Steelers' defense, Mendenhall's burst differences vs. Falcons

Posted Sept. 13, 2010 @ 6:36 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

On Sunday, the Steelers found themselves underdogs at home for the first time in a regular-season game since 2004. And, after PK Jeff Reed missed a 40-yard field goal with 43 seconds left and the game tied 9-9, they very much looked the part. Atlanta, which strung together a pair of 13-play drives ending in field goals in the fourth quarter, got the ball to start overtime.

However, the Falcons' drive stalled after a penalty, and they had to punt. On Pittsburgh's first offensive play of the sudden-death session, RB Rashrad Mendenhall ran through a hole off right tackle and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown. Pittsburgh had secured a 15-9 victory, its eighth consecutive Week One win.

The Steelers' next opponent: Tennessee, which rolled over Oakland in Week One. The Titans' star RB Chris Johnson, rushed for 142 yards against the Raiders and has exceeded 100 yards rushing in 12 consecutive games.

The PFW Spin

It's only one win, but the Steelers' victory over Atlanta is loaded with positive indicators for a team without QB Ben Roethlisberger for three more games.

For starters, the defense held Atlanta out of the endzone, shut down RB Michael Turner (42 yards rushing on 19 carries) and did not allow a pass play of greater than 23 yards. OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison each had sacks, and SS Troy Polamalu made an impressive interception late in the fourth quarter. The Steelers' defense bent at times, but it was excellent when it had to be for Pittsburgh to win.

On offense, the Steelers got a relatively solid performance from QB Dennis Dixon, who was making just his second career start. While Dixon did throw an interception, he completed 18-of-26 passes for 236 yards, and he connected six times with Hines Ward. Dixon was sacked three times, and the Steelers' pass protection looms as a concern with OLT Max Starks reportedly expected to miss Week Two and possibly longer.

The Steelers also have to be pleased with their running game. Mendenhall had just 70 yards on 21 carries before the game-winning score, but his final run was a big time effort, as he burst into the secondary, stayed on his feet after a last-ditch tackle attempt and secured victory for his team.

The Steelers again find themselves underdogs, but if they can hold Johnson in check — not an impossible task for a defense that has allowed just nine rushers to rack up 100 yards or more on the ground in the past seven seasons — they could position themselves to pull off another upset.