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Steelers dominate on all ends in 41-17 punishing over Atlanta

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Ben Roethlisberger threw for 250 yards, while James Conner punched out 110 yards with 21 carries on the ground, as the Steelers hounded the Atlanta Falcons from start to finish Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

Angst was a feeling most commonly fest among the faithful walking into Heinz Field Sunday afternoon.


By the time the fourth quarter rolled along, that unnerving feeling was replaced with jubilant optimism, as if the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2-1) didn't miss a beat.


For four quarters, they didn't.


“We put it all together today,” said Cam Heyward, “you know? This is what we're capable of. We knew that. We understand that. We played like it today.”


The offense set the tone, almost immediately, when Conner—using a backbreaking 30-yard run—helped cap an opening 8-play, 78-yard, putting the first points of the day on the board.


Said Conner, who touched the ball seven times on the drive.


Conner followed a determined offensive line to his second-career 100-yard performance, gathering a pair of touchdowns, including a 2-yard scamper late in the 3rd quarter, that opened up a 27-17 lead.


“I thought we were really balanced today,” said Ben. “It starts with the O-line. They were fantastic today. They opened up holes for James and [Stevan Ridley] and protected in the pass game. I thought they had such a phenomenal game.”


Roethlisberger recovered quickly from a sluggish first half to help open the flood gates to close the game, with two of his three touchdown passes going to Antonio Brown in the second half, including a 4th quarter vintage 47-yard connection from the veteran gunslinger to AB, who pulled a grab-and-run down the sidelines to lift Pittsburgh to a commanding 17-point advantage.


Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster in the back the endzone in the second quarter for an 18-yard hookup, which pushed the Steelers to a 13-0 lead with 37 seconds left in the 1st quarter.


“The WiFi connection is good. It's strong,” said David Decastro of the connection, which yielded 101 yards on six snags from Brown.


“It was a great day to win, first off,” said Brown, who corralled his first 100-yard receiving game of the season Sunday. “Obviously, we got some things rolling. I think going into the second half, it was great. Everyone uplifted each other, believed in each other and the energy was great.”


The dominance of the offensive line shined brightest in the 3rd quarter, when a methodical 12-play, 85-yard drive, which was capped by a Ben-to-Brown 9-yard crossing slant pass play, chewed up 7:06 from the clock.


“This is what we're capable of,” said Marcus Gilbert. “We put a team effort out there, and the offense was clicking. This is what we needed.”


“That's big time,” said Joe Haden of the offense, “showing that they are controlling the line of scrimmage and controlling the clock—that's huge. That's why coach Tomlin gave the game ball to the offensive line.”


Haden helped propel one of the better defensive campaigns of the young 2018 season, keeping Atlanta's offense frozen in the second half, allowing just a single touchdown—a 2-yard Ito Smith run up the middle early in the 4th quarter—while holding the NFC-foe to 324 yards, with just 6-of-14 on 3rd downs and six sacks of Matt Ryan, including back-to-back takedowns from TJ Watt and Heyward in the 2nd quarter, which forced a 4th and 26, and left a deflating 47-yard field goal from the foot of Matt Bryant as a result, keeping the Steelers ahead 13-10.


“I thought it was a big stand for our defense,” said Heyward of the momentum-killing drive. “We had to get in the backfield and make it tough for [Ryan] and we did a really good job of that today.”


Haden talked about the stuffing of the more dynamic-duo receiving threat of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who gathered just 62-yards and 73-yards respectively, with Sanu finding the end zone once—a 43-yard crossing pattern-and-go pass play that put Atlanta on the board early in the 2nd quarter.


“You look forward to playing against guys like Julio, you know, the people that look to expect 100 from every game,” said Haden. “Your part is to make that not happen and just get you locked in and focused up.”


The fruit of the defense's labor paid off with 3:35 left in the game, when L.J. Fort recovered a fumble in the end zone off a strip-sack by Watt, giving the Steelers its 2nd defensive score of the season, and stamping the game with the final score.


“That was awesome being the man there to jump on it,” said the linebacker Fort, who saw more playing time on the day due to Vince Williams (hamstring) being scratched from Sunday's lineup.


“Hopefully this performance can catapult us into the right direction,” he continued,” and we can start climbing the leader board in the defensive rankings and continue to win and make plays for this team.”


Both Fort and Tyler Matekavich carried the load in Williams' place, combining for 10 tackles and one sack on the blitz-heavy day for the Steelers' defense.


“That's kind of their M.O. As a defense; they are a pressure outfit zone blitz scheme and when you have success with that early, you know they are going to go back to that well throughout the game, so they did a nice job with that today,” said Ryan, who finished with 285 yards through the air on 26-of-38 passing.


The Falcons' ground campaign yielded just 62 yards on 19 team carries, with Devonta Freeman gathering a team best eight carries for 32 yards.


Haden talked about communication being the key principle to Sunday's dominating win.


“You have to show the communication,” he said, “you have to show that we're not out there giving up big plays. The one big thing we did was our communication. Never too many people, never too less of people, personnel switches, checks and everything else right on point. We communicated very well and it resulted in a big win.”


After the spread


The Steelers came in as 3-point favorites. They are now 2-3 against the spread on the season, coming in as favorites in four of five games (Tampa Bay, +1).


The O/U, which was set at 57.5, covered when Ryan was strip-sacked by TJ Watt and recovered by L.J. Fort in the endzone to make it the 58-point total the game ended on. The over has hit in four out of five games this year for Pittsburgh.


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The Steelers will travel to Cincinnati for a Sunday Week 6 date with the Bengals. Kickoff is slated for 1 PM.

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