Steeler defense looks the part

It was no surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers scored 41 points on Sunday, as the Atlanta Falcons were missing both starting safeties, a starting linebacker and a starting defensive lineman. What was surprising was that the Steelers limited the Falcons to just 17 points.

The Steelers themselves were missing safety Morgan Burnett and inside linebacker Vince Williams. In Burnett’s absence, rookie safety Terrell Edmunds demonstrated why he was Pittsburgh’s first-round draft choice. Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort filled in admirably for Williams. Matakevich played when the Falcons used one or two tight ends. Fort played when Atlanta spread the field.

Fort recovered a fumble for a touchdown, had six tackles and a sack. Matakevich was credited with four tackles.

“It was an awesome experience playing on third down,” said Fort. “We call that the money down. You have to get off the field. You have to make a play, make a turnover. I think we did a good job with that today.”

While pleased with the defense’s performance, Fort is far from satisfied, saying, “Hopefully, this performance can catapult us in the right direction, and we start climbing the leaderboard of defenses.”

To put it simply, the Steelers defense got after Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, sacking him six times and forcing him into 13 hurries. The Steelers defense regularly pushed and collapsed the pocket back into Ryan’s face. The secondary flew to the ball and “tackled the catch”, preventing much yardage after the catch.

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt was seemingly in the Falcons’ backfield all afternoon. Watt finished with three sacks and eight tackles, including six solos. This was what the Steelers expected when they selected him with 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft.

While happy with his own performance, Watt was eager to talk about the play of Fort and Matakevich.

“Tyler and L.J. played so well,” said Watt. “I think we have so much confidence in them that we don’t have a wavering opinion whether they are in the game or not. I think they just do a great job. They go about their business as if they are the starter each and every week, and it shows.”

Cornerback Joe Haden’s blanket-like coverage of the Falcons’ Julio Jones contributed greatly to the Steelers’ pass defense. Haden played Jones man-for-man most of the day, shutting him down for three quarters. Jones finished with five catches for 62 yards, all of which came in the fourth quarter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive line coach at William & Mary when future Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was a defensive backfield starter in 1994.

Falcons right guard Brandon Fusco played at Slippery Rock State University. A Seneca Vlley grad, Fusco had a large number of family and friends in attendance.

A win in Cincinnati would put the Steelers just one-half game behind the Bengals and certainly would make things interesting.

It’s important not to get too high about a win, and it’s important not to get too low after a loss. There’s more than two-thirds of the season left.

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