The Steelers are hosting the Falcons this week, and to help us figure out what’s up with Pittsburgh, we asked five questions of Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman. We hope you enjoy his not terribly encouraging answers.
Dave Choate: The Steelers offense still looks scary, but it’s a little surprising how Antonio Brown’s season has gone thus far. Will he have better luck against this Falcons defense, and is it just sort of a fluke?
Jeff Hartman: You get the feeling the Roethlisberger to Brown connection is just waiting to explode. When you watch the tape, this isn’t about Brown. Brown is still seeing coverages roll over to his side, and double teams happening as much as they ever have.
The difference is Roethlisberger. He hasn’t had the best start and is coming off a really bad game. Roethlisberger rarely has back-to-back duds, so I would expect a bounce back game in Week 5. This would also mean improved numbers for Brown as well.
Dave Choate: Minus Le’Veon Bell, should the Falcons fear your ground game? Any success throwing passes to running backs, since that has been killing Atlanta of late?
Jeff Hartman: There isn’t much to fear because the Steelers have been playing from behind almost every week, meaning they are having to throw their way back into games. With that said, the offensive line is still one of the best in the league when healthy, and James Conner has proven capable. He isn’t Le’Veon Bell, but he certainly is capable as both a runner and receiver.
Dave Choate: The Steelers defense does not look good on paper at the moment. Who is worth watching out for, and if you’re the Steelers, what is your plan for keeping Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in check?
Jeff Hartman: The Steelers defense doesn’t just look bad on paper, they don’t look good on the field either. If you are going to focus on a few players, they would reside in the front 7. Primarily Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. If the Steelers can get pressure on Matt Ryan, that is how they plan on slowing down the passing attack. If they can’t get to Ryan, expect Ryan to have any number of receiving options open for him to throw to.
Dave Choate: Mind giving us one player on either side of the ball the average NFL fan isn’t familiar with who might impact the outcome of this game?
Jeff Hartman: After the stiff-arm heard round the world, Vance McDonald’s name has become a little more known, but Ben Roethlisberger has developed a good connection with the big tight end. There is a good chance McDonald’s role in the offense continues to grow, if he can stay on the field.
Defensively, keep an eye on whether Vince Williams, ILB, plays or not. Williams is a downhill thumper, but is dealing with a hamstring injury. If he isn’t in the lineup, a mixture of Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort and UDFA rookie Matthew Thomas could all pitch in at a position already ridiculously thin.
Dave Choate: Who wins this game, and can the Steelers emerge from the AFC North?
Jeff Hartman: I still have faith in this Steelers team. No one expected the defense to be a Top 5 unit, but no one also expected it to be this bad. I don’t believe the poor play is the new norm, but a mean between their best and worst is the new expectation. On offense, there have been some hiccups, and they miss Le’Veon Bell terribly.
However, it will be tough road to climb to win the AFC North for a third straight time. Three divisional games out of their next 4 will be a true measuring stick for their spot in the division. In a battle of under-performing teams, I like the Steelers at home, just because I know how they rarely play poorly in consecutive weeks -- especially at home.
Steelers - 38
Falcons - 35