L.J. Fort’s Snap Count with Steelers Deserves to Go Up after Performance vs Falcons

If you tuned into the Steelers’ Week 5, 41-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons this past Sunday at Heinz Field, you may have been anticipating the defensive debut of an athletic and mostly-unproven player at inside linebacker.

  • After all, reports that this young lion had been getting reps with the first team tantalized during the preceding week.

Only that athletic inside linebacker wasn’t Matthew Thomas, the Steelers 2018 undrafted free agent out of Florida State, who dazzled in the preseason and had many clamoring for him to get an increase in playing-time thanks to the struggles of the Steelers’ defense through the first four weeks.

Instead, what the fans got was more playing time for L.J. Fort, the 2012 undrafted rookie free agent of Northern Iowa, who bounced around the NFL for a few years before winding up with the Steelers in 2015.  L.J. Fort saw playing-time on defense sparingly over his first three seasons with Pittsburgh, but he did have a knack for dazzling a bit in preseason action.

L.J. Fort, Matt Ryan, Steelers vs Falcons

L.J. Fort rushes Matt Ryan. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, via Steelers.com

Witnessing L. J. Fort in action in recent years (as limited as that action may have been), you could see that he possessed athleticism superior to the likes of Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich. In-fact, L.J. Fort appeared to come about as close as humanly possible to having the abilities of a Ryan Shazier, whose athletic gifts seemed to be super-natural for an inside linebacker.

Yet, when Ryan Shazier suffered his gruesome and life-altering spinal contusion injury against the Bengals last December at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, it was Tyler Matakevich who stepped in at inside linebacker, albeit only briefly, before he suffered a pretty serious shoulder injury on the same night.

  • Ah, but with Tyler Matakevick out, the Steelers turned to the unproven L.J. Fort but down-the-stretch and into the playoffs? Right?

Alas, they did not. Instead, they went out and signed Sean Spence, who was out of work and sitting on his couch, when head coach Mike Tomlin and Co. came calling.

  • The results, as you know, were not great, as the Jacksonville Jaguars exposed Sean Spence and the rest of the Steelers’ defense during that ugly playoff loss January 14th.

Fast-forward to this past Sunday. The veteran Vince Williams was out of action due to a hamstring injury, and even though Tyler Matakevich started at inside linebacker alongside Jon Bostic, this meant that L. J. Fort, who had just 11 snaps on defense through the first month of the season, would see increased action, particularly on third down.

L.J. Fort’s snap count with the defense only reached 27 on Sunday, a number that was significantly less than both Jon Bostic and Tyler Matakevich, but Fort  got the most bang for his buck, recording six tackles and a sack of Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. L.J. Fort was also credited with three quarterback hits and played well in pass coverage.

Fort even put the finishing touches on a 41-17 win by using his quickness to pounce on a fumble in the end zone after outside linebacker T.J. Watt stripped Ryan of the football near the Steelers’ goal line.

  • Does this mean Fort is the answer to the Steelers’ lack of a dazzling play-maker at the inside linebacker spot?

Not necessarily. What it could mean is that the injury to Vince Williams may have been a blessing in disguise, as it left the Steelers with almost no choice but to utilize L.J. Fort and make him a bigger part of their defensive game-plan.

The Steelers may have gotten stronger at inside linebacker this past Sunday; no, not because Matthew Thomas got a chance, but because L.J. Fort finally got his.

 

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Defeo Demands and T.J. Watt Delivers – Add to Defeoman’s Wish List

One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in football to know that the Steelers defense needed someone to step up in a big way heading into their 41-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Several Steelers defenders did indeed step up, and perhaps we have Tony Defeo to thank for the defender who made the biggest bang.

T.J. Watt, Matt Ryan, T.J. Watt Matt Ryan strip sack, Steelers vs Falcons

T.J. Watt strip sacks Matt Ryan. Photo Credit: AP, via Sharon Herald

Writing on Behind the Steel Curtain, Tony Defeo made a simple statement, but one strong enough to merit a game day Retweet:

And just like that, T.J. Watt delivered, leading the Steelers in tackles, tackling 5 players behind the line of scrimmage, hitting Matt Ryan 4 times, and sacking him 3 times, including a forced fumble which L.J. Fort recovered in the end zone for a game clinching touchdown.

