clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It's hard to make heads or tails of the Steelers defensive effort against the Falcons Sunday

What to make of the Steelers defensive effort against the Falcons on Sunday? I don't know, but I'm just glad it was only a preseason game.

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

Make no mistake, the first-team defense looked pretty helpless in the Steelers second preseason game against the Falcons at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Obviously, the key word in that first paragraph is "preseason," because it's hard to put much stock in what goes on in any football game that takes place in August (yes, even the all-important third edition that will occur against the Colts this Saturday night in front of the home folks).

Besides, as has been pointed out several times since Pittsburgh's backups eked out a 17-13 victory vs. Atlanta, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Mike Mitchell didn't play.

Yeah, but Shazier, Dupree and Mitchell all played against the Patriots in the AFC title game in January, and the way Matt Ryan managed to find open receiver after open receiver in his one, and only, series, I was having flashbacks to when Tom Brady did the same thing in just about every series seven months earlier.

True, but it was probably a vanilla scheme, and defensive coordinators don't normally game-plan for the second preseason game.

Good point, but you can probably say the same thing about offensive coordinators.

I feel ya', but James Harrison didn't suit up and take any snaps away from rookie T.J. Watt, who seemed to have a much more difficult time dealing with the Falcons' Jake Matthews than he did the Giants' Ereck Flowers.

Okay, but Julio Jones didn't play for the Falcons, yet their second, third and fourth receivers, not to mention, backup quarterback Matt Schaub and third-stringer Matt Simms, didn't have much of a problem finding the soft spots of the zones between the inside linebackers and the safeties.

Yes, but don't you think that was because Shazier wasn't on the field?

It could be, or maybe it was because Vince Williams was on the field, and Lawrence Timmons was in Miami.

I can see that, but I've been hearing that Pittsburgh plans on utilizing a sub-package that will place just one inside linebacker (Shazier) on the field a lot more this year.

Sure, but what if those savvy offensive coordinators around the league create mismatches that keep Williams, and his suspect coverage skills, in games a lot more than Keith Butler wants him to stay in them in 2017?

Yes, but if they do manage to do the one inside linebacker scheme, man, aren't you just excited about the upgrades the likes of Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh and Cameron Sutton can be for the secondary?

I don't know, am I? All I know is Hilton is a camp sensation, but one with a low pedigree; Sensabaugh is a journeyman, who is on his fourth team in six years (and third since 2016); and Sutton has barely practiced since the start of training camp, due to injury.

I do know Ross Cockrell and William Gay didn't look very good playing zone against the Falcons, and they sure aren't that great at playing man against any team.

Yes, but keep in mind how poorly the offense performed on Sunday. We're talking a paltry 76 yards and just three points by halftime. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey didn't play. I'll bet had they been in there, the offense would have taken a lot of the pressure off the defense by moving the football and scoring some points.

And, hey, let's give some credit to the defense for limiting Atlanta to 13 points, despite yielding a pretty alarming 259 yards in the first half--including 211 through the air.

I mean, wasn't that the defense's identity the past two seasons, bending but not breaking? Making opposing offenses settle for field goals instead of touchdowns?

And who knows what adjustments the first-team defense would have made in a regular season game.

You almost have me convinced with those last points, but not quite.

I'm just glad it's still the preseason.