Falcons Fall In The Steel City: 5 Reasons Atlanta Lost To Pittsburgh
Often when a team is going to make the next level, they have to win games that many pundits say is a guaranteed loss.
They especially have to win games when they have the advantage, whether that game is at home or on the road against a superior opponent.
Finally, teams that make it to the next level in the NFL have to win when the breaks go their way.
Atlanta had all three of these factors going into their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and failed to deliver when it mattered most.
Sure, there were some mitigating factors that had a major part in their defeat (primarily the Steelers defensive front), but overall there's not one person within Falcons Nation, as well as in that locker room, who didn't think they had a chance to win today.
Here are five factors that were the primary reasons Atlanta lost 15-9 in overtime to the Steelers at Heinz Field earlier today:
5. Michael Turner Couldn't Run
As I stated in the preseason, as Turner goes, so does the Falcons' offense. Well, if you need a reason why they didn't score a touchdown today, look no further than his poor production.
It's hard to get any kind of balance against the tough Steel Curtain defense, but to get only 42 yards on 19 carries is ridiculous.
The offensive line was getting manhandled by the mere threat of a Pittsburgh blitz all day long, and the holes that Turner was receiving were the size of peepholes, because every time he touched the ball there was a black jersey surrounding him.
Give credit to the Steelers front three, but Turner needs to be more aggressive if they are to get some points on the board. By the way, what happened to actually throwing the ball to him out of the backfield?
4. Matt Ryan Was Timid at Best
Don't get me wrong, I love what Matt Ryan brings to the table, but if he wants to take this team to a championship level, 8-yard passes aren't going to do it.
The Falcons only had one play of 20 yards or more.
That has a lot to do with the next reason, but a lot of it also has to do with the fact that Ryan checked down way too much for a QB who is supposed to be playing at a much better rate.
He seems to appear gun shy when taking on teams that have high-caliber defenses. There doesn't seem to be that killer instinct that a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady possesses.
We can't say that Ryan doesn't have enough playmakers. There comes a time when he has got to start ripping the ball downfield and make these secondaries fear his presence.
Until that happens, Atlanta will continue to be knocking on the door.
3. Mike Mularkey Called an Awful Game Plan
I understand that Mularkey respected the presence of the 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh brought and that he knew how dangerous can be from his days as the team's offensive coordinator.
However, he tried to beat them at their own game of ground-and-pound, and that is not going to get the job done.
Maybe he doesn't think Ryan has what it takes to attack downfield unless it's late in the game, but this ultra-conservative game calling will not help, especially when this team has talent up and down the roster.
Roddy White had a career-high 13 catches and even though Michael Jenkins was out, that shouldn't mean this team can't use more more imagination in their play calling.
I wrote last month that there were reasons to be concerned in the preseason when the first-string team scored only one TD and five FGs. Now we see why.
If Atlanta doesn't put up at least 20+ points against Arizona at home next Sunday, Mularkey should hand in his resignation!
2. Special Teams Ended Atlanta's Momentum in OT
Even when the Falcons were on special teams, their offensive starters hurt their progress today. Talented FB Ovie Mughelli had an inexplicable hold on the opening kickoff in overtime.
As a result, Atlanta was stuck deep in their own territory and couldn't make the yards necessary to get in scoring position.
Secondly, on the ensuing punt, Michael Koenen, who is usually a great long-distance punter, shanked it and the punt ended up at midfield. One play later, Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall sent the home crowd happy.
1) Coach Smith Choked When It Mattered Most
Fourth and one deep in Steelers territory, and your team has all three timeouts. Do you go for the victory, or play it safe and hope your defense pulls it out?
Take a guess at what Coach Mike Smith chose, and ask yourself is there any doubt Atlanta was losing this game?
Even though this is the Steel Curtain defense, Smith has got to show more confidence that what he did when Atlanta had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Although Turner didn't have a great game, Smith should've showed more confidence in his offense and called a run play or at least a pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Even if they didn't convert, it would show that for a team that led the NFL in fourth-down conversions last year, they weren't about to play timidly on the road.
Also, the defense played well all day, Mendenhall's game-winning run notwithstanding. They would've held QB Dennis Dixon and that Steelers offense in check and then had a chance to win.
This is a constant with Mike Smith, as he tends to play on the side of caution whenever on the road.
Remember the game at New England last year? I've seen high school teams that would've put up more of an offensive threat.
Bottom line is that Atlanta has got to stop blaming their youth and start looking at themselves if they want to finally make some noise in the NFC.