Articles like that remind me of the days back at the legendary Purple Goose Saloon, where I’d jaw with buddies Mike and Todd.

Bill Cowher needs to use Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala to give Jerome Bettis a breather, and while he’s at it, they need to throw more to Mark Bruener, especially when they’re in the Red Zone….”

Then one of us would quip “Yep, and we’ll tell him you said that the next time we see him!”

  • Of course now that the blogesphere exists, it is a lot easier to fool one’s self into thinking an average fan can exert such influence.

We can’t . But it’s nonetheless a little uncanny that our beloved Defeoman would see such a demand transformed into reality in such dramatic fashion. In the event that Tony’s DOES have some sort of mystical connection allows such wishes to be granted, here are a few to add to his bucket:

This list is just for starters. Feel free to add yours, although be judicious because Tony must wield his power wisely….

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Steelers Report Card for Win over Falcons – Is Defense Finally Finding Its Way without Star Pupil Shazier?

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders if the rest of the class is finally compensating for the loss of its star pupil, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Falcons at Heinz Field.

Cam Heyward, Jon Bostic, Matt Ryan, Steelers vs Falcons

Cam Heyward & Jon Bostic put Matt Ryan under duress. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger had an efficient day, posting his lowest yardage and passes thrown totals. It was certainly his most complete performance, as the Steelers converted 9 of 12 third downs and Big Ben tossed 3 touchdown passes. Still, Ben Roethlisberger took time to get warmed up and took points off the board with a costly end zone interception. Grade: BSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Running Back
James Conner delivered just as many were questioning the Steelers confidence in him and fans were warming to welcoming Le’Veon Bell back. James Conner dominated with 110 rushing yards and 75 yards receiving, while scoring 2 touchdowns. James Conner fumbled, which is worrisome. Roosevelt Nix saw little action, but he road graded Conner into the end zone. Stevan Ridley got 8 yards on 5 carries. Grade: A-

Tight Ends
Vance McDonald, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble’s combined 4 catches for 48 yards might not be that impressive, but Vance McDonald’s blocking helped James Conner author his dominating opening drive. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown finally managed to get aligned with Ben Roethlisberger, and the duo clipped the Falcons for 2 touchdowns and 101 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster made a leaping catch to haul in Pittsburgh’s 2nd touchdown. Ryan Switzer caught 1 pass for 5 yards. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Mike Tomlin argued that the Steelers “Big Men” decided this game by winning their 1-1 matchups. That would include an offense live that didn’t give up a sack, only allowed its quarterback to be touched once and only saw one running back dropped behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: A

David DeCastro, James Conner, Steelers vs Falcons

David DeCastro obliterates a hapless Falcons defender. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Defensive Line
Cameron Heyward led the unit with 3 tackles, 1.5 tackles for losses and a sack and a half. Javon Hargrave also had ½ of a sack, while Stephon Tuitt had two tackles. Falcons running backs only gained 52 yards on the ground, and that starts with the line. Grade: A

Linebackers
After lurking in the background for the last few weeks, T.J. Watt was a man on fire, sacking Matt Ryan 3 times, forcing a fumble, dropping 5 Falcon runners behind the line of scrimmage and leading the Steelers in tackles. Bud Dupree helped drop two runners behind the line of scrimmage and helped pressure Ryan. Anthony Chickillo also helped drop two runners for a loss. Jon Bostic also had a piece of a sack and drop for a loss.

Tyler Matakevich had six tackles while splitting time with L.J. Fort, who book ended the defense’s splash plays with a sack of Matt Ryan on the first series and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the 4th quarter. Grade: A

Secondary
Despite the 1-3 record the Atlanta brought to Pittsburgh, the Falcon’s passing attack had been prolific. That looked to spell disaster for the Steelers-sieve like secondary.

  • Instead it was a disaster for Matt Ryan.

The Steelers secondary didn’t post a lot of flashy statistics, but they contained the Falcons passing attack, and forced them off the field on third downs. Mike Hilton showed his versatility as a pass rusher, and Terrell Edmunds made key stops. While Matt Ryan was often under duress, there were also times when he had time to throw, but failed to find anyone open. Grade: B+

Special Teams
The Steelers coverage units were strong and Ryan Switzer had a nice 23 yard return. Jordan Berry punted well. The key special teams play was of course Roosevelt Nix’s punt block, which sealed the game for the Steelers. Chris Boswell missed another extra point, but made his next five. Grade: A-

Roosevelt Nix, Roosevelt Nix blocked punt, Steelers vs Falcons

Roosevelt Nix blocks Matt Bosher’s punt. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Coaching
Is this the same Steelers team that we saw in September?

