Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (5-8), 1pm EST
TV: CBS Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Radio: WDVE, Steelers Nation Radio Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley
Line: Steelers -2
AFC North: Baltimore hosts Jacksonville, Cincinnati plays at Cleveland
The Steelers head to Atlanta sitting a half-game behind the Bengals while remaining tied with the Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland brings up the rear at 7-6. The formula entering this week for the Steelers is simple; win out and they win the division. Any losses will require some potential assistance in the form of losses by other teams.
For the Falcons, this game actually means little to them. Their final two games are against Carolina and New Orleans and if the Falcons win both of those, they win the NFC South. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see star players taken out if the Steelers get a decent lead.
Here’s what we’re looking for if the Steelers are going to prevail in the Georgia Dome.
1. Exotic Looks and Pressure are Needed. MMQB’s Andy Benoit told me this week that Atlanta Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter gameplans against his opponent’s tendencies. That means Dick LeBeau needs to be creative with his defensive looks and where his blitzes are coming from.
Normally LeBeau will change things up week-to-week but more often than not he doesn’t do it often enough. He needs to today in order to get Matt Ryan off of his game early.
2. Ride the Horse. Do I think the Steelers are over-using Le’Veon Bell? Yup, I sure do. But he keeps proving week in and week out that he can handle the load so keep feeding him the ball.
There’s no doubt we’ll see plenty of Bell in the running game, but as usual, look for him to be a major presence in the passing game as well. If the Falcons choose to put extra focus on him then that will likely open up Heath Miller as the safety valve. Either way, keep riding Bell.
3. Lock Down Devin. The Steelers are in trouble defensively regardless of who is catching passes for the Falcons because they just aren’t covering well. The special teams units need to help both the offense and defense by limiting the Falcons’ returning star Devin Hester.
Hester is capable at any time of breaking off a long return and the Steelers cannot afford to give up points in the return game. Punter Brad Wing can help with solid directional punting and hang time while Shaun Suisham can eliminate kickoff returns by taking advantage of the indoor conditions and booming it deep.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteelDad and the website @SCBlitz. Check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/steelcityblitz and on Fancred.com. You can hear him weekly during the season on game day on the Trib-Live Radio Steelers Pre-Game
photo courtesy bleacherreport.com