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Steelers News: Improved third down success equates in big win over Falcons

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in winner’s row after a solid performance vs. the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field in Week 5. With the Cincinnati Bengals looming ahead in Week 6, the Steelers will hope to “stack wins” for the first time this year and improve on their 2-2-1 record.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-Gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet, and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how the Steelers’ have slowly improved on third downs this season. It hasn’t always been glamorous, but both the offense and defense are trending in the right direction regarding third down success.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers improve play on third downs offensively and defensively

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

During the previous week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ poor play on third downs that made a large portion of the difference.

Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, the Steelers flipped the third-down script. It helped win them a game.

The Steelers’ offense followed a 2-for-12 performance in a 26-14 defeat to Baltimore by going 9-for-12 in Sunday’s 41-17 victory against Atlanta. The defense was also better, holding the Falcons to six third-down conversions in 14 tries after the Ravens had gone 8-for-17.

“We call that the money down,” linebacker L.J. Fort said of third downs, “so you’ve got to get off the field, got to make a play, make a turnover. And I think we did a good job with that today.”

Facing a team that was one of the best offenses in the NFL over the season’s first month (29 points and 411 yards per game coming in), the Steelers held the Falcons to season lows in points and yards. They forced Matt Ryan into three three-and-outs and held Atlanta to 2-for-7 on third downs in the second half.

“I think we just wanted to stop the run early and it made them have longer down and distances to try to get especially on third down,” linebacker T.J. Watt said.

Offensively, the Steelers matched or exceeded their third-down conversions from each of the past three games by the end of the first quarter Sunday. The Steelers had as many third-down conversions over the game’s first 4 ½ minutes as it had all of the previous week’s game.

Included in the Steelers’ success were four conversions in five tries on third-and-1 – all James Conner runs – as well as conversions on third down with 10 and 13 yards to go.

Three of the offense’s four touchdowns came on third downs.

Steelers’ L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich excel in Vince Williams’ absence

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Vince Williams grimaced in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room late Sunday afternoon.

The inside linebacker described being forced to watch from the sidelines because of injury for the first time in his six-year NFL career as “pretty terrible.”

But then Williams smiled.

“But you know what? The win makes it better. I’ll take it like this every time if we get the win, and I am just so proud of them boys,” he said.

Sunday, “them boys” were the two men who combined to take Williams’ spot at right inside linebacker.

With Williams out because of a hamstring injury, the Steelers’ struggling defense turned to a a pair of players with a combined 10 seasons on NFL rosters but who had combined to start one game.

But Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort helped anchor the middle of the Steelers’ defense during a 41-17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field.

“Tyler and L.J. played so well,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We have so much confidence in them that we don’t have any wavering opinion whether they are in the game or not.

“They just go do a great job of going about their business as if they are the starter each and every week, and it shows. When they go out there, we don’t miss a beat.”

Fort started his NFL debut for Cleveland as an undrafted rookie out of Northern Iowa on Sept. 9, 2012. He had a sack and an interception that day, but he didn’t start another game.

That streak stayed alive Sunday because Matakevich (three seasons, 36 career games) earned his first NFL start when he took the field for the first defensive snap.

Matakevich played most first and second downs and obvious run situations, with Fort typically coming in on passing downs, third downs and in the dime subpackage.

“It was a good rotation that was successful for us today,” Fort said.

How the Steelers defense woke up from its deep sleep

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Cam Heyward entered the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs room last Monday to deliver what corner Mike Hilton called “a fun little spiel.”

Well, not that fun.

“It woke us up a little bit,” Hilton said.

Teammates say Heyward, a defensive end and team captain, stressed that the Steelers can’t be a defense that gives up 400-plus yards a game, and only supreme focus would change things, so no one will be above criticism.

Something had to give. The Steelers’ 1,682 yards and 12 passing touchdowns allowed were franchise worsts through four games.

After holding the high-powered Atlanta Falcons to 324 yards and 17 points Sunday, Heyward downplayed any special meetings or pep talks during the week, simply conceding the level of detail had to be better.

”And it was,” said Heyward, who finished the game with 1.5 sacks. “You didn’t see 12 men or 10 men on the field. It was communication from a whole lot of people. It’s not one person. Everyone had to execute.”

Tim Benz: Feeding James Conner makes Steelers well-balanced

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

As the Pittsburgh Steelers approached their game against the Falcons, the public debated the Steelers’ running game: “Were the Steelers avoiding using James Conner because he was ineffective? Or was Conner ineffective because he wasn’t being used often enough?”

It was really a chicken-or-the-egg argument.

I still don’t know the answer. But after seeing Conner run Sunday against Atlanta, I suddenly have a craving for an extra large omelette.

Conner was exceptional against the Falcons, rushing for 110 yards. He also had 75 yards receiving.

“It’s not a relief,” Conner said. “We just feel like we are back on track. We were playing Steelers football.”

As we outlined in advance of the Steelers’ 41-17 victory over the Falcons, the most troubling aspect of the Steelers’ approach to running the football in their two home defeats against Baltimore and Kansas City is that they either got away from the run or didn’t bother trying to establish it during contests that were highly competitive into the third quarter.

At times, that was easy to understand, given the inconsistent nature of Conner’s running and the blocking in front of him. During other stretches, the question needed to be asked: “Why not run when the offense was becoming so one-dimensional through the air?”

Entering this week’s NFL games, the Steelers ranked 27th in yards per rushing attempt and 28th in total rushing attempts.

So they were unenthusiastic about trying to run, and they were bad when they actually tried.

Sunday against Atlanta, they were excellent in both categories. They ran as many times as they passed — 29 apiece. And when they did run, it was effective, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Conner averaged 5.2.

“He did a hell of a job,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said of Conner. “We just kept our composure. We believed in ourselves. We had efficient downs.”