While Randy Fichtner’s offense has produced points in fits and starts this season, the Falcons game was the first time the Steelers offense played consistently for an entire game. Sure, the passing game had its hiccups, but constancy in the running game more than compensated.

  • Many will say that Keith Butler’s defense had its best afternoon since losing Ryan Shaizer.

That would be the wrong conclusion, because the Steelers defense played its best game since Joe Haden got hurt last year against the Colts. For the first time since that afternoon, it actually felt like the Steelers defense was executing its game plan as opposed to reacting to an offense.

  • September was a bad month for the Steelers offense, defense, and special teams.

The loss to the Ravens had the potential to be particularly deflating, because the Steelers looked inferior throughout the night. However, if that was the perception outside of Pittsburgh, it was not shared on the South Side.

Not only did Mike Tomlin keep negativity from taking root, he had the Steelers out there playing with confidence for the first time all season, and it was confidence that allowed the Steelers to take control of the ball game. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award

In the words of Jim Wexell, Julio Jones arrived at Heinz Field “on pace to become the first 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history” and he left Pittsburgh “on pace to become a 1,805-yard receiver.”

  • And that is because Joe Haden shut him down until garbage time arrived.

Joe Haden didn’t record any “Splash Plays.” Instead, he simply took the Falcons most potent offensive weapon out of the game, and for that Joe Haden wins the Unsung Hero Award for the win over Atlanta.

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Steelers vs Falcons Week 5 Preview: Pittsburgh At a Crossroads as Atlanta Arrives at Heinz Field

Over the previous four years in-which the Steelers ultimately reached the playoffs — including three where they were AFC North champions — they encountered some rough turbulence at some point during the regular season.

As Pittsburgh prepares for the Falcons to come to town for a 1 p.m. clash at Heinz Field on this afternoon, it, again, is having a rough time of it. At 1-2-1 after four games, it appears the Steelers’ season has already hit a fork in the road.

  • Which route will they take?

Will they take the path many predicted before the start of the season, a path that leads them straight to the postseason for a fifth-straight year? Or will they take the direction that continues them down the road of self-destruction and the first sub-.500 record during the Mike Tomlin head coaching regime?

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Falcons preview

Ben Roethlisberger has had his ups and downs in ’18 thus far. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via New York Post

If I had to bet money, I’d say the Steelers will win impressively on Sunday against an equally-struggling Falcons team and, at least temporarily, take the more desirable route. But, then again, this adversity has hit everyone — coaches, players and fans – -like an unexpected round-house kick to the temple.

  • Unlike those aforementioned previous seasons that included adversity and strife, I don’t think anyone was really prepared for the struggles of  2018.

When the team was coming through a two-year transition phase, like in 2014, you were prepared for some turbulence. In-fact, Pittsburgh’s AFC North crown was a bit of a surprise four years ago, after the team missed the playoffs the previous two campaigns and was 3-3 after six games.

When the Steelers were hit with a rash of injuries–including the loss of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a combined four games in 2015 and 2016–you weren’t surprised by the struggles and even the mediocre (or worse) records late into both seasons.

  • But, again, who was prepared for the start to 2018?
  • Who was prepared for all the turmoil?
  • Who was prepared for the on-going struggles of Roethlisberger?

Who would have thought Ben Roethlisberger and superstar receiver Antonio Brown would suddenly lose their almost magnetic connection and on-field chemistry?

Yeah, maybe the failure of disgruntled star running back Le’Veon Bell to report to the team for the first regular season game threw everyone for a loop. But with such a decorated and prideful offensive line, did anyone think the lack of a constant running game would become such a harsh reality?

Maybe you were prepared for the struggles of the defense. But were you prepared for the level of incompetence we’ve seen through four weeks, especially the two losses at Heinz Field, in-which the Steelers were down a combined 35-0 before the start of the second quarter?

  • Were you prepared for the lifeless and listless pass rush? How about the hopeless pass defense?

