Steelers Defeat Falcons In Overtime, Start Season 1-0 For Eighth Consecutive Year

The Steelers pulled out a 15-9 victory against Atlanta.

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Dennis Dixon Reflects On Week 1 Performance

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon was neither great nor awful during Sunday’s 15-9 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Here were his final numbers on the afternoon:

18-of-26 (69%), 236 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT

If the Steelers hope to improve to 2-0 this coming Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Dixon might have to be a bit better than he was against the Falcons, at least on third-down conversions, an area where he and the rest of the offense struggled.

On Wednesday, Dixon joined Joe Bendel’s show on Fox Sports 970 to talk about his performance against the Falcons, as well as what he’s working on in preparation for the Titans on Sunday.

On gaining the confidence of his teammates:

"I just have to say, it starts up front first and foremost and BA (Bruce Arians) making the call. Just trusting the whole offense as far as getting that play done. That’s pretty much it. You have to base it off the O-line. It doesn’t start without the O-line. I still have to continue to gain the trust of my teammates and I’m gaining it daily which I like. When the game comes, as far as the veterans on the team like a Hines Ward or something like that, they keep me even keel."

On fans wanting him to run more and if he plans on doing it:

"Obviously I’d like to give the fans what they want, but you gotta take what the defense gives you regardless if it’s a run or a pass. Sometimes it may not be good for you to run and if you run too much that longevity is not going to last long. You’ve got to be able to watch out and watch out for your body as well."

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Troy Polamalu Not Pleased With His Performance Against Atlanta

After making yet another highlight-reel interception during the Pittsburgh Steelers 15-9 overtime win against the Falcons on Sunday, you’d think Troy Polamalu would have been pleased with his performance. Not exactly. The All-Pro safety didn’t think he played all that well outside of that one play.

Polamalu was more concerned about his mistakes. There were a bunch, he said. Missed assignments and missed tackles. "Yeah, especially the pass down the middle to [tight end] Tony Gonzalez [that went for a 20-yard gain in the third quarter]. That could have been a game-changer. If that had been a receiver, it could have gone for a touchdown …

“I don’t know what it was. A lack of focus. A lack of intensity. I just don’t know.”

Whatever it was, I’m not the slightest bit concerned.

Also, when asked about the impressive intereception, Polamalu was typically modest, saying he just got ‘lucky’.

If Sunday’s performance was the baseline for Polamalu this season, Steeler Nation has a lot to look forward to.

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Steelers Injury Report: Max Starks Expected To Be Out For A Month

Not everything was pretty or perfect during the Pittsburgh Steelers 15-9 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons, but style points mean nothing in the National Football League. Obviously the Steelers will need Dennis Dixon to be a little bit better next week against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, but No. 10 did just fine out there.

With the win, the Steelers extended their winning streak in Week 1 to eight games, while improving to 4-0 in their openers since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. The win came at a price, though. Two starters left the game with injuries – nose tackle Casey Hampton tweaked a hamstring, and left tackle Max Starks suffered a high ankle sprain.

No word yet on Hampton, but Starks is expected to miss at least two weeks, and could be out as long as a month according to a source close to ESPN’s Adama Scheffer.

“I’ve had this happen before, so it’s nothing new,” Starks told the Beaver County Times on Sunday. “Hopefully it’ll heal fast and it’s nothing more than a week. It could have been a lot worse and I’m glad it wasn’t. I’m going to do everything they tell me to do to make sure I’m ready to go as soon as possible.”

Though Jonathan Scott was inserted in Starks’s place on Sunday, it’s possible that fellow Texas Longhorn Tony Hills could get the nod at left tackle. J. Scott, while competent in the running game, struggles in pass protection. The same might be said of right tackle Flozell Adams, which could prompt Tomlin and offensive line coach Sean Kugler to deploy Hills, a better pass blocker this past preseason.

