In football, you always want to attempt to dictate what the opponent does on either side of the football.
Sunday inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first half, the Pittsburgh Steelers did just that, running the football at a great clip to maintain possession of the football offensively, keeping it out of the hands of the Falcons’ offense. When Atlanta had the football, the Steelers threw the Falcons off their game, loading the box to stop the run, putting the ball in quarterback Marcus Mariota’s hands to make plays through the air.
Turns out, it was a sound gameplan for the Steelers as the Falcons ran just 19 total plays in the first half, only six of which were run plays.
That was a bit surprising to see from an Arthur Smith-coached team, but it was what the Steelers were doing defensively that changed things up for the Falcons, which ultimately led to success for the Steelers.
“Well, they were a little more aggressive early. Knowing that they had kind of packed the paint in there and they were sitting on everything. That’s why we tried to press the ball down the field. We hit that shot to Drake. Again, like all else, nothing is perfect, clearly,” Smith stated to reporters after the game, according to the official transcript provided by the team. “Come up three points short. There’s a lot that we need to make sure we get in there and evaluate fairly and objectively and look at everything on the table. Obviously, it’s not good enough when you lose a game, and that’s what happened. Came up short.”
The Steelers came out determined to stop the run and force Mariota to beat them with his arm, at least in the first half.
Unsurprisingly, it worked as the Steelers held a 16-6 lead at the half.
Though the Falcons did hit a deep shot to rookie wide receiver Drake London, it wasn’t much of a successful half for the Falcons. Outside of his 37-yard catch on the Falcons’ third drive of the game, London had receptions of 11 and 13 yards in the first half. Backup tight end Parker Hesse also had one catch for 16 yards in the first half, but even with the Steelers loading the box, the Falcons were able to have some success on the ground.
Rookie running back Tyler Allgeier ripped off a 20-yard run in the first half, and Cordarrelle Patterson had a 7-yard run on the first drive of the game. Outside of that though in the first half, the Falcons had just four other rushing attempts before heading into the half trailing 16-6, in large part due to Mariota missing some throws.
“Yeah. I think initially they tried to load up the box,” Mariota stated to reporters, according to the official transcript provided by the team. “We made some explosives down the field in the pass game. Unfortunately, we stalled out in a couple of our drives, and when you’re playing a team like this, they’re going to limit your possessions, and when you’re not able to capitalize on it, makes it tough.”
Mariota wasn’t able to capitalize on some throws, and with the limited possessions in the first half — just 19 total first-half plays offensively for Atlanta — it was a hole that was ultimately too big to dig out of for the Falcons.
The recipe for success is there for the Steelers against run-heavy teams. We’ll see if the Steelers roll it out again in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, who might be without Lamar Jackson for the AFC North matchup.