This is a start to a season in-which you really can’t place the blame on unfortunate circumstances. You can’t point to injuries. You can’t point to bad luck.

This is all mostly on a lack of execution and, if we’re being honest, perhaps a little less talent than many realized the Steelers possessed.

But, as I’ve already stated, the Steelers have been in this position before in recent years, and they’ve always come out of it smelling pretty rosy.

  • Can Mike Tomlin work his magic so that Pittsburgh pulls it off again?

If the Steelers are who we thought they were at the beginning of the 2018 campaign, the time to start showing it is this afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons.

 

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Steelers Improve to 2-0 in 2017 Preseason in Thrilling 17-13 Win over Falcons @ Heinz Field

It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who opened the Heinz Field portion of their 2017 preseason schedule against the NFC Champion Falcons Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., but in the end, they left with a 17-13 victory, thanks to special teams heroics and a second half shutout by the defense.

"James

Matt Ryan started at quarterback for Atlanta, and on his one and only offensive series, he led a 10-play, 91-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown run by Terron Ward to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

  • On the drive, Ryan completed a very efficient four of six passes for 57 yards, as Atlanta averaged over nine yards a play and converted its only third down of the series.

Following Jordan Berry‘s second punt to open the game, veteran quarterback Matt Schaub replaced Ryan before quickly exiting with what appeared to be a hand injury. In his place, third-string quarterback Matt Simms directed the Falcons the rest of the drive, which ended with a 23-yard field goal by veteran kicker Matt Bryant and a 10-0 lead for the visitors.

Pittsburgh’s next drive resulted in its only points of the first half, as third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs, starting in place of veteran Ben Roethlisberger and injured backup Landry Jones, led the offense on an eight-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Chris Boswell that cut Atlanta’s lead to seven points.

The big play on the drive was a 23-yard hookup between Dobbs and receiver Martavis Bryant, who made his 2017 preseason debut after being reinstated by the NFL following a year-long suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

  • The Falcons reestablished their 10-point lead thanks to a second field goal by Bryant, this time from 26 yards away.

However, the Steelers special teams provided some sparks near the end of the first half.

After nearly blocking a punt on Atlanta’s penultimate drive of the second quarter, fullback and special teams ace Roosevelt Nix did one better by blocking a punt on the final play of the first half, as both teams headed to the locker room with the visitors ahead, 13-3.

Overall, it was a pretty bleak first half by the home team, as Atlanta racked up 259 total yards to Pittsburgh’s 76–including 211 vs. 58 through the air.

  • The Falcons also converted on five of nine third downs, while the Steelers were a paltry one of six in the same category.

The two teams exchanged punts on the first four possessions of the second half, but the Steelers soon closed to within three points on Atlanta’s third possession, thanks to a 64-yard punt return by reserve running back Trey Williams, whose only shot of making the squad may be on special teams.

Following an interception on an ill-advised decision by Dobbs, who was trying to shuffle a pass to tight end Jake McGee while being taken to the turf on a third and short play, second-year safety Jordan Dangerfield provided some heroics by picking off Simms on Atlanta’s very next play to help preserve a three-point deficit.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons faced a third and long from their own six-yard line. As he was about to be taken to the end zone turf by a blitzing Mike Hilton, Simms unleashed a pass that appeared to land short of the line of scrimmage. However, instead of a safety, the officials ruled the play incomplete because Simms’ pass hit a Steelers player before fluttering innocently to the ground.

No problem, as fourth-string quarterback Bart Houston directed the offense on a seven-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in a six-yard touchdown to receiver Justin Hunter, a free-agent acquisition in the offseason, who had turned some heads in the early stages of training camp.

Trey Williams

Trey Williams’ punt return helped brak the game against the Falcons. Photo Credit: Behind the Steelcurtain

The final crucial play of the game occurred with 2:14 remaining when a pass from Falcons’ fourth-stringer
Alek Torgeson bounded off the hands of his intended receiver and into the waiting arms of Jordan Dangerfield, who recorded his second interception of the day and all but wrapped up Pittsburgh’s second preseason victory.

In addition to Dangerfield and Williams, other stars of the game included reserve outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, who recorded two sacks; and feel-good story, James Conner, as the rookie third round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh returned to his college home and carried the football 20 times for 98 yards.

