Steelers @ Falcons
Final Score: Steelers 19, Colts 16
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
Both the Steelers and the Falcons were both more than happy to feature their running games in this one, which led to a relatively disappointing game from a fantasy perspective. Pittsburgh banked in a field goal on the opening drive and lead throughout, but Falcons cut it to 19-13 late in the third quarter. Penalties derailed a late Falcons red zone drive which lead to a field goal, and the Steelers were able to use their running game and an excellent punt to salt away the rest of the game for a win.
Kenny Pickett: 16/28, 197 Yards, TD | 7 Carries, 14 Yards
Kenny Pickett was under pressure early on in this one, with the rush consistently beating his offensive line. He messed up a read option by keeping it instead of handing it off, and the play got blown up for a loss. He had trouble early and often finding anything open deep on play-action, which the Steelers repeatedly drew up but could not connect on. Pickett took a back seat to the rushing game against the Falcons, as Pittsburgh’s 37 rushing attempts outpaced his 28 passing attempts.
On the positive side, Pickett looked to have command of the offense and took care of the ball. He showed on a play-action rollout that he can throw well on the move with a completion on the sideline to Diontae Johnson. Pickett did not take a sack and did not make the big mistake and is so far passing most of the tests that a rookie quarterback in a conservative offense can pass. It was good to see him develop a bit of a connection with Johnson in this one, even if it was at the expense of George Pickens’ production.
Najee Harris: 17 Carries, 86 Yards | 1 Target, 1 Reception, 6 Yards
Jaylen Warren: 1 Carry, 5 Yards | 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 14 Yards
Benny Snell Jr.: 6 Carries, 24 Yards | 1 Target, 1 Reception, 11 Yards
Najee Harris was back to his bell cow ways despite an injury scare last week, playing on 44 of 65 offensive snaps against Atlanta. Harris displayed physical running in this one, plowing between the tackles and using his stiff arm often. He showed nice vision on a cutback run but stumbled as he broke free which capped it to a 10-yard gain when more was available. On his reception, he used another stiff arm to generate a first down. Harris was generally off the field on third downs, however, and with little to no big-play ability, Harris will struggle in games where he does not reach the end zone.
Jaylen Warren was spelling Harris as early as the first drive but only played 13 snaps in total. He’s the handcuff, but this offense isn’t good enough to support two rushers on a weekly basis. Warren looked fine in his first action back from a hamstring injury, so his snaps could potentially increase going forward.
Benny Snell Jr. was in on the second drive but only played 9 snaps overall. He did look solid with his chances but will need another injury in the backfield to be relevant.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Pat Freiermuth: 5 Targets, 3 Receptions, 76 Yards
George Pickens: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 2 Yards
Diontae Johnson: 11 Targets, 5 Receptions, 60 Yards
Connor Heyward: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 17 Yards, TD
Zach Gentry: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 8 Yards
Steven Sims: 3 Carries, 19 Yards | 2 Targets | 1 Fumble (Recovered)
Pat Freiermuth seemed to be on his way to a big game early on in this one. The young tight end had two third-down conversions on the opening drive. Later he just missed on a seam route that could have been a long touchdown, but the ball was overthrown. Freiermuth had a huge catch with a broken tackle and yards after catch around the middle of the second quarter for a 57-yard gain but then did not catch a pass the rest of the way. He generally disappeared during the middle of the game as Pittsburgh went run-heavy with the lead. Still, Freiermuth was an important option when Pittsburgh did throw the ball and remains that way going forward.
Diontae Johnson finally saw his targets return in this passing game, getting the short stuff to the sidelines early. He was a play-action target downfield into double coverage but had no chance at a reception. Later he ran his man deep and broke it off for a sideline catch on a play-action rollout. He caught a short pass with space in front and turned it into a first down. He had a chance at a touchdown single covered against A.J. Terrell, but the pass was a bit behind and he could not bring it in. Johnson saw a decent amount of Terrell in coverage but found space on short routes to the outside. He capped his day off with an easy first down reception while the Steelers were bleeding clock and the Falcons were expecting a run. As always with Johnson, however, you take the good with the bad. He had what looked like a fumble initially, but it was ruled an incompletion after review, and he just looks careless with the ball sometimes. He also dropped a third-down pass and committed a false start. But it was good to see Johnson regain the team lead in targets after a few down weeks.
