The Falcons second preseason game kicks off today, which is cause for celebration. It’s not quite meaningful football yet, but at least it’s something. These games provide an opportunity for the scouts and analysts and rabid fans among us to get a closer look at the team’s depth, which can be entertaining in its own right from time to time.
This week’s match-up is against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were a playoff team in 2016 with a dynamic offense and an above-average defense. Atlanta hasn’t played against the Steelers since 2014, and the team has changed quite a bit since then. However, many of the headliners for Pittsburgh are unlikely to play in this game (Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger, for instance).
Still, the Steelers should be a stiffer test on both sides of the ball than the Dolphins were. Let’s take a look at how these two teams compare by the numbers. All stats are based on the 2016 regular season.
Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Steelers 24.9 (T-10th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Steelers 372.6 (7th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Steelers 262.6 (T-5th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Steelers 33 (T-4th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Steelers 110.0 (14th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Steelers 13 (T-16th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Steelers 41% (12th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (5th), Steelers +5 (9th)
The Falcons once again dominate the offense statistics, and also water is wet. Atlanta managed almost 9 points per game more than the Steelers who were the 10th best offense in the league. That is downright insanity. The Falcons were top-5 in every stat except third down efficiency, where they were merely 11th with a 42% conversion rate. We may never see an offense like this again in Atlanta, but looking at these historic stats never gets old.
Pittsburgh was a pretty good offense, too. They were T-10th in points and 7th in total yardage, putting them right on the edge of the top-10. The Steelers were more effective in the passing game (T-5th) than the running game (14th), but were good in both. They were also above-average on third down (12th) and in turnover margin (9th). Overall, the Steelers look like a pretty good offense. The team’s struggles on the road have a lot to do with why these numbers aren’t higher.
Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Steelers 20.4 (10th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Steelers 342.6 (12th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Steelers 242.6 (16th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Steelers 20 (T-5th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Steelers 100.0 (13th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Steelers 15 (T-18th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Steelers 41% (23rd)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Steelers 38 (T-9th)
The Falcons’ 2016 defensive stats tell a pretty depressing story that doesn’t seem to be entirely true. They played better than the 27th defense in the league, but gave up plenty of scores and yards in garbage time. Unfortunately, you can’t separate the two. Suffice it to say, expectations are high for the 2017 Falcons defense to be improved both by the eye test and statistically. Going by these numbers, however, the defense is markedly below-average.
The Steelers’ defense, on the other hand, was largely an above-average unit in 2016. Pittsburgh was 10th in points and 12th in total yards. They were 16th in passing yards, but were quite effective at limiting scores (5th in passing TDs), perhaps in part due to a top-10 pass rush (T-9th in sacks with 38). The Steelers were also good against the run—13th in yards and T-18th in TDs (coincidentally, tied with the Falcons). Where they struggled was on third downs, allowing 41% to be converted (23rd).
If both teams were playing their starters, this would be an intriguing match-up. It was one I was hoping to see at the conclusion of last season. That isn’t going to happen, obviously, but these two teams would’ve created an exciting postseason game. It would’ve likely been a shootout, with the Falcons trying to build a lead to force the Steelers to abandon the run.
In the preseason, we aren’t going to see many superstars on either side. Regardless, the Steelers’ defense—particularly the front-7—is a formidable unit that should give the Falcons’ offensive line an excellent test. The Falcons’ new look front-7 will also face a worthy opponent in the Steelers’ offensive line, which is among the best and most consistent in the league.
In the playoffs, with all starters involved, I would’ve given this match-up a push with a slight lean towards the Falcons because of their historic offense. That’s what the stats say, but since this is preseason and the back-ups will ultimately decide the outcome of the game, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
Overall Advantage: Push
What do you think about the match-up between the Falcons and Steelers in their second preseason game? Any battles that you’re going to be watching closely? Players you’re keeping your eyes on?