The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an impressive win and solid outings on both sides of the ball. Going up against one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL, the defense held their own, only allowing one touchdown and keeping the Atlanta Falcons under their rushing average. However, the Falcons had success running the ball in the second half, almost surmounting a comeback from the Steelers’ 13-point lead. When asked about this, star defensive end Cameron Heyward delved into the team’s defensive performance during a post-game interview on the team’s YouTube channel.
“It’s a different type of team,” Heyward said when asked about the Falcons’ second half rushing success. “Usually when you go up more than 7 points, they go to throwing the ball. But you gotta give them credit, they stuck to their plan. They used pace as a factor, which is something that we’ll have to continue to improve on. It just comes down to tackling and not surrendering touchdowns. I know we surrendered one at the end of the third, but only getting them three points was critical to us winning the game.”
The Falcons indeed have a run-first identity. Coming into this game, they ran the ball over 51% of the time, which was the highest rate in the NFL. In the first half, the Steelers were prepared for this, holding them to a mere 31 rushing yards on six carries. The Steelers front forced two negative plays, and took away what the Falcons do best en route to holding them to six first half points.
The Steelers went into the second half with a 16-6 lead, and were expecting the Falcons to pass the ball. As Heyward said, however, the Falcons did not abandon their identity. Indeed, they ran for over 100 yards in the second half, and cut the Steelers’ lead to three points. However, it was ultimately not enough, and the Steelers came away with the victory.
In the big picture, giving up rushing yards while up double digits is not the worst thing in the world. The Steelers’ run defense, which ranked in the top six coming into this game, held up well with all things considered. As Heyward went on to mention, the team kept the Falcons out of the end zone on all but one drive, which is ultimately why they won the game. Had the Steelers’ run defense given the Falcons’ rushing attack momentum in the first half, we may be looking at a different outcome.
All in all, this was an impressive game by the Steelers’ defense. This is a unit that has had its ups and downs, but run defense is something they have undeniably done well. After ranking dead last in run defense last season, this looks like a completely different unit in the trenches. As they prepare to face another run-heavy offense in their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens next week, they will need another strong defensive effort in the trenches.