hit Hooper right at the sticks across midfield. Off a quick pass, Ryan and Sanu hooked up again for a quick 43-yard score, making it a one-possession game.
Roethlisberger was under pressure overthrowing McDonald, who was open, off play action to start their next drive. Five wide on second down, he went short to McDonald for about five yards. Now third down, Jaylen Samuels checked in for the first snap of his career. Roethlisberger once again missed Brown on a crosser, though he was under pressure. Still a throw he could have made.
An early 20-yard run by Freeman put the Falcons near midfield. Julio Jones couldn’t hold on to a pass that Terrell Edmunds was unable to take advantage off. Ryan’s second-down pass went out of bounds. Now third and 10, the defense forced an incompletion, but an illegal hands to the face penalty on Dupree resulted in a first down anyway. Watt was then flagged for roughing the passer.
From the 26, Tyler Matakevich made a good tackle after a short pass to Hooper. Ryan took a sack on third and 19 back at the 30 to force a field goal, keeping it 13-10. Watt had the sack on first down for a nine-yard loss, giving him two for the game.
Conner went for seven yards and then two on the first two plays of the ensuing drive following a touchback. On third and one, however, he was bottled up for no gain with three tight ends on the field. Rather than attempting to go for it, Jordan Berry took the field, the kick going back to the 10-yard line. Brian Allen made the tackle there.
Watt and Dupree combined for the tackle for a loss on first down to hit the two-minute warning. A Hilton blitz forced a bad pass by Ryan. Now third and 11, he completed for a short gain, short of the first, as the Steelers used a timeout with 1:48 remaining. The Falcons ran into Switzer on the punt return for a penalty on the short punt.
Now on the Falcons’ 40, Roethlisberger opened the drive with a short hook-up with Smith-Schuster for eight yards and out of bounds. Then he found Brown for 12 to the 20-yard line, keeping the clock running. Smith-Schuster was blown up after a short cross by Brian Poole for five yards. On second and five, Roethlisberger scrambled for seven to set up a first and goal.
From the seven, Roethlisberger nearly threw an interception to Desmond Trufant looking for Brown in the right corner of the end zone. Now second down, showing five wide, he tried to buy as much time as he could before tossing a ball up, only to throw an interception, Brown in triple coverage. It initially looked like he was going to throw the ball away. So the Steelers relinquish at least three points, and possibly seven.