What a wonderful win to open the season. The Steelers needed to split their first two games against two decent opponents in Atlanta and Tennessee, both of whom are solid teams but were beatable even with Dennis Dixon at quarterback.
Honestly, though, I predicted Pittsburgh would lose to Atlanta (too much offensive firepower from the Falcons) and win a low-scoring fest with the Titans. Now, I am greedy in hoping for 2-0. Why not? If the defense plays like it did today, this team can win in Nashville as well, assuming the they can prevent Chris Johnson from breaking a long one.
Here are some quick post-game observations without breaking down the game tape:
* Was anyone else very scared every time Dixon dropped back to pass? The Falcons brought little pressure, as they were determined not to let Dixon beat them with his legs.
* Anyone else shocked to read that Dixon threw for 236 yards? It did not seem like the Steelers compiled that many yards through the air. Still, that was a pretty gutsy performance by Dixon. The play-calling by Bruce Arians (minus the oddball pass attempt with 2:05 remaining in regulation) was conservative and predictable, as it should have been today. Overall, though, Dixon was okay.
* Dixon, however, has a weak arm and those short-hops were inexcusable. He looked like a JV high school passer on those plays. Moreover, I do not want to see him throw an out pattern again over the next three weeks. As shown in the preseason, that play is a disaster waiting to happen. He simply cannot make the throw.
* But he can throw deep and Arians should give him more chances to do so in upcoming weeks. If you are going to dress Emmanuel Sanders, put him in the game in a few more 4-WR sets, and then let Sanders and Wallace both go deep. You cannot throw a ball better than Dixon did in his 52-yard bomb to Wallace in the third quarter. Dixon clearly throws a more accurate bomb than Ben Roethlisberger. Moreover, heaving a long one against single coverage is a much safer pass than running a 10-yard out, which can easily be intercepted and returned for a score, especially with Dixon at the helm.
* Mendenhall ran solid and held onto the ball despite facing a stacked defense all game. But if the Steelers are going to be more committed to the run, they could surely do better at FB than Isaac Redman or DJ Johnson, who was solid as an in-line blocker at TE today but lousy as a lead-blocking FB. Yes, I know, Bruce Arians does not use a fullback. Well, actually he does occasionally, but it is hard to utilize a fullback well with the current roster. Redman, though, did run well in short-yardage situations and I do like the Pony offensive set as a change-up.
* Hines Ward is such a stud. The man never ceases to amaze me. I have him in a PPR fantasy league and expected his catches to go way down with Dixon. Never under-estimate this future Hall of Famer. His game is like a fine wine. It only goes down slower and gets better with age.
* Yes, the o-line played okay. However, Atlanta really did not bring much pressure and was often in containment mode, which is a wise strategy against the fleet Dixon. I would much rather have opponents try to blitz the Steelers offense like crazy, which would allow Dixon to run free for big plays or roll out to hit receivers open deep. It will be tough to score touchdowns with Dixon at QB.
* It will be interesting to see what the coaching staff does at left tackle the next few weeks without Max Starks, who left with a high ankle sprain. They essentially have four options. Initially, my guess is they will either stick with Jonathan Scott, who did an okay job filling in mid-game for Starks today, or start the more athletic, but less experienced Tony Hills next week. Hills was impressive as the No. 2 LT in preseason, although he has very little actual game experience.
* However, if neither of those moves work out, do not be surprised if the Steelers move over Flozell Adams from right tackle to left tackle, a position Adams played for most of his 13-year NFL career. In that case, Scott or Ramon Foster could start at right tackle.
* The other option is to move over starting right guard Trai Essex to left tackle, a position where he, too, has started in the NFL for the Steelers, although Essex’s experience outside is minimal. This is less likely to occur than switching Adams, but it is a possibility. However, expect Scott or Hills to get the initial shot as starting left tackle against the Titans next week.
* Sunday was just another amazing job by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, since Atlanta has one of the more talented offensive units in the NFL.
* The d-line as usual was stout, although there was a slight drop-off after Casey Hampton left with a hamstring pull. No. 3 defensive end Ziggy Hood played very well and with a great deal of energy.
* The linebackers were even more superb than usual, particularly James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, with Timmons tallying 11 tackles. I can’t recall seeing him so active in a game. James Farrior was a step slow on a key missed tackle in the backfield and LaMarr Woodley was flagged for pass interference. Still, both played well.
* Who am I to question LeBeau. But I was surprised he did not have Ike Taylor switch sides to cover Roddy White all day, since Atlanta lacks a quality No. 2 receiver and Taylor is the Steelers’ best corner by far. Instead, the Falcons regularly lined up White on Bryant McFadden’s side, and White responded with a huge game (13 catches for 111 yards). Still, B-Mac played fairly well and was never beaten deep. Moreover, William Gay and Taylor had solid days in pass coverage as well.
* Troy Polamalu actually missed a couple of tackles in the run game that he would not have missed a few years ago. But when the game was on the line, he showed why he is the most important defensive player in the NFL, coming up with what should have been a game-winning interception that was even more amazing to watch in slow-motion replay.
* It was pleasurable to see the Steelers’ special-teams coverage units have a solid day. The team clearly sought special-teams upgrades during the offseason and made it more of a priority in deciding which players to keep on cutdown day. Those personnel moves seemed to have paid off. Knock on wood.
* If Jeff Reed is going to miss pressure 40-yard kicks from dead center in Heinz Field with the game on the line, then why is he on the roster? It certainly is not for his kickoff prowess, since he ranked dead last among all NFL kickers in kickoff-distance average in 2009.
* Still, let’s give Skippy the benefit of the doubt. Outside of the game at Chicago last year, when was the last time he choked with the game on the line? If this becomes a pattern, you replace him quickly and let him drink himself back into psychological shape, and he surely will. But I expect that miss to be an anomaly.