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Falcons Cite Aggressive, Stacked Boxes From Steelers Defense That Kept Them From Running In First Half

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense came into yesterday’s game with one of the better run defenses in the league, particularly since the bye week. It was thoroughly tested—and nearly broken—by the Atlanta Falcons yesterday, but really not until the second half. They evidently strategized to discourage them from running, to hear Falcons tell it.

“They were a little more aggressive early,” head coach Arthur Smith said after the game, via their website. “Knowing that they had kind of packed the paint in there and they were sitting on everything. That’s why we tried to press the ball down the field.”

Although Atlanta managed to move the chains on each of its four first-half possessions, picking up eight in total, the team ultimately only ran not even a couple dozen plays in the first 30, and the fair majority of them were passes.

“We had thrown the ball a little bit more. We got off track with the holding call, so six out of 19 plays we had runs,” Smith said. “One of them was a possible run that may have been checked, we weren’t on the field much.”

Obviously, things changed on the other side of halftime. The Falcons finished with 146 rushing yards as a team, but the vast majority of that game in the final 30 minutes, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 28 rushing attempts, of which I believe 22 were in the second half.

Atlanta has been a run-first team nearly all season, with three or four core contributors in that aspect of the game including quarterback Marcus Mariota. He didn’t run much in this game, however, the bulk falling to running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier. Mariota tried to explain why they ran so little in the first half.

“I think initially they tried to load up the box,” he said via their site, referring to Smith’s “aggressive” comment earlier. “We made some explosives down the field in the pass game. Unfortunately, we stalled out in a couple of our drives, and when you’re playing a team like this, they’re going to limit your possessions, and when you’re not able to capitalize on it, makes it tough.”

That was a theme for the Falcons after the game, lamenting the total number of possessions that they got. They finished with just eight (the Steelers also had eight meaningful possessions), thanks to both teams managing some extended drives. Pittsburgh had three drives of 12-plus plays. Atlanta had a 16-play drive of more than nine minutes in game time in the second half.

The 146 rushing yards are the second most the Steelers have given up in a game this season, behind only the 171 the Cleveland Browns put up over them all the way back in week three. It’s only their third time allowing 125 or more yards. Next up, however, they have the Baltimore Ravens who even with injuries still remain among the top rushing threats.

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