The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their twelfth game of the 2022 regular season on the road Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons, and they’ll actually enter that contest listed as a slight road favorite. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do on the road Sunday afternoon to come away with their fifth win of the 2022 season.
Limit Happy Holiday Season Returns – Can Steelers kicker Matthew Wright kick the football out of the endzone on kickoffs? If he can, he might want to do just that every time he kicks off on Sunday at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Why do this? Well, because Falcons all-everything player Cordarrelle Patterson is the NFL’s must dangerous kickoff returner right now. In addition to that, the Steelers kickoff coverage team has not been great at all this season and especially recently. The Falcons don’t need free yards on Sunday so making them start at their own 25-yardline as many times as possible would be ideal. Patterson will touch the football enough as it is on Sunday as a running back. Giving him extra touches via kickoff returns is asking for problems.
Mobility Reality – The Steelers defense will face a very mobile quarterback on Sunday in Marcus Mariota as evidenced by him already having 421 yards and four touchdowns on 82 total carries. So far this season, the Steelers defense has allowed 171 yards and no touchdowns on 44 total runs by opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers will likely need to play a lot of zone on Sunday so that defenders can be on the lookout for Mariota taking off with the football. Additionally, the unit will need to watch out for Mariota to keep the football on zone read runs. The defense might want to use the mesh charge on Mariota early and hit him a few times to set a tone.
On The Hoof Again – This Falcons’ defense can be run on and especially up the middle or to the right side. In their last three games played, the Falcons defense has allowed opposing running backs to gain 410 yards on 96 carries, which is 4.27 yards per carry. While Steelers starting running back Najee Harris might split the load on Sunday, backup running backs Jaylen Warren and Benny Snell Jr. are both capable of delivering successful runs against the Falcons and especially the way the offensive line has been run blocking as of late. Run successful early on Sunday and the possibility to run successful late in the game should be there. Less than 125 combined yards rushing from the Steelers’ running backs on Sunday will be very disappointing.
More Manageable Thirds – The Steelers have managed to win two of their last three games despite being in far too many third and long situations. In their last three games, the Steelers offense has faced third down and 7 or more yards needed a total of 24 times. Only the Minnesota Vikings have faced more third and longs in their last three games than the Steelers have. On those 24 third and long plays, the Steelers’ offense converted just 29.2% of them and averaged just 5.4 yards per play. While that success rate isn’t awful, all things considered, the offense can’t keep expecting rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to face that many third and longs a game and expect him to have success this early in his career.
Corner Their Corners For Explosives – The Falcons’ defense has allowed a ton of explosive plays this season and in fact, they are tied with the Steelers for the most explosive passing plays allowed. 27 of those explosive plays allowed by the Falcons’ defense have come via deep passes more than 15 yards down the field. In short, Falcons’ cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Darren Hall warrant being attacked vertically on Sunday and especially in instances that they are in man coverage situations. The Steelers have the receivers that should be able to exploit Terrell and Hall deep on Sunday and it’s up to the rookie Pickett to make that happen. It’s time we see a double explosive passing touchdown out of the Steelers offense. The Falcons have given up three such touchdowns so far this season.