Falcons’ hot seat Sunday: Keeping Heyward, Highsmith out of the backfield

Pittsburgh’s defense may no longer be what it once was, but it’s still pretty good.

Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker Alex Highsmith are reasons why.

Heyward, in his 12th season in the NFL, has four sacks this season to bring his career total to 72. Highsmith has 10 sacks to bring his career total to 18. The Steelers have 22 sacks and 40 tackles for loss.

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It will be imperative for Falcons center Drew Dalman and guards Colby Gossett and Chris Lindstrom to keep Heyward away from Mariota and from running backs Avery Williams, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson, and for tackle Jake Matthews to keep Highsmith out of the backfield.

“I mean, they’ve got some good veteran players on that front,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Cam Heyward has had as good a career as anybody up there in a long list (of them) since (legendary coach) Chuck Noll got that thing going, and they’ve had some good defenders up there, and that’s a highest praise that I could probably give.”

The Falcons have allowed only 17 sacks this season, which is a reflection of the job the line has done, combined with a focus on offense of running the ball. The Falcons allowed only one sack against the Commanders in Sunday’s 19-13 loss. It was impactful, though, coming in the fourth quarter with the team trying to rally.

Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said it doesn’t seem to matter who plays for the Steelers, the defense has played mostly the same way, which he said is impressive.

“We are under the impression that they’ll have a plan on how they’re going to play the quarterback,” Ragone said. “We know they’re going to be well-coached. And we know that we’re gonna have to do our best to try to keep them off-balance. But we know that they have within their toolbox of defensive tactics. They have every pitch, and we have to be ready for it.”

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