The Pittsburgh Steelers climbed to within two games of .500 with a win in Atlanta this week, and while it wasn’t a convincing final score, the Steelers were in charge of the game from the first drive.
It all starts with the run game, where the Steelers team that had averaged 86.7 rushing yards per game the first 6 weeks of the season are averaging 157.8 rushing yards over the last five games. That five-game streak is the longest 100-yard rushing streak since 2015, when the Steelers did it in six straight games. Seven Steelers recorded a rushing attempt, and leading rusher Najee Harris only carried the ball 17 times for 86 yards.
Kenny Pickett continued his maturing play at quarterback, increasing his streak to four games without an interception, a feat Ben Roethlisberger only pulled of twice after the 2010 season. Pickett also threw only his second touchdown of that span and threw for his best yards per pass attempt in any game he has started, hitting the 7 yards per attempt mark for the first time in an NFL game.
Diontae Johnson struggled in this game, turning his 11 targets into only 60 yards, while George Pickens was only targeted twice in the game, gaining 2 yards. Add in two incomplete passes to Steven Sims and Pickett was 6/15 (40%) for 62 yards (4.1 ypa) and a passer rating of 52.64 when throwing to his wide receivers.
On passes to players other than the Steelers wide receivers Kenny Pickett went 10/12 (83.3%) for 135 yards (11.3 ypa), a touchdown and a passer rating of 141.32. That includes his only touchdown of the night, a beautiful throw to Connor Heyward on a nice play design.
While the offense only scored 19 points, they only had seven real drives, subtracting out the two end of half drives that consisted of a single run play and letting time run out. That’s 2.71 points per drive, a mark that is better than 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams average points per drive this season.
The Steelers came into this game determined to run the ball and not let the Falcons win time of possession, and they succeeded.
Honor Roll: Run blocking, Najee Harris, Kenny Pickett, Pat Freiermuth.
Demerits: The entire wide receiver group.
Final Grade: A
The Steelers defense forced zero three and outs from the Falcons and gave up scores on half of the Falcons eight drives. But they also held the Falcons to 146 yards rushing (fourth lowest mark of the season), and a 30% third down conversion rate, a good drop from their season mark of 41.5% heading into this game. The defense benefitted from the Steelers offense controlling the ball for most of the first half, scoring on their first five real drives.
The Steelers gave up 16 points on 8 drives which isn’t great but also not bad, and they closed out the game with an interception that would have ended with a touchdown but for Minkah Fitzpatrick’s heads-up play to end the game instead. It wasn’t the best defensive performance, but the offense carried the day by keeping the Falcons off the field and the possession numbers down, and the defense played well enough to not screw up the win.
Honor Roll: Cameron Sutton, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Larry Ogunjobi.
Demerits: T.J. Watt still not playing like himself, missed tackles.
Final Grade: C
Miles Boykin and Robert Spillane returned and the Steelers coverage units bounced back to being the very good group they’ve been for all but one week of this season. Matthew Wright made all four of his field goals, Pressley Harvin had one good punt and one fantastic punt that pinned the Flacons deep at the end of the game. The Steelers coverage units were good, but their return units didn’t really do anything. Overall, though, a very good bounce back game with little to complain about.
Honor Roll: Pressley Harvin’s punt to the two-yard line, Matthew Wright.
Demerits: Steven Sims fumble, lack of any return game.
Final Grade: B
The Steelers came out with a simple and great game plan. They pulled it off, denying the Falcons any advantage in the run game and in time of possession by out-rushing them, and a few big plays from Kenny Pickett was more than Marcus Mariota could counter with. Throw in a number of really good play designs that showed up, and the Steelers holding a top running team to one of their worst outputs of the season and it’s hard to find too much fault in this game. You’d like to see more touchdowns and fewer field goals, but I’ll take 5 scores on seven drives any day.
Final Grade: B
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Grade the Steelers Week 13 win over the Falcons
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