Given that this is the first championship-caliber team the Falcons are facing this pre-season, it warrants plenty of attention. I've broken down the three matchups I'll be watching intensely—hopefully not while flying through the air, courtesy of Hurricane Irene—when the game arrives on Saturday night.
Buckle up and join me over the jump for all three.
Michael Turner Versus Steelers Defense
You want to see if Michael Turner is really as rejuvenated as he's rumored to be? Sure. Let's just throw him to the wolves. Did I mention that the wolves in this case weigh a couple hundred pounds and tackle well?
Many expect Turner to be stymied, as he was last year when the Falcons played the Steelers. It’s true that the first-team defense is going to be a major challenge, and that the Falcons are still going to be running a vanilla offense for most of the game. That isn’t working in Turner’s favor.
But still, I’d like to see him start to roll. He showed a little bit of his old burst against both Miami and Jacksonville, but particularly in the Jacksonville game, he hit the pile and went nowhere on a few occasions. I’m going to be watching Turner closely.
Falcons Passing Game vs. Steelers Secondary
The Steelers are down starting cornerbacks and their secondary hasn’t been the strongest part of their defense for a long time now. After a shaky week against the Jaguars—largely due to a relentless pass rush and an offensive line that thought pass blocking was a French term for a country-style sandwich—the Falcons have a chance to get things back on track.
It’s an important week to do so, because a handful of receivers are on the roster chopping block and need to prove themselves. There’s also the importance of continuing to get the team’s top receivers a lot of work so they’re up to full game speed when the season starts.
As part and parcel of this, watching the pass blocking closely. With Matt Ryan set to pass a ton in 2011, he’s going to need to have a little peace in the pocket.
Steelers Pass Game Versus Secondary
Chris Owens and Dunta Robinson are both out, so on one hand this game won’t reflect on how our cornerbacks really do. And it is, as Max Strauss pointed out in the comments yesterday, still pre-season.
But the Steelers have a nice deep attack, and for that reason alone I’ll be interested to see how they fare against the Falcons. The team can finally put Ray Edwards on the field, so pressure should come naturally. But it’s how Brent Grimes, Dominique Franks and Darrin Walls fare that I’m most interested in, with a side of Thomas DeCoud and William Moore in coverage.
Franks has a chance to either gain the lead or keep it in the nickel back competition, depending on your viewpoint, and Walls has a shot to grab a roster spot. Grimes is just tuning up to voraciously devour each and every quarterback in the league in 2011, including those on teams the Falcons don’t even play. This may not be the best matchup, but it’s going to be one to keep a very close eye on.
Did I miss a matchup you think matters even more? Leave it in the comments, if you would.