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Falcons vs. Steelers: 3 in-game matchups to watch

Calvin Ridley has a PhD in route running.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons will look to pick up a big win in Steel City. Here are three in-game matchups to watch as the Falcons take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coming into the season, many circled this particular matchup as a possible Super Bowl preview. Granted, it is early in the season and that possibility may still become a reality but for both the Falcons and the Steelers, a lot has to be cleaned up.

The Steelers are dealing with plenty of on-the-field issues as well as some off-the-field ones. There is plenty of veteran presence in place, and the light bulb can come on at any given moment and the team can go on a run. For the Falcons, the offense is starting to become the force that many was accustomed to seeing in 2016. While the defense..well, let’s just not bother the defense at the moment.

Here are three important matchups to keep an eye on as the Falcons hit the road and take on the 1-2-1 Steelers.

Falcons WR Calvin Ridley vs. Steelers cornerbacks

The rookie out of Alabama has been a dangerous weapon for the Falcons offense this season. Ridley is third on the team in catches with 15 but he leads the team in yards per catch (17.6) and touchdown catches (6). His talent is quite evident thanks to his razor sharp route running and his overlooked speed. But it must be pointed out that the rookie has also benefited from sharing the field with one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL in Julio Jones.

On the season, Ridley has drawn the third-most defensive pass interference yards in the entire league while having just 21 targets. That’s just a stat to sit in your back pocket as the game goes on but what you need to know is that the Steelers are the fourth-worst team in the league in passes allowed per game of 20 yards or more (3.25) and they have also given up a pass in each of the last three games of 40 yards or more. While most of the attention will be given to Jones, one-on-one opportunities will be given to the Falcons young deep threat, and he has thrived upon those so far this season.

Falcons run defense vs. Steelers running backs

The Steelers have been without their top running back and arguably the best running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell. The team may not say it, but it’s hard to think that the Steelers donot miss him.

In the last three games combined, Pittsburgh has totaled just 130 rushing yards on 46 total attempts. No way around it, that is absolutely putrid. Part of it is due to the team being in shootouts in two of the past three games but their true identity is establishing the run game to the point where opponents are being gashed by it early and often.

Unfortunately, the hole in the lineup for the Falcons in this game is the underrated Grady Jarrett. That meand a huge puzzle piece to the defensive scheme is out of the picture. So for a defense that is 26th against the run this season, this can not be an aspect of the game where the Steelers find their footing.

Falcons turnover rate vs. Steelers turnover rate

Here is a phase in the game in which the Falcons have the upper hand. Entering this contest, the Falcons are second in the NFL in giveaways per game with just 0.5. That is an excellent indicator of how efficient the offense has been over the course of the last three weeks. That must be maintained against a Steelers defense that is in the top ten in takeaways.

On the flip side, the Steelers offense has been somewhat reckless with turnovers as they are 20th in turnover margin at -2, including tied for second in fumbles lost. This has been a problem for the Falcons defense lately, especially without key assets such as Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. A simple remedy for a defense that as trouble stopping teams from goal line to goal line is causing turnovers and limiting possessions for opposing teams. Even if it means getting that one turnover late in the game to allow a dangerous to produce more points, winning this phase of the game is immensely important.