As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in today’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Run Defense Stays Steady
After finish dead last a year ago in run defense, the Steelers enter the home stretch with the sixth-best run defense in football from a yards per carry standpoint. That’ll need to continue today. Atlanta is as run-heavy as any team in the league with a two-headed rotation at running back and the highly mobile Marcus Mariota under center (or most often, in pistol/shotgun).
Run fits have to be solid, tackles can’t be missed, and the big play can’t be given up. Hold this Falcons’ run game to 3.5 yards per carry and no explosive runs and it’ll be hard for the Steelers to use this game.
2. Grady Jarrett Is Controlled
Mike Tomlin’s repeated that name – Grady Jarrett – many times this week. During his Tuesday press and during his recent Mike Tomlin Show. Jarrett is easily the Falcons’ best front seven player and one of the best players on the team. He can be a force up front and wreck the run (ten tackles for loss) while being one of the team’s sole sources of pass rush (5.5 sacks to lead the team). He’s not a guy who can take over the game. The interior o-line is going to have to be at their best combo-ing him.
3. Kick Coverage Cleans Things Up
An obvious but important point. Steelers’ kick coverage has been a mess not just in last week’s disaster against the Colts but really since the bye. Miles Boykin’s return helps but Cordarrelle Patterson is the NFL’s record-holder with nine career kick return scores. You can bet they’ll challenge any kick that isn’t out of the end zone. Playing in a dome should help but Matthew Wright and this kick coverage team will be key. No mistakes.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. Short Week, Road Travels
My worry here. Steelers on the road this past Monday night. On the road this Sunday. Back-to-back road games in six days. Will the Steelers come out flat? They may have a more favorable matchup but the Falcons are a well-coached team and almost all their games are competitive despite having some serious flaws with their personnel. I’m worried about the travel here. Home field advantage is real. So is having a normal week.
2. Falcons Play More Fundamental Football
The Falcons are far from a flashy team but they’re a sound squad. Run the ball, play a simple defensive scheme, grind out victories. The NFC South is bad but as I wrote above, ten of their twelve games this season have been decided by ten points or less. They haven’t been blown out the way Pittsburgh has. They don’t miss tackles, third-fewest in the league despite not even having their bye week yet, and they don’t try to play outside their strengths and system. That makes them a tougher out.
3. An Unknown Receiver Makes A Play
Atlanta’s passing attack looks meager especially now that TE Kyle Pitts is out for the year. Rookie Drake London is the only recognizable name here and the Falcons are one of the few teams who don’t run a ton of 11 personnel. But in typical Steelers’ fashion, just the way Colts’ TE Jehlani Woods torched them last week, I could see some little-known Falcons’ player posting a big game. Olamide Zaccheaus going for 90 yards and a touchdown? Wouldn’t bat an eye. KhaDarel Hodge burning the Steelers for a 47-yard play? Yeah, I could see it. But hopefully it doesn’t happen.
Season Prediction Record
Above .500! For now…