Winners and losers from the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.
Najee Harris – Harris certainly didn’t run like someone who was taken to the hospital six days ago. Harris ran angry from the word go with a great stiff-arm and picked up nearly half of his yards after contact. He showed good vision and combined with getting North/South and finishing his runs. Harris looks far healthier and better since the first two months of the season and the results are following suit.
Cam Sutton – A solid game for Sutton. The Falcons don’t exactly have the best receivers in the world, but Sutton’s been competitive at the catch point the last two games and had solid open field tackles on the big-bodied Drake London on the outside. He isn’t a high-end or elite corner but solid, steady, and technical. Worth the shoutout.
Matthew Wright – Kudos to Wright. After a bumpy start to his Steelers’ career (part two) against the New Orleans Saints, he’s been solid since. Wright made three field goals from 46+ yards and though he’s gotten some kicker-friendly bounces off the upright but hey, makes are makes and points are points. Wright’s leg bailed out a Steelers’ offense that struggled to finish drives.
He also did a great job on kickoffs. Keeping the ball away from the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson, the Steelers opted to use pooch kicks to the up-men instead. That requires accuracy and touch, and Wright was dead on. It sounds like Chris Boswell will return next week but Wright’s held the fort down nicely.
Pat Freiermuth/Connor Heyward: With apologies to Zach Gentry, a good day to be a Steelers’ tight end. Freiermuth was fantastic, a third down machine with a 57-yarder that set up Heyward’s 17-yard touchdown. Freiermuth had issues in pass protection, it’s not his strength or something he’s done much this year, but he’s gotten much better being “quick to the tuck” post catch his sophomore year and getting more YAC. Heyward caught his first score; nice hands grab off a great route to get the safety to bite.
Pressley Harvin III/Minkah Fitzpatrick: A couple of late but important entries to the list. Harvin with a dime of a punt that landed right in front of the goal line while Fitzpatrick called game the next play, picking off Marcus Mariota to seal it. Elite plays all around.
Steven Sims – Tough one for Sims. A drop on a nice throw from Kenny Pickett down the right seam and another would-be third down conversion wiped out because Sims stepped out of bounds. Just bad awareness. The return game was disappointing too, a muff he recovered and a fair catch when he had 10+ yards of room ahead of him. Calvin Austin will be in the mix next year but this team needs to add a slot receiver next season.
Red Zone Fringe/Offensive Finish – Steelers’ offense just can’t finish. They recognize the issue, Cam Heyward spoke about it earlier in the week, but they get near the 20 and they just fall apart. Numbers that don’t always reveal themselves in red zone data. But tons of drives with the ball around the 30 that simply stall out. You can’t beat good teams with field goals and you allow average teams to hang around. In a game where the Falcons could’ve been taken out of their run-first approach with a couple Steelers’ touchdowns, Pittsburgh’s inability to finish allowed them to stick to their gameplan.
Diontae Johnson – Johnson’s messy season continues. A drop, a false start, and a (near) fourth-quarter fumble. Whatever the reverse of the Gordie Howe hat trick is, Johnson did it. He’s very lucky officials overturned the initially called fumble. To his credit, he caught one of the game-clinching first downs, though it was an uncontested grab.
It’s fair to say the Steelers haven’t always used him well conceptually but Johnson’s play isn’t demanding the team find ways to get him more involved. A talented receiver, he’s prone to major slumps and routinely stacking bad plays. Pittsburgh’s receivers offered almost nothing to the offense today. George Pickens certainly vented his frustrations along the sideline, held to one catch for two yards on just two targets.
Second Half Run Defense: Similar but worse than Monday’s game against the Colts, the Steelers’ run defense waned in the second half. They were losing the point of attack, not making splash plays on early downs to force Atlanta away from their run game, and the Falcons were staying on schedule with lane after lane to run through. Doesn’t fall on one person but the entire group and they limped to the finish line.