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Falcons defense vs. Steelers offense: Stopping the youth movement

Kenny Pickett and George Pickens are lurking problems for Atlanta.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Steelers looked like one of Atlanta’s easiest matchups heading into the season. Now that both teams are headed in different directions, the matchup looks uncomfortably even.

That’s true when matching up the Falcons offense versus the Steelers defense, and it’s true when matching Atlanta’s defense against this Pittsburgh offense. The question really comes down to health and who takes advantage of their opportunities, because as we’ll cover here, the Falcons and Steelers don’t have any huge standout advantages over one another.

In the trenches

Pittsburgh’s offensive line is solid, a bit better in pass protection than run blocking per Pro Football Focus, but not spectacular. Both James Daniel and Kevin Dotson have been very solid at guard, with tackle Chukwuma Okorafor being the closest thing they have to a weak link. A good defensive line can do damage here, but Pittsburgh can and has held their own pretty well this year.

The problem? Atlanta’s defensive front is very limited right now, owing to a mix of the talent they have on hand and the impact injury is having. Without Ta’Quon Graham and potentially without Jalen Dalton, the Falcons are left to lean heavily on Abdullah Anderson (who has been solid), Timothy Horne (who has also been solid), and Jaleel Johnson and Matt Dickerson (who haven’t been very good). If Arnold Ebiketie can go it will make a huge difference for an edge rusher group that has otherwise been quiet, with Lorenzo Carter’s early season splash plays giving way to solid but unspectacular work, Adetokunbo Ogundeji not making much of an impact, and Rashaan Evans, Mykal Walker, and Troy Andersen help out, but every one of them has been inconsistent to this point in the season.

Advantage: Steelers, slightly

The skill positions

Pittsburgh is finally getting interesting here. After throwing eight interceptions against two touchdowns in his first five games, Kenny Pickett has thrown for one touchdown and zero interceptions over his last three, cutting down on his sacks in the past two games and making plays with his legs. Pickett is a long way away from being good, but he’s no longer dooming the Steelers with errors and is getting more comfortable by the week. With a solid Diontae Johnson, dangerous Pat Freiermuth, and increasingly lethal George Pickens to work with, plus a strong ground game keyed by Najee Harris, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Warren, the Steelers have a pretty good group of weapons.

Again, it’s about what the Falcons do and don’t have here to counter that. A.J. Terrell is back and as good as ever, and whoever he matches up against will likely be a non-factor. Atlanta’s struggles against tight ends have been pretty consistent this year, Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant have been hot and cold in terms of coverage and tackling, and Darren Hall and Isaiah Oliver have had adventures in coverage. That plus a suspect run defense means that unless Najee Harris isn’t playing, the Falcons will once again have some tough sledding, and I don’t love their chances of holding Pittsburgh under 20 points like they just did to Washington.

Advantage: Steelers, slightly


A fully healthy, full strength Falcons defense is a solid enough matchup against Pittsburgh. With the attrition up front and at cornerback, the Falcons are missing a pair of really quality starters that made stopping the Steelers a bit more problematic, and the pieces here could cause problems for a defense that has needed a little luck and a handful of big plays to avoid disaster in recent weeks.

The advantage is only slight, though, and if Najee Harris is out, the Falcons will have an easier day. Unfortunately, the rest of the Pittsburgh running back room is solid, so again, a slight advantage only. I don’t love Atlanta’s chances of holding the Steelers entirely in check, but a good day from the offense should put them in a position to win this. Let’s hope they can reverse their recent fortune and get the W by ensuring Pickett and Pickens don’t destroy them.

Advantage: Steelers, slightly