As for the rookie Joshua Dobbs, his day was rather uneventful, as he completed 10 of 19 passes for just 70 yards, no touchdowns and the one interception.

Next up for the Steelers is a tilt against the Colts, as they close out the home portion of their preseason schedule next Saturday night at Heinz Field.

 

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Steelers Report Card for Falcons Win @ Georgia Dome

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is crossing his fingers after seeing his student succeed in the first two sections of a four-part pass fail final exam, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over the Falcons.
Steelers, Report Card, grades, Falcons

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger likely didn’t keep the fantasy football owners happy, failing to throw a single touchdown pass in 35 attempts. So what did he succeed at? He protected the ball. He converted third downs. He executed the two minute drill to perfection. He led the team’s go ahead touchdown. He burned off over 7 minutes in the four quarter. He was right on the money in the game sealing pass. He did it without much of a running game to support him. Perhaps not excellent by Fantasy Football standards, but more than good enough for real football. Grade: A-

Running Back
Opponents facing the Steelers now have a choice. Do you sell out to stopping Le’Veon Bell? The Atlanta Falcons tried and limited him to 47 yards on 20 carries, or 2.5 yards per carry. By one measure, they succeeded. Unless you overlook the 44 yard catch Bell ripped off on 3rd and 2 to set up a field goal; Unless you consider him running untouched into the end zone to close the 1st half; unless you factor in him running 13 yards for the Steelers final TD. Unless you take into account Bell converting 2 third downs in short yardage. Other than that, they stopped him cold. Will Johnson again blocked well. Grade: B

Tight Ends
Heath Miller got off to a shaky start in 2014. But for several weeks he’s been back to doing what he does best – coming up with big catches for the Steelers at the right spot on the field, at the right time of the game. Miller was 4 for 68 on 5 targets, and as usual he made every one count. Matt Spaeth continued to block well. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
It seems like each week Antonio Brown does something else to confirm his status as an elite receiver and his toe-tap to set up the 2nd half score was his latest. Martavius Bryant had 3 catches for 31 yards and almost came up with a big one in the end zone. Lance Moore had two passes thrown his way, but could not hold on to one of them and the other was out of his reach. A solid day for the wide receivers. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
The offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for most of the game, as he was only sacked once although he was hit 5 times. Michael Adams did appear to struggle a bit, getting the start over Marcus Gilbert – expect Gilbert to start next week. The line cannot be said to have had a spectacular game run blocking, but they got it do in the Red Zone twice for Bell. That plus protecting the passer counts for a lot. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
Take out Matt Ryan’s 2 runs and the Falcons had 70 yards rushing. Atlanta did run a little early in the game, but not much to be of any consequence. Cameron Heyward led the registered a QB hit, and defensed a pass. Steve McLendon was solid stopping the run. Stephon Tuitt actually led the unit in tackles. Not a bad day for the defensive line. Grade: B-

Linebackers
Jason Worilds fell victum to an inane flag for roughing the passer when he clearly was in the strike zone and did not lead with his head. Sean Spence played well, registering the team’s only tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Lawrence Timmons was all over the field, making stops when he needed to. Vince Williams, however, played the role of the heavy man, leading the unit in tackles and helping snuff out the Falcon’s final drive. Jarvis Jones was uncomfortably quiet, and Arthur Moats did nothing to extend his 15 minutes of fame. Overall solid play from the linebackers but there was not enough pressure on Ryan. Grade: C+

 

William Gay, Steelers, pick six, touchdown, interception, Atlanta, Falcons

William Gay takes it to the house vs. Atlanta

Secondary

Troy Polamalu has returned 3 pick sixes in his career. Now William Gay has 3 pick-sixes in one season. Antwon Blake looked good early but did get beaten in coverage on the two touchdowns. Matt Ryan’s 310 yards might make some fantasy owners happy, and he did play well during the middle stretch of the game. But his two runs came because there was no one open. Likewise, on the Falcon’s final drive, the most he could manage was a 4 yard pass because nobody was open. That means the secondary was doing its job at critical junctures. Grade: B-

Special Teams
Devin Hester did break one, but Shaun Sushiam managed to kick it away from him on most occasions, and Shamarko Thomas stoned him on another. Antonio Brown ripped off a nice return. Suisham made all of his kicks and Brad Wing downed two punts inside the 20. Grade: B

Coaching
Dick LeBeau’s defense isn’t going to cause too many offensive coordinators to lose sleep, but LeBeau’s unit managed to hold the Falcon’s to two field goals in 4 trips to the Red Zone, and forced a three and out when it needed one in the fourth quarter. Sure, more pressure and fewer 40 yard plus (2) and 1 yard plus (1) pass plays would be nice.

