After reviewing the coaches’ film, it’s grading time for the Falcons’ play in their 41-17 loss to the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
The Falcons had a chance to take control of the game, but the offense failed. Down 13-10 at halftime, the Falcons had the ball to start the third quarter, but were forced to punt. Two of the Steelers’ drives were aided by penalties, and the Falcons couldn’t come up with the ball when they created a fumble. The Steelers scored on the next play.
Here’s a breakdown of all six of the sacks:
One: On third-and-6 on Pittsburgh’s 38 with 5:58 left in the first quarter, running back Tevin Coleman failed to pick up linebacker L.J. Fort, who was on a delayed blitz. Coleman was trying to help tight end Austin Hooper and didn’t see or look for the linebacker coming.
Two: On first-and-10 from Atlanta’s 27 with 14:22 left in the second quarter, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt worked his way around Falcons right guard Brandon Fusco to get his first sack of the day.
Third: On first-and-10 from Pittsburgh 14 with 5:55 left in the second quarter, right tackle Ryan Schraeder whiffed on Watt’s speed rush to the outside. Watt dropped quarterback Matt Ryan for a loss of 9 yards.
Fourth: On third-and-19 from Pittsburgh’s 23 with 5:07 left in the second quarter, Cameron Heyward, Ironhead Heyward’s son, steamrolled Falcons center Alex Mack on his way to Ryan. After the 6-yard loss, the Falcons had to settle for a field goal.
Fifth: On first-and-10 from the Falcons’ 25 with 1:39 left in the third quarter, Heyward pushed left guard Wes Schweitzer up the field. He came free underneath and made a straight line to Ryan. Linebacker Jon Bostic was free on a delayed blitz. Heyward and Bostic shared the sack.
Sixth: On first-and-10 from the Falcons’ 14 with 3:45 to play in the fourth quarter, Watt beat Schraeder to the outside again with a speed rush. He popped Ryan and knocked the ball loose. Fort recovered in the end zone. Ryan jogged off the field and didn’t appear to hurt his foot, which was later X-rayed.
Here are the grades:
Run offense: The only highlight of the day was Devonta Freeman getting into the open field for a 20-yard gain. It looked like he was trying to cutback instead of pressing things into the outside-zone holes. He finished with 32 yards on eight carries. Coleman was held to 15 yards rushing on seven carries. The Falcons couldn’t block the Steelers in the run game, which would lead to problems in the passing attack. Grade: F
Pass offense: The Falcons didn’t get wide receiver Julio Jones the ball until the fourth quarter. With Jones facing double coverage, the Falcons went to tight end Austin Hooper, who led the team with 12 targets. He had a career-high nine catches for 77 yards. Hopper’s previous high was seven catches in a 2017 loss to Miami on Oct. 15, 2017. In addition to slowing Jones, the Steelers held rookie Calvin Ridley in check. He caught four passes for 38 yards. Ryan and Sanu connected on a nice 43-yard touchdown pass. Ryan was sacked six times and hit 11 times as the offensive line struggled against the Steelers’ zone blitzes. Grade: D
Run defense: The Steelers opened the game in 21 personnel – two tight ends, one running back and two wide receivers -- and forced the Falcons to play their base defense. The Falcons answered the grouping by playing their base 4-3 alignment, which kept Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley off the field. Brooks Reed and Steven Means opened the game and played 34 and 23 of 61 defensive snaps respectively. McKinley and Beasley both would like to play in the base defense. The plan worked as Steelers running back James Conner rushed 21 times for 110 yards. The Steelers averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Grade: F
Pass defense: Beasley’s false start on third-and-6 kept the Steelers’ second drive alive. Duke Riley’s 38-yard pass-interference penalty on tight end Jesse James aided the second drive that put the Steelers up 13-0. The inability to tackle Conner on two simple passing plays led to the demise of the defense. On the opening drive, on first-and-10 from Pittsburgh’s 33, the Falcons played zone. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger checked it down to Conner, but rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun got blocked by tight end Vance McDonald. Strong safety Jordan Richards didn’t get over fast enough to stop the play. Kazee stopped the play after 29 yards and four missed tackles. With the Falcons still in the contest in the third quarter, on third-and-13 from Pittsburgh 46, the Falcons paid the price for not stopping a simple screen pass. Reed, Riley and De’Vondre Campbell had Conner surrounded and should have stopped the play for a 3-yard gain, which would have forced a punt. McKinley and Robert Alford also missed tackles before Kazee made the stop at 28 yards. The Steelers went on to score and take a 20-10 lead to start the rout. Grade F
Special teams: The Falcons had another blocked punt. It was the second blocked punt over the past three games. Pittsburgh’s fullback Roosevilt Nix (5-11, 248) over powered tight end Eric Saubert (6-6, 253) to get to Bosher. Russell Gage’s interference with the opportunity to catch a punt penalty ended up not being too costly after Kazee made an interception in the end zone. Grade D
Coaching: The Steelers schemed the Falcons into using their base defense. The move kept first-round picks McKinley and Beasley off the field for most of the first quarter. The Steelers established their rushing attack from a two-tight end formation. By the time the Falcons adjusted, the were down 13-0. Also, coming out of halftime with the ball and trailing 13-10, the offense should have had a better plan. By that time, the Steelers had already showed how they were going to take away wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons’ offensive coaches needed to figure out a way to spring him at halftime. In the first possession, Jones didn’t touch the ball. The special teams were over-powered again. It wasn’t a scheme issue, just like the blocked punt against the Saints. It was a bad day for the players and the coaches. Grade F
Next up: The Falcons (1-4) are set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It will be the 50th meeting in the series. The Falcons lead the series, 25-24 and have won the last three meetings.
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