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Falcons vs. Steelers: Will the offense steamroll the Steel Curtain?

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Let’s hope so, or there is no hope.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Minus the first game against the Eagles, the Falcons offense has not been the issue in 2018. Steve Sarkisian has apparently found a groove in leading the team to three straight games of 30 or more points. This week, they go up against a Steelers defense that is more reputation than quality. Here’s how things shake out.

Note: Assessments based on PFF scoring

In the trenches

The Falcons offensive line has been up and down so far this year, though they have faced some quality competition through the first quarter of the season. Jake Matthews has arguably been the best of the bunch with center Alex Mack still playing well. Ryan Schraeder has been up and down, but has been very solid in run blocking. New right guard Brandon Fusco has been OK, but has had some rough outings this year. Wes Schweitzer has looked better at left guard than at right, but is still the weak link on this line. This offensive line is capable of better play, but they are still a good unit overall.

The Steelers 3-4 defensive front has some good players who could cause some disruption this week. In the middle, Javon Hargrave is having a down season so far, but is capable of more. Stephon Tuitt is a quality run stuffer. Similarly, Cameron Heyward is also good at shutting down the run. Neither Tuitt or Heyward are particularly dominant as pass rushers, though. Outside linebackers Bud Dupree and TJ Watt both have 3 sacks each on the season, so these are names to pay attention to.

Over the past few weeks, the Falcons offensive line has held up well enough to allow the offense to score in bunches. That doesn’t look to change dramatically this week, but this is yet another matchup that’s too close to call.

Advantage: Push

The skill positions

This is where the Falcons shine. Matt Ryan is tracking against his MVP 2016 season with ridiculous numbers that has been overshadowed by an injury-decimated defense. Julio Jones does not yet have a touchdown, but is still a dominant force on the field. Rookie Calvin Ridley has been a sensation, scoring touchdowns seemingly at will, though he’s also prone to the occasional drop. Mohamed Sanu is still another quality option who racked up over 100 yards quietly last week.

At tight end, Austin Hooper is a good receiver who lacks as a pass blocker. Finally, the running back situation is great with Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman playing on Sunday. Behind him, Tevin Coleman is a home run threat and capable receiver while rookie Ito Smith has greatly impressed in his limited snaps. This is a highly talented unit that has been firing on all cylinders the past several weeks.

The Steelers defense has some concerns in their secondary. Joe Haden has definitely had a down year so far, though the talent is clearly there. Artie Burns is been playing well enough on the other side. In nickel sets, Cameron Sutton could be someone the Falcons look to pick on early and often. Rookie first round safety Terrell Edmunds has struggled in the first several games while Sean Davis is having one of his best seasons yet. If Morgan Burnett is able to play, he’ll likely take some snaps away from Edmunds and boost the quality of the safety play overall. The linebackers are also a mixed bag, with Vince Williams playing poorly and Jon Bostic having a strong season thus far.

Right now, the Falcons are going to overwhelm nearly any team at the skill positions and the same is true here. There are some definite matchups that heavily favor the Falcons that they will undoubtedly try to exploit on Sunday.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

Similar to last week, the Falcons only need their offensive line to play decently in order for this unit to score. While the Steelers do have some good players on their defense, this is not the Steel Curtain. There are definite quality gaps in their starting 11 that the Falcons talented weapons will likely exploit.

Advantage: Falcons