  • But as opposed to having “the game pass him by” LeBeau is getting the most out of the talent he has.

It’s a testament to this young man’s development and growth that teams are now specifically game planning to stop Le’Veon Bell. And the Falcons did frustrate the Steelers running game, at least at times. But the Todd Haley ensured that the Steelers offense didn’t miss a beat and as a consequence, Bell managed to find other ways to hurt the Falcons, short of just grinding down yards.

The 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers are only half way through their pass-fail season ending final exam, but Mike Tomlin has his team playing together as one and executing when it needs to thus far. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
There was a name missing from the wide receivers ranking, and that was on purpose. Yes, this game will be remembered as the day when the Steelers Killer Bees broke 3 franchise records. It will be remembered as the day when an exclamation point was put on “Big Play Willie Gay.” But there was another player who quietly did what was asked of him, stayed on the same page as his quarterback, caught everything throw to him, converted a key third down, and set up a touchdown with a nice long 30 yard catch. That player is Markus Wheaton and for those exploits he is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers win over the Falcons.

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Los Steelers Avanzan en su Carrera hacia los Playoffs al dejar atrás a los Falcons en Atlanta

Por la semana 15 de la temporada regular de 2014, los Pittsburgh Steelers viajaron al sur, hasta Atlanta, para enfrentar a los Falcons a los que derrotaron por 27 – 20

Los locales lideraban su división a pesar de tener marca perdedora, lo cual lejos de ser ponderado por la Nación Steeler como una ventaja, se convertía en motivo de preocupación. Es que los Acereros en esta campaña perdieron contra rivales con marca perdedora.

  • El historial entre estos dos equipos era ampliamente favorable a los Steelers: 12-2-1.

En los rankings de las defensivas los Acereros aventajaban a sus rivales de hoy, pero las ofensivas son de las mejores de la liga: la 2da ofensiva (Steelers) contra la 8va (Falcons).

De manera que era lógico esperar un duelo de ofensivas.
Y ambos están batallando aún por un lugar en los playoffs.

En el golpe por golpe los Steelers sacaron la ventaja

La quinta ofensiva aérea de Atlanta podía exponer las debilidades de una defensiva acerera mediocre (N° 22 en el ranking de la liga), en este rubro.

En la primera mitad del partido la ofensiva de Pittsburgh dominó a sus rivales, pudo mover las cadenas de manera sólida y consistente, aunque fue incapaz de anotar TD en las 2 primeras series, debiendo conformarse con 2 goles de campo que le dieron la ventaja en el marcador de 6 a cero al final del primer cuarto.

William Gay, Steelers, pick six, touchdown, interception, Atlanta, Falcons

William Gay llegando al end zone contra los Falcons

Al comienzo del 2do cuarto William Gay leyó de manera formidable la ruta del receptor Harry Douglas y pudo interceptar el pase de Matt Ryan que devolvió por 52 yardas para anotar un pick six que aumentaba la ventaja a 13 por 0.

Sin embargo, más adelante en el cuarto, y cuando la ofensiva de Ryan estaba en campo acerero, en 2do y 8, una captura de mariscal de Jason Warilds se transformó en 1er y 10 automático en lugar de 3er y 19, cuando los árbitros juzgaron como un golpe indebido al pasador. Dos jugadas más tarde Ryan encontraría a su receptor Devin Hester para TD de 17 yardas.

Pero Ben Roethlisberger respondería con una impecable serie ofensiva de 12 jugadas y 80 yardas, (que incluiría una magnífica recepción de 28 yardas de Antonio Brown en la yarda 2 de Atlanta) que consumió casi todo el tiempo restante de la primera mitad y finalizaría con una corrida de 1 yarda de Le’Veon Bell para TD.

