The Falcons lost an all-important home game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, and they fall to 5-8 on the season. It remains to be seen how this loss impacts their standing in the division with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints playing on Monday night, but it will undoubtedly be a big setback.
At long last Atlanta enters its bye week, but it may have let a golden opportunity slip past. Now, with a true uphill climb to reach the postseason, the Falcons may turn their sights to the future. There are numerous young players who have received generous playing time this season, but some, including quarterback Desmond Ridder, have not.
After another loss, perhaps the coaching staff will reassess things. Here are the main takeaways from Sunday’s game:
Marcus Mariota’s time may be coming to an end
There have been multiple games this season where Mariota was a real factor for success. In the Week 6 win against San Francisco, Mariota scored three times and accounted for 179 yards. In Week 8, he was responsible for another three scores and 296 yards. But Mariota has not been a monumental factor in a victory since.
Against the Steelers, the Falcons' offense failed to find much consistency, and a lot of that has to do with Mariota. Before halftime, Atlanta had the opportunity to tack on some points with limited time remaining. Necessitating an approach through the air, the opportunity could not be seized due to a pair of high throws by Mariota.
A high throw proved costly on a pass to Drake London in the end zone, and it might have negated a pass-interference penalty to keep Atlanta alive on the drive. His final pass ultimately ended things for the Falcons, as his attempt for Drake London with under a minute to play was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
A missed opportunity in the red zone
The Falcons had an opportunity late to take control of this game and secure the lead. They were unable to do so. Atlanta entered Sunday with the least number of penalties in the NFL, but the yellow flags proved costly late in the game.
Atlanta had a drive in the fourth quarter that looked very similar to their late-game drive against Pittsburgh, and it also ended in disappointment. The Falcons reached the Steelers’ 10-yard line and initially scored on a touchdown run by Cordarrelle Patterson before a holding penalty on Parker Hesse negated the six points. Then, a false start on Jake Matthews set Atlanta back another 10 yards. On a drive when they desperately needed a touchdown, untimely penalties held them to three points.
For much of the season, Atlanta has been solid in the red zone. At this critical point of the season, however, that aspect of the Falcons’ offense has faltered.
The run game came alive after halftime
At one point during the broadcast, it was mentioned that only the Falcons and the Bills have had at least 90 rushing yards in each game this season. The low point for Atlanta came in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams, and the Falcons have averaged 160 rushing yards per game this season. But on Sunday, the Falcons couldn’t get the run game going in the first half.
That all changed after halftime. Atlanta leaned on the run game late in the third quarter, and it turned dominant in the final period. The Falcons finished the game with 146 yards on 28 carries, a healthy average of 5.2 yards. However, they couldn’t consistently turn to that throughout the game, and it proved to be costly as the offense mustered only 16 points.
Tackling is still a major issue
Against Washington, the tackling at the second level was a big concern. That problematic behavior continued this week against Pittsburgh, and it’s been consistent enough to label it a real issue for the Falcons in 2022. More troubling is that quality tackling is a coachable trait.
It’s true that the NFL has significantly limited the physical work on the field for players over the last decade, but this seems to be a new problem unique to this coaching staff. For all of the positives that Arthur Smith and his staff bring to this organization, the missed tackles have become a true weakness for a defense that relies on smothering a defense over the course of a long drive.
Younghoe Koo keeps being excellent
The 2022 season was about finding answers for this Atlanta squad, but Younghoe Koo has already proven himself to be a cheat code. For a team that finds itself in one-score games consistently, a kicker like Koo is extremely valuable. In what was ultimately a losing effort, Koo provided most of the points.
He hit two field goals in the first half from 50 and 51 yards out, and then Koo tacked on a 28-yard chip shot in the fourth quarter to make things close. We’ve given a lot of credit to the coaching staff for finding ways to keep games close this season, but Koo deserves a good share of that praise.