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Steelers Film Room: Defense steps up in Atlanta

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The highlights went to Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, and fairly so, but the Steelers defense came up big when it was needed most in their 27-20 win over the Falcons in Week 16.

As we all know, the Steelers didn't have a very good run-defense at the beginning of the year. They still don't have a great run-defense, but the Steelers are doing a much better job of being stout against the run. No one is going to confuse the Atlanta Falcons with the 60's Green Bay Packers, but the Steelers started to defend the run better against the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens earlier this year. They also did a great job last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. This play really demonstrates the growth of their run-defense.

The Steelers are playing in their nickel D, without Steve McLendon, but Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward do a fanstastic job here. Moreover, watch Sean Spence attack the line of scrimmage and avoid the offensive lineman. Here you see the maturity of Spence and Tuitt, both playing with great technique.

Heyward has been playing at an elite level for a while now. Watch him play with great pad level, playing behind his hands and moving laterally along the line of scrimmage. The great thing, additionally, about Tuitt and Heyward is that they can play a lot of snaps. Because they're such great athletes, they're able to play more snaps than Steeler defensive linemen have played in the past. Some of that may be skewed, admittedly, because their offense currently leads the NFL in time of possession. But there's no denying the athletic potential of Tuitt and Heyward.

Jarvis Jones also does a great job of forcing the ball to the inside. This is impressive considering that he's just coming off of a severe wrist injury. The thing about Jones, when you watch him play, is to watch his effort. Jones plays with a tremendous amount of explosion and effort on each play. Quite simply, he brings it. Hopefully, we will soon begin to see some splash-plays to match the effort Jones is playing with.

The offensive line didn't dominate in the run game as we've seen in previous weeks, but they were excellent in the passing game, and the two red-zone touchdowns were directly attributable to some great blocking.

I can't emphasize enough the job that Kelvin Beachum does on this play. Beachum essentially has to block two guys. He has to first step inside and try to secure the B-gap, while also then hinging back and attempting to stop anyone from coming off of the edge and catching Le'Veon Bell from behind. Maurkice Pouncey has a defender in the A-gap, so he's no help for Beachum. So Beachum has to eliminate the threat in B-gap first and then go back and check any threats in C-gap.

Also, a great trap-block by Ramon Foster. First of all, as the play is designed, it's not supposed to be a trap-block. Foster is supposed to lead through the hole and block the linebacker. But the linebacker blitzes so, in essence, it turns out to be a trap-block. The key thing about Foster's block is that he hits the defender with his right shoulder, which thus prevents the defender from crossing his face.

Finally, this was a great play to end the last threat from Atlanta.

This particular play resulted in a lot of big plays against the Steelers' defense last year. But the Steelers are in a zone coverage, and more importantly, they execute it very well. The first thing to look at is the alignment. The Steelers give the Falcons a 5-man box, with Lawrence Timmons as the only inside linebacker playing in the box. Vince Williams is playing approximately five yards behind Timmons. The Steelers may have lined up in this formation before, but I don't remember seeing it. The benefit of playing zone-defense is that you're able to keep your eyes on the QB. This allows you to break on the ball as Williams does here to make a terrific tackle.

The Steelers have a lot of stars on this team, but it's the continued development of the weaker areas of this team that has put them in position to clinch a playoff berth this week against the Kansas City Chiefs.