Las jugadas clave de la primera mitad fueron:

  • la intercepción de William Gay devuelta para TD
  • la sanción de golpe al QB (Roughing the passer) a J. Worilds y 
  • la atrapada de A. Brown en la yarda 2

Ya en el tercer cuarto la ofensiva local hizo tambalear a la defensiva de Pittsburgh que llegó a doblarse casi al punto de romperse con dos largas series ofensivas de 70 y 75 yardas cada una, pero resistió y admitió 6 de los 14 puntos probables.
A su tiempo Big Ben y compañía comenzarían el cuarto final con un TD por tierra de Bell (mediante la jugada counter play que tantos resultados diera la semana anterior en Cincinnati) y que contó como artífices principales a los referentes de esta ofensiva: Brown, Heath Miller, Marcus Wheaton y el mencionado Bell.

  • La última serie ofensiva productiva para Atlanta finalizó con TD por pase de 4 yardas a Roddy White, volando otra vez a Antwon Blake, luego de recorrer 84 yardas en 10 jugadas.

A estas alturas y con poco más de 4 minutos por jugar, el objetivo de los Steelers era quemar el reloj sabiendo que no había sido sencillo acarrear el balón por tierra. Atlanta en un intento de tener la oportunidad de empatar el juego había quemado sus tres tiempos fuera y en la yarda 39 de Atlanta, con 2 minutos por jugar y en 3er y 1, Todd Haley ordenó una jugada que incluía unas corridas de Antonio Brown detrás de la línea previo al snap, que distrajo a la defensa y dejó en soledad a Miller quien recibió un pase de 25 yardas que cerró el partido.

Otro Juego digno de postemporada

Los Steelers enfrentan desde hace 2 semanas una postemporada adelantada. A decir verdad los otros 3 equipos de la AFC Norte lo hacen también.

La clave para los Steelers estaba en:

  • cargar sobre Ryan y presionarlo antes de que lanzara y así aliviar la tarea de la secundaria,
  • que Ben Roethlisberger jugara de manera coordinada y consistente con sus receptores 
  • y que LeVeon Bell estableciera el juego terrestre.

Sólo se consiguió el segundo de los tres puntos.

La línea defensiva perdió el duelo contra la línea rival. Ryan no fue capturado aunque sí, algunas veces puesto bajo presión.
La secundaria se anotó con la mitad de los tackles de toda la defensiva, con Gay y Blake a la cabeza pero sólo William Gay defendió 2 pases uno de los cuales interceptó y devolvió para TD.

  • Antowan Blake fue volado en los 2 TD que anotó Atlanta y opacó en cierta manera su actuación.

Fue un duelo de mariscales: Matt Ryan, lanzó para 310 yardas, 2 TD y 1 INT. Mientras que Big Ben lo hizo para 353 sin INT ni TD.

  • Por tierra hubo poco espacio para Bell quien acarreo apenas 45 yardas (2 yds promedio por acarreo) y 97 para Atlanta.

Si bien Antonio Brown no anotó TD, fue determinante en mantener las marchas en curso, y Le’Veon Bell sumó 119 yardas desde la línea de golpeo (recibiendo 72 yardas por pase). Fue menos espectacular que otras veces pero alcanzó para asegurar la victoria ya que anotó 2 TD.

  • Otra vez la defensiva permitió yardas y puntos y obligó a la ofensiva a conseguir yardas y puntos.

Fue un partido muy disputado, jugado de igual a igual por ambos equipos, sin un dominador evidente.

Un clásico de postemporada

 

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Steelers Defeat Falcons: Rapid Reaction, Game Ball Winner

The Steelers defeated the Falcons 27-20, improving their record to 9-7. It was a tightly fought contest. Credit the Atlanta Falcon’s coaching staff for devising a defensive game plan to shut down the Steelers Le’Veon Bell.

However, Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense showed that they have enough weapons to hang with the rest of the NFL should Bell be shut down.

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Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown 10 times for 123 years, and made critical competitions to Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, and Martaivus Bryant time-and-time again.

It was another up-and-down day for Dick LeBeau‘s defense. The unit struggled to get pressure on Matt Ryan for most of the afternoon, and saw Ryan keep the game close. However, the Steelers defense came up big twice in the Red Zone, and of course William Gay had a another pick six, which provided the margin of victory.

Take a moment to make your vote for the game ball winner, and come back for Steel Curtain Rising’s full Analysis!

