It's Me and Julio Down by the Sideline
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will most likely be in his Duce Staley Memorial Deactivation Sweats on Sunday, taking away the Falcons' biggest offensive playmaker. While quarterback Matt Ryan is talented enough to make things happen without him, his absence would be a huge loss. Atlanta has the capability of moving the ball and scoring points, and playing this game at home will be an advantage for them. However, the Steelers will have a full complement of their offense on the field for this game, and it's a unit that's starting to heat up. Without Jones to counter it, the Falcons will fall a punch or two short.
The Falcons simply don't have the athletes to run with what Pittsburgh is packing on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Le'Veon Bell is a monster in space. Antonio Brown is an extremely difficult assignment anywhere on the field. Pittsburgh's offensive line can protect Ben Roethlisberger against this pass rush. The Steelers' offense can and should move the ball consistently, and they should be able to own possession. The Falcons just lack the match-up advantages, player-for-player. Now, that's a pre-game assessment, and things can and often do change. The Steelers should be prepared to score 30 points in this game.
Matt Ryan probably takes the brunt of criticism for being a big-money quarterback without a stellar track record in terms of big wins. Matty Ice can sling it down the field, and the Falcons' offense has been tailored to his skills. But littered throughout his otherwise impressive film are critical, game-changing mistakes. That isn't to say Ryan isn't good enough to win, as his career record stands contrary to that. But when a team like the Falcons runs as inconsistently as it does, the Steelers defense can crush those hopes and force the Falcons to become a one-dimensional team. It's going to be extraordinarily difficult to keep pace with the Steelers' offense when the Falcons' play-calling is the equivalent of playing with one arm tied behind its back.
Protected Like a Bank Vault
Fans have been depressed due to the Steelers' lack of sacks and pressure over the last few years. The Falcons have 15 sacks in 15 games - tied with Cincinnati for the last spot in the league. Cincinnati barely got pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh's 42-21 win over the Bengals, and Roethlisberger completed 25-of-39 (64 percent) and didn't throw an interception. The Steelers' offensive line has protected well the last few weeks, and ample time provided is more time for Ben to pick apart the Falcons defense.
This is the kind of game where broadcasters breathe enthusiastically about how well Steelers fans travel. They're likely to send that same message today, even if they fail to mention it's not that Steelers fans travel well, it's that they live in whatever city where they're playing. This should be a road home game for the Steelers and they should be able to feed off of the energy of the partisan crowd.