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Rashard Mendenhall Runs It For The Overtime Win, Troy Polamalu Picks Off Matt Ryan, Pick-Up Truck Commercials Are Getting Out Of Control

  • There were some definite casualties in this one. Casey Hampton left the game early with a hamstring pull, but will probably be fine for next week's tilt against the Tennessee Titans. Tackle Max Starks got tangled up in pass protection, though, and may have suffered a high ankle sprain. He looked like he was in severe pain trying to limp off the field. After all, that's a lot of weight for a gimpy ankle to support. I wouldn't be surprised if Jonathan Scott -- who looked pretty good coming off the bench -- had to fill in for Starks until the Steelers' Week 5 bye.
  • The beginning of the football season has reminded me of how truly awful most pick-up truck commercials are. I don't have the kind of job the necessitates towing 8 gazillion pounds, but I think that even if I did, I would be hard-pressed to imagine a scenario where I might be called on to tow the load through rings of fire and a circuit of machine-gun wielding velociraptors...or whatever. Advertisers: I know you're trying to prey on my masculine insecurity and everything, but you're really going overboard. The gruff, impossibly testosteroney voiceover and the driver's perpetual five o'clock shadow will do just fine. Give the pyrotechnics and the stuntmen a day off, okay?
  • James Harrison might be the best pass rusher in the league when it comes to anticipating the opposition's snap count. When he gets a whiff of the quarterback's cadence, left tackles don't stand a chance; he's already whizzed by them before they even get out of their stance. He also gets held more than in player in the league -- too bad it doesn't always draw the penalty.
  • The performance of the Pittsburgh defense was heroic, and doubly so when you consider just how little help they got from their offense when it comes to field position.
  • If the Atlanta defenders had better hands, Dennis Dixon could be looking at three or four interceptions, not one. In some ways, his final stat line (236 passing yards, 9.1 ypa) suggests a better performance than the reality. The Falcons defense, who I woefully underestimated in my initial post, rushed three or four men most of the game, spying Dixon, and dropping multiple defenders into coverage. Most of the Falcons' sacks can be credited to the defensive backfield. Unfortunately, Atlanta just gave the Titans, Buccaneers, and Ravens an effective blueprint for the next three weeks. 
  • Conversely, Pittsburgh could only sack Matt Ryan when a superior athlete (James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley) came off the edge and simply beat his man. Anytime Dick LeBeau called a zone blitz, Atlanta's offensive line seemed unfazed, picking it up effectively.
  • For most of the game, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White -- one of the most underrated players at his position in the game -- picked apart the Steelers secondary. He recorded a career-high 13 receptions for 111 yards, basically compensating for Atlanta's lack of a rushing attack (8.5 ypc). However, Matt Ryan went to the well one too many times; while he was able to complete deep outs along the sideline to White all afternoon, it was only a matter of time before a defensive back of Troy Polamalu's caliber jumped the route. Late in the game, the All-Pro safety did just that, making a game-changing interception and tapping his toes along the sideline for good measure. Unfortunately, kicker Jeff Reed, who had been solid up to that point, botched the subsequent field goal attempt, forcing overtime.
  • After notching piddling run after piddling run all game (3.3 ypc on 21 carries), running back Rashard Mendenhall finally broke a long one in overtime after the Pittsburgh defense stopped Ryan and company, scoring from 50 yards out for the walk-off score.
  • Boy, that was a stressful, ugly game to watch. Steelers eke out a win, 15-9.
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Tony Gonzalez Hauls In 1000th Career Reception, Falcons Take First Lead Of Game, 6-3

On the opening drive of the second half, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez caught his 1000th career reception in the National Football League. Unfortunately, the catch came on a big play during the Falcons’ opening drive of the second half. The Steelers were able to stop the Falcons from reaching the red zone, but a 39-yard FG by Matt Bryant has put the Falcons up 6-3 early in the 3rd.