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Steelers Cornerback Ike Taylor Misses Practice Again, Door Opens for Blake

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor missed practice for the second consecutive day reports ESPN’s Scott Brown, putting his status in doubt for the Steelers week 15 road match up with the Atlanta Falcons.

It was only two weeks ago that Steelers Nation hailed the reunion of Taylor, Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. The “Get the Band Back Together Moment” the Steelers defense lasted barely 2 quarters, as Brett Keisel tore his triceps. Kesiel has gone on injured reserve ending his season, James Harrison missed the Bengals game with a knee injury.

  • The NFL really does stand for Not For Long.

The injuries are an unfortunate turn for Taylor. Taylor struggled through much of 2013, accepted a pay cut to stay with the Steelers in 2014 with an eye towards disproving the doubters. He had a tough run in the second half vs. Cleveland – what Steeler didn’t, but then held the Raven’s Steve Smith to 6 catches for 71 years. Taylor of course broke his forearm vs. Carolina and was out until the loss vs. the Saints.

  • All too often, injuries are one of the cruler ways in which doors close on NFL carrers.

No one is saying that injuries will keep Taylor out of the Steelers games vs. the Chiefs or Bengals, but they might provide the catalyst that does. Antwon Blake entered the Bengals game after Taylor took himself out, and broke up passes to A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.

It was Blake who replaced Taylor when he was injured vs. Carolina, but Blake quickly gave way to Brice McCain. But Blake has had 9 weeks of practice to improve his skills. It looks as if he’ll get the chance to test them as the Steelers enter the home stretch.

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Report Card: Steelers vs. the Titans

Welcome to the first installment of “Report Card” a new feature for Steel Curtain Rising, the title of which is self evident. The caveat I will add (on Scout’s Honor), I have not consulted Gerry DuLac’s grades or those of any other. Here are the grades for the Steelers performance against the Titans.

Quarterback

Dixon got hurt, just when he seemed to be making something happen, albeit with his legs. Batch looked rusty, but he did well considering the circumstances. Grade: C

Running Backs

Mendenhall, Moore, and Redman all got carries. If their average fails to impress, they carried the burden of an offense that was down to its 4th string quarterback and playing its 6th, 7th, and 8th string offensive lineman. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

No one had too many balls thrown his way, but Ward dropped a certain touchdown pass that he must catch in a game like this. The Steelers needed more from their receivers than they got. Grade: C-

Offensive Line

They didn’t keep the quarterback very clean, nor did they open much in the way of holes for the lineman. But as Mike Tomlin said, it was musical chairs, as the line was held together with spit, tape, and bubble gum before it was all over. Steelers need either Scott or Hills to step up, as neither distinguished himself. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

The Steelers defense didn’t just make Chris Johnson look human, they humiliated him. That starts up front. And while Chris Hoke, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith deserve all the accolades they get, the coaches rotated in the second line and the defense did not miss a beat. Credit Tomlin, LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell, but credit Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McClendon even more. Grade: A +

Linebackers

James Harrison is mean. James Harrison is nasty. James Harrison makes plays. James Harrison raises Hell. Harrison’s numbers: 2 sacks, two forced fumbles and 11 tackles. Lawrence Timmons was simply on fire, in on every play with 15 tackles and 1 forced fumble of his own. LaMarr Woodley netted an interception. James Farrior was James Farrior. Grade: A+

Secondary

Once again, Troy Polamalu reminded everyone of how much we missed him, with a pick and a sack. Bryant McFadden also had a pick. Although it was more a result of the Prevent Defense, the Titans made the final drive look a little to easy. Still, they made up for it by defending a sure touchdown to Nate Washington later. Grade: A-

Special Teams

Wasn’t it nice to be the scorer on a kick return and not the scoree? Jeff Reed was 4-4 on field goals and the Steelers needed everyone of them. Still for the second time in less than a year, the Steelers special teams got suckered on an on-sides kick and they shouldn’t have. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero

Stevenson Sylvester – It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized that he wore 55, Jerry O’s old number. How appropriate. If anyone wondered why the Steelers made a roster spot for this guy, they need not wonder anymore.

Sylvester was all over the field on special teams, making things happen. Guys like that, and the spirit they display, are the reason why the Steelers were able to win yesterday.

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