The Steelers connected on two passes to tight end David Johnson to start the game and then went up top to Antonio Brown for touchdowns of 77 and 44 yards.
Against an Atlanta defense that finished 22nd against the pass last season, the deep passes were bothersome because they came on third-down plays and the defense had shut down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack.
“No one is going to come out and run the ball against us,” Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “We are set there. We did a good job of that. But, you know, the explosive plays reared [their] head on some simple stuff. We can’t have that.”
Despite the bad outing against the Steelers, the Falcons maintain they will have an improved pass defense this season.
“We’ll get these things corrected,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “We’ll get them ironed out. We’ll be just fine in the secondary.”
The Steelers, however, found plenty to exploit.
On a third-and-6 from Pittsburgh’s 23, Roethlisberger drilled a pass to Brown. Cornerback Brent Grimes dove to bat the ball down, but was unsuccessful. Brown split safeties DeCoud and William Moore and outran them in a 55-yard dash to the end zone, completing the 77-yarder.
“At the end of the day, I have to get the man on the ground,” DeCoud said. “I’m the last level of defense and I have to get him to the ground. I didn’t do my job on that play.”
On a third-and-10 from Atlanta’s 44 with 1:49 left in the first half, Roethlisberger connected with Brown for another score.
“It was a just a matter of making a play on the ball,” DeCoud said. “We were there. We have to get the ball on the ground.”
Smith was not pleased with those two outcomes.
“I’m concerned when we give up big plays,” Smith said. “You can’t give up explosive plays. We talk about it all the time.”
The pass defense is a major concern going into the season. It played a major role in the team’s 48-21 loss to Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs last season; Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons signed defensive end Ray Edwards to help the pass rush, but did not draft or sign any veteran free agents for the secondary.
Against Pittsburgh, the Falcons played without starting right cornerback Dunta Robinson, who would have been on Brown during the 44-yard touchdown play.
If the defense can’t stop the pass, especially on third down, they will be in for a long season against a rugged schedule packed with excellent passing teams.
The Falcons have seven games against opponents that were ranked in the top 12 in passing last season. The Falcons must face Indianapolis (the league’s top ranked passing team last season), New Orleans twice (No. 3), Houston (No. 4), Green Bay (No. 5), Philadelphia (No. 9) and Detroit (No. 12).
“I feel good about what we have, but we have to keep growing,” Lofton said. “We did a lot of things good, but we gave up a lot of plays. We can’t do that. That’s what killed us."
DeCoud, the free safety, is about to enter his third season as a starter. Moore, the strong safety, led the Falcons in tackles with six.
“We were definitely out of place by one step at times,” Moore said. “We played against a great team. We just have to take care of our mistakes.”