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Bradshaw Burns Roethlisberger, Dixon Has Accuracy Issues, Pittsburgh Defense Smothers Falcons

  • The greatest highlight of the Atlanta-Pittsburgh contest actually occurred before the opening kickoff, when former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw absolutely burned Ben Roethlisberger. Bradshaw turned to the camera and spoke directly to "Ben," who is probably at home, watching the Steelers on TV. Bradshaw said that the Steelers trading Santonio Holmes away for substance abuse violations but keeping Roethlisberger around after multiple allegations of rape made no sense whatsoever and that he would have parted ways with the suspended quarterback if he had been in charge. Finally -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- Bradshaw said that the three letters Roethlisberger should try to be associated with are "NFL, not TMZ." Sick burn, Terry. Well played.
  • The Steelers defense has looked positively great so far. Atlanta has done most of its damage through the air, because they simply cannot run on Pittsburgh's front seven. They've held Falcons running back, Michael Turner, a player who averaged nearly 5 yards per carry last year, to 19 yards on 9 carries. Lawrence Timmons has been all over the field, and LaMarr Woodley has been a pass-rushing god. On one play, Atlanta lined up in a power running formation on a third-and-short. You almost had to feel bad for Turner when the ball was snapped and quarterback Matt Ryan handed it off. There was nowhere to go. The defense has held Tony Gonzalez to zero catches in the first half -- he's trying to get to 1,000 for his career, which would only add to his league-record marks -- en route to handing Atlanta a number of three-and-outs.
  • Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh offense hasn't been great, either. They've rushed the ball 18 times in the first half, to no one's surprise. However, the results haven't been spectacular by any means (3.1 ypc), but they have been able to grind it out in short-yardage situations, mostly thanks to Issac Redman, who entered the game frequently to spell Mendenhall. Dennis Dixon, who is starting in place of Roethlisberger, has been fairly careful with the ball and has yet to leave the pocket on a rollout or a scramble up the middle. I'm less concerned with his interception, where he simply didn't see the Atlanta defender in the flats, and more worried about the open receivers he's missed. Dixon is making pretty good reads, locating safe targets on underneath routes, but he keeps delivering his balls too low, resulting in a number of three-and-outs. I don't know if it's first-game jitters or what -- Dixon was accurate in Oregon -- but he needs to pull it together in the second half. Let's see you convert on third down, Dennis!
  • At halftime, the score is all tied up at 3. Atlanta gets the ball in the second half.
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Steelers Take On Falcons In Regular Season Opener

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 season officially starts today at 1pm, as they host the Atlanta Falcons, an upstart team many analysts have picked to upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints for the NFC South crown.

Here's what I had to say about the matchup back in early July, when I broke down the Steelers' regular season hopes, game by game:

The Falcons are a scary team. Young quarterback Matt Ryan could make strides after a middling sophomore campaign, and the rest of the offense certainly has no shortage of firepower, with wide receiver Roddy White, tight end Tony Gonzalez, and running back Michael Turner. Many writers expect the Steelers to rely on the running game during Roethlisberger's absence, but don't be surprised if they come out passing in the season opener. Despite Atlanta's offseason acquisition of former Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, its pass defense (ranked 28th in the league last year) is still quite vulnerable. And besides defensive end John Abraham, who at 32 could be losing a step, there's no pass rusher who should scare the Steelers. 

Chance to win: 60 percent

Despite the unit's mostly lukewarm performance this preseason, I fully expect the Steelers offense to move the ball at will against a Falcons unit that will be without defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, last year's team leader in sacks, due to a one-game substance abuse suspension. Granted, the Atlanta defense will feature five new starters, but beyond Robinson, there's no one lining up against the Steelers offense this afternoon that should really scare anyone. Look for Dennis Dixon to have a sterling regular season debut in front of the home crowd.

Admittedly Imperfect Prediction: The Steelers defensive keeps Matt Ryan and company mostly in check, while the Dixon-led offense looks better than it ever did this preseason. Steelers win a close one, 20 - 16.

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