The Pittsburgh Steelers are desperately seeking success today as they host the likewise-struggling Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field. The Steelers bring with them a 1-2-1 record, while the Falcons are just 1-3. Both were playoff teams last season, and conference finalists the year prior.
The Steelers and Falcons both find themselves at the bottom of their divisions, though the former is tied with the Cleveland Browns. Atlanta is the only team in its own division with a losing record at the moment, and that is only with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing their last two games.
In other words, I’m expecting there to be signs of desperation from both teams. That means taking risks that they might not ordinarily take. Expect an active attempt to get the deep passing game underway for Ben Roethlisberger, something that I expect to be a priority.
The 15-year veteran was very hard on himself for his play in the Steelers’ last game, and he directly spoke of the struggle of the deep passing game. I expect him to be motivated to hit on a couple of passes down the field early, looking for James Washington and Antonio Brown.
With Darrius Heyward-Bey likely to be down, Justin Hunter may get some snaps as well to run some go routes, and Roethlisberger does like throwing it to him.
Seemingly each week, lip service has been paid to getting the running game going. I expect the course to remain as it has been, however. James Conner will almost assuredly see fewer than 15 rush attempts barring an unforeseen significant lead in the second half, I would guess.
The tight ends, particularly Vance McDonald, could be a big factor in this one, for not the least reason being the Falcons’ defensive injuries. McDonald has put up good numbers for the past two weeks and made some impressive plays with the ball in his hands.
The Falcons’ interior offensive line has struggled so far this year, including center Alex Mack. Perhaps this is a time more Stephon Tuitt to break out of his slump. Cameron Heyward has not necessarily been an All-Pro this year either.
My eyes will be on Terrell Edmunds, who has had a rough baptism by fire to start his NFL career. He has started three of the first four games and will start his fourth today, but he hasn’t played like a starter yet, and opposing offenses have taken advantage.
I’m hopeful for a good game from Artie Burns—and equally hopeful that he doesn’t prove me wrong. He has been in a rotation for the past two weeks, but my guess is that he sees a larger share of the team’s snaps today, being given an opportunity to begin to reclaim his position.