Atlanta Falcons get jumped by Steelers, lose 27-20


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Following a week 14 loss in which the Atlanta Falcons showed a lot of fight at Lambeau Field, the Dirty Birds returned home to the Georgia Dome without the services of injured playmakers Julio Jones and William Moore. The Pittsburgh Steelers were fresh off their best win of the season, and the play of stud RB Le’Veon Bell had energised an already potent offense. Pittsburgh received the opening kickoff, bringing out the 32nd ranked defense of the Atlanta Falcons. With a playoff berth on the line, the team needed a strong start. With the main focus being shutting down the running game, the Steelers went to star wide receiver Antonio Brown early on the first drive, for two large gains, before hitting Martavus Bryant on a screen to cross midfield. Pittsburgh were moving the ball with ease, but a tackle for a loss on Bell brought up a 3rd and 5 form the 20 yard line, and a chance to force a field goal. Kroy Biermann forced Ben Roethlisberger to roll out of the pocket and did enough to cause an incompletion, bringing on Shaun Suisham for the 38 yard field goal. 3-0 Steelers, but the trend of the bending but not breaking seemed to be continuing for this Atlanta D.

As Matt Ryan and the offense took the field, they were clearly keen to establish the run. Without the league’s leading receiver out injured, the Falcons used Steven Jackson to keep the pressure off Matt Ryan early, along with a mix of underneath completions to Devin Hester and Harry Douglas. The opening drive, however, came up short, as Matt Ryan missed Roddy White whilst rolling out on a third down. However, the running lanes were there, and the offensive line just needed to give Ryan time and he looked poised to spread the ball around. The defense came back out onto the field, and shut Le’Veon Bell down for two short gains quickly. However, on third down they allowed Ben Roethlisberger to check down to Bell for a 44 yard pickup on a broken play. The Falcons were, however, bringing pressure, and were rewarded with a 1st down sack on the opposing QB. a well defended deep  shot again brought up 3rd down near the red zone, and on 3rd and 17 the Falcons had again held. 6-0 Steelers.

Dec 14, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) returns an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

As the offense looked to get going, the offensive line play was set to be key. However, on the first play from scrimmage, Ryan connected with Steelers CB William Gay, who returned the interception 52 yards for the touchdown, and the Falcons found themselves down 13-0 after getting several key stops on defense. The offense came back looking for redemption, and again used underneath routes to halt the pass rush. A solid run from rookie Devonta Freeman looked to spark the unit, however Ryan again failed to hit Roddy White on 3rd down bringing out the punt unit yet again. The defense came out again looking to stop Bell, and bottled him up for a loss of 3 on the first play of the drive. A tipped attempt on 2nd down, before a stopping Antonio Brown shy of the first down marker, again saw the D doing their job. After such a show of offensive firepower in week 14, it was the defense that looked significantly better in week 15 for Atlanta, whilst Matt Ryan was still looking for his first points of the day.

After going to the ground unsuccessfully, and going nowhere with the checkdown game, Matt Ryan took his first shot of the day, a long completion to Roddy White, before firing to Harry Douglas to move the ball into Pittsburgh territory. The positivity soon stopped after a scary moment, when an unblocked Steelers LB rocked Ryan on a huge sack. The play drew a 15 yard penalty, moving the ball forward, but Ryan was hit in the helmet and looked worse for wear. On 3rd and 6 from the 17, Ryan shook off the hit and connected with Devin Hester on a flawless throw to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The Falcons found themselves down 7-13, after a decent offensive drive which could be a building block. However, the bad news for Atlanta was that right guard Jon Asamoah, the one constant on an oft injured offensive line, was questionable to return with a back injury.