Pickett kept checking down off of play action after looking deep, and George Pickens was likely the downfield target on most of those plays. The Falcons seemed determined to take away the deep ball, resulting in Pickens’ first catch coming with just under a minute left in the third quarter on a short pass designed for him. That would be his only catch of the day, and it shouldn’t have been an issue of coverage, as Johnson saw a bunch of Terrell in coverage, the Falcons’ best corner. As I mentioned last week, Pickens needs to see easier targets in this offense if he is to take the next step for fantasy purposes, and he was not seeing those easy looks today, or any looks at all really.
Connor Hayward got past the coverage for a wide-open downfield touchdown on his only target of the game, and Steven Sims got the ball on end-arounds and short targets in a complimentary role.
Marcus Mariota: 13/24, 167 Yards, TD, INT | 3 Carries, 17 Yards
Marcus Mariota struggled early and often this week against the Steelers. He had a near interception on a seam route to Drake London early and took a sack on the next play to back into a 50-yard field goal. His best early throw was a sideline hole shot to London for 37 yards, which came off of play action and a clean pocket. He strung together a few positive plays in the two-minute drive but then fired inaccurately on back-to-back plays, including a poor miss toward an open London. Then he was flushed from the pocket and fired a dangerous pass downfield into triple coverage leading to a punt.
In the second half, he took a delay of game on 3rd and 6, something you would hope would not be an issue with a veteran quarterback. Even his good plays were a mixed bag, as he was late and behind on a 3rd and 1 conversion off of play action to Anthony Firkser. His interception was an awful one on the final drive, backed up inside their own five with no timeouts. It was certainly desperation mode, but nevertheless, it would have been an easy pick-six for Minkah Fitzpatrick, who ran out of bounds to mercifully end this game. Mariota did not run much in this one as the Falcons gave 25 carries to their running backs, sapping any floor and ceiling Mariota has on a weekly basis. We may be close to Desmond Ridder time in Atlanta.
Cordarrelle Patterson: 11 Carries, 60 Yards
Tyler Allgeier: 10 Carries, 52 Yards
Caleb Huntley: 4 Carries, 17 Yards
No Falcons running back received a target in this game, a troubling trend for their fantasy prospects.
Cordarrelle Patterson broke a tackle on the opening drive for a seven-yard gain but his highlights were limited in the first half. He made a move in the backfield to start the second half, and the play looked like it might have been a long run in the past but he was tripped from behind for no gain. As I wondered if Patterson has lost a step, he started finding space at the end of the third quarter. He broke a long 22-yard run after two good carries before that, and came off for a breather after carrying the offense for most of the drive. For what it’s worth, their only touchdown drive was the drive where Patterson got things going on the ground. Patterson had a 10-yard rushing touchdown called back on holding, although he likely would not have been able to break the run outside without the hold. Patterson looked good when he had a full head of steam but will need to get involved in the passing game to become more trustworthy in this struggling offense.
Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley were both on the field on the first drive of the game, though Huntley would play just 5 snaps in total. Allgeier flashed with a 21-yard run up the gut on the second drive and played 28 snaps to Patterson’s 25 overall. He split the work evenly and generally bowled forward for yards, but again, with no passing work, this offense isn’t potent enough to sustain Allgeier outside of the occasional touchdown.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Drake London: 12 Targets, 6 Receptions, 95 Yards
Olamide Zaccheaus: 5 Targets, 2 Receptions, 13 Yards
Anthony Firkser: 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 24 Yards
Parker Hesse: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 16 Yards
Damiere Byrd: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 12 Yards
MyCole Pruitt: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 7 Yards, TD
KhaDarel Hodge: 2 Targets
With Kyle Pitts out for the season, the targets finally consolidated for Drake London. London had a catch from the slot up the seam for a nice gain on play action early. He had a step in the second half on a deep ball but was overthrown, as Matiota was swarmed in the pocket and had to pull a jump pass just to get it off. London seemed to be finding room on the sidelines consistently and was really the only functional part of the passing game. Atlanta moved him inside on a key third down in the red zone and schemed the ball his way, but Mariota fired high over his head in the end zone. London looked good getting open on the sidelines especially, but his quarterback left several plays on the field that could have led to a bigger day.
MyCole Pruitt caught a short touchdown off of play action to cap a drive where the run game took over. On a sad note, Pruitt now has more touchdowns on the season (3) than Pitts does. The rest of the receiving work was the occasional overthrown deep ball to Olamide Zaccheaus or the collection of tight ends catching balls off of play action. Anthony Firkser ran the most routes of the tight ends (11) but played the fewest snaps (13).