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Heyward: Defense absorbs necessary 'lumps'

Posted Aug 21, 2017

There's room for improvement on third down despite preseason win over Atlanta.

The first three Atlanta drives covered 91 yards, 76 yards and 77 yards in succession and produced a combined 13 points off a total of 37 offensive snaps.

The damage would have been worse had wide receiver Marvin Hall not dropped a pass in the end zone on third-and-goal from the Steelers’ 5-yard line three snaps into the second quarter.

And all of that was amassed against the Steelers’ first-team defense, minus inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, outside linebacker Bud Dupree and free safety Mike Mitchell.

“Possession downs, early on, we didn’t get off the field,” defensive end Cam Heyward assessed after Sunday’s come-from-behind, 17-13 preseason win over the Falcons at Heinz Field. “I don’t know for what reason, but we have to pick that up. We have to continue to get better with our four-man rush.

“We put them in bad situations, which were good situations for ourselves, but we didn’t capitalize on that. We just let them drive down the field. A couple times they didn’t catch the ball.”

The Falcons converted five of their first six opportunities on third down (Hall’s drop was the lone exception in that trend). They moved the chains on third-and-10, third-and-10, third-and-8, third-and-5 and third-and-1 (four times prior to Hall’s drop and once after).

Atlanta went 0-for-11 on its final 11 third downs.

“It’s not going to be perfect,” Heyward said. “There’s stuff we can improve on. We all need to look at this and there’s a lot of good tape we can learn from.”

“There are plays we have to get better on, simple as that. We’re not a finished product. I’m not going to say we’re the best defense right now but there are lumps that need to happen. I’m glad they’re happening right now.”

BOUNCING BACK: Wide receiver Martavis Bryant started slowly in his first game with the Steelers since an indefinite suspension handed down by the NFL cost him the 2016 season.

Bryant caught a pass on the Steelers’ first offensive snap but the play lost 3 yards. And in the second quarter Bryant fumbled out of bounds on a reverse that lost 1 yard.

“I didn’t have the best ball-security,” he admitted.

Two plays after his fumble, Bryant made a sideline catch good for 23 yards.

“Even thought you have a bad play you have to continue to play,” he said. “I can’t get my head down about having a bad play because that happens sometimes. It’s all about moving on to the next play. That’s all a part of this game. You have to be able to go to the next play and keep going.”

THE HOUSE OR ELSE: Running back Trey Williams realized it was Atlanta punter Matt Bosher attempting to angle Williams out of bounds toward the end of what became a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Williams cut back inside on Bosher and then ran through wide receiver Anthony Dable and long snapper Josh Harris on the way to the end zone.

“He was going to be the last guy to get me,” Williams insisted regarding Bosher. “The whole team, I wouldn’t have heard the end of it (had Bosher made the tackle).”

Williams also said he’s aware wide receiver Antonio Brown normally handles punt returns for the Steelers.

“You can’t have ‘A.B.’ back there like that,” Williams insisted. “He needs a little break. He’s an offensive player, he’s the man.

“I can help, too.”

QUICK-HITTERS: Head coach Mike Tomlin said running back James Conner “represented himself well, particularly from a conditioning standpoint.” Conner carried 20 times for 98 yards … Conner and outside linebacker T.J. Watt showed up on the kickoff team. Watt also played on the punt team after playing on the punt, punt return and kickoff return teams in the preseason opener against the New York Football Giants … The Falcons had 14 possessions and nine of them started inside the Atlanta 20 (two more started at the 20). The only Falcons possession that began outside the Atlanta 30 followed an interception at the Steelers’ 32 … The defense that came up with the stop on Atlanta’s final possession and preserved the Steelers’ 17-13 lead was comprised by tackles Christian Brown and Francis Kallon, outside linebackers Farrington Huguenin and Austin Gearing, inside linebackers Keith Kelsey and Matt Galambos, cornerbacks Brandon Dixon, JaCorey Shepherd and Mike Hilton (nickel), and safeties Terrish Webb and Malik Golden.