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  • As the defense came back onto the field, the cracks were beginning to show. Several shorts gains, moving the ball in chunks, allowed the Steelers to drive towards a field goal as the 2 minute warning loomed. Roethlisberger then connected with Antonio Brown on a deep shot which, whilst initially ruled incomplete, spotted the ball on the 1 yard line for the Steelers. From there, it was all too easy for Le’Veon Bell, who had been contained well prior to that point, to punch in the score and give Pittsburgh a 20-7 lead. The first half had been very poor, but for different reasons than the usual issues facing the Falcons. The offense was stalling and the pass protection, which had been improved in recent weeks, was falling apart. Meanwhile, the defense was plugging up running lanes well and was bringing a little pressure. However, the Falcons had improved after half time in recent weeks, and the 2 score deficit was not as big as the hole they nearly climbed out of last week.

    44. Final. 20. 55. 7

    Second half adjustments had been a positive trend for the Falcons, and that looked to spur on the offense again. The first play from scrimmage saw Ryan connect with Devin Hester on a short screen, which the best return man in the league took for a 48 yard gain. Ryan then found Harry Douglas to move the ball into the Steelers 30 – 2 plays for nearly 70 yards was exactly the start the Falcons needed. As the Falcons again moved into scoring territory, veteran wide receiver Roddy White produced a rare fumble, but it was fullback Patrick DiMarco who recovered, allowing the Falcons to hit the 28 yard feud goal. 10-20, and a score on the opening possession.

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    The Falcons defense again looked solid and, after two penalties on Antonio Brown brought up a tough down and distance, forced another punt. Barring one drive of consistent yardage to end the half, the Falcons defense had tightened the screws when it needed to, and definitely held the Steelers to less points than they likely would have had were they facing the team earlier in the season. The offense came out again and picked up right where they left off – driving down the field with several key conversions. Rowdy White was an instrumental figure on the drive, whilst Steven Jackson found the most room he’d had all day on an 11 yard gain. When Devin Hester caught a screen and took it to the 2 yard line, the Falcons looked poised to scored a touchdown, but an offensive flag against Harry Douglas forced them to settle for 3. At 13-20, the Falcons were right in the game, but needed more from their offense in finishing their drives.

    The defense came out needing a stop, but simply could not get it. After a promising first down play in which they again bottled up Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger used play action to move the ball with ease, first to Antonio Brown and then to Markus Wheaton. Ultimately, it was Bell who powered in the short yardage score, but the play action seemed to be the achilles heel of the unit. With the offense in need of a response, they again used screens and underneath passes to move the ball. Harry Douglas took a short catch for a long gain, and when Atlanta failed to run it in in the red zone again they instead went to the air. Matt Ryan connected with Roddy White for the 5 yard touchdown, and it was again a 7 point game, with the Falcons trailing 20-27.

    Dec 14, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) catches a touchdown pass behind Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Antwon Blake (41) during the second quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    With all to play for, the defense stepped it up on the next drive, forcing the Steelers to punt it with some good coverage and decent pressure. However, the Falcons offense couldn’t capitalised, and stalled again in what was becoming a frustrating trend.  The Steelers offense took the field with 5 minutes left, looking to kill off the game, but it was Atlanta’s defense which looked more comfortable. The Falcons forced a 3rd down and an incompletion, but a penalty away from the play kept the drive alive. The Steelers continued to drive, and as the Falcons burned timeouts to stop the clock, it was clear they needed a big play to turn the tide. On 3rd and 1, from the 40, the Falcons had a chance at a stop and allowing the offense one last shot at the game tying score. The Steelers went play action, faking the run to Le’Veon Bell, before hitting Heath Miller for a big gain before kneeling down.

    Final. 27. 55. 20. 44

    This is a team that’s shown signs of promise, especially in recent weeks, but has yet to be able to put together a complete performance on offense and defense at the same time. With Carolina winning, and New Orleans a chance to take first place tomorrow, this team may not be headed to the playoffs and should look to rebuild this offseason. 5-9 is a devastating record for a franchise which had turned the corner in recent years, but for now the focus should be closing the season well and building off the improved performances. As always, stay tuned to Blogging Dirty for more Falcons coverage all week.