Falcons focused on what they can control

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — When Erik Coleman heard the stat, he couldn't help but dismiss it as any indication of how the Falcons will perform when they travel to Pittsburgh to open the regular season Sunday.

Still, the stat is a gaudy one.

Pittsburgh is an NFL best 7-0 in season openers since 2003. The last time the Steelers lost on opening day came in 2002, a 30-14 defeat at New England.

"No, we don't pay attention to that because that happened in the past," Coleman said Monday. "Right now, we're just worried about the Falcons and how we can get better and how we can go out there and perform and take care of our business on Sunday."

It's the attitude many Falcons are taking in the locker room this week. Although the Steelers have found a vast amount of success on opening day, the Falcons are looking at Sunday as an opportunity to break that tradition.

It's just one of many intangibles the Falcons are planning on putting out of their minds.

History seems to be on the side of the Steelers. Home-field advantage is definitely something the Falcons have considered about opening day. Heinz Field can be a hostile environment for visiting teams.

But that's not the focus.

"Well, you just tune it out because right now, there's just going to be 11 of us on the field and 48 players that are dressing out," defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson said. "That's all we're going to have right there, so we can just focus on ourselves, tune out the crowd, not worry about the crowd and know that if we play to where we need to play that we can come out with a win."

Perhaps the most publicized aspect of Sunday's game has so far been who is going to be taking snaps for the Steelers. With star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger serving a suspension, the Steelers had to choose between veteran backup Charlie Batch and the versatile Dennis Dixon.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Dixon would be the starter Monday. Dixon's ability to get out of the pocket and make things happen with his feet adds an extra element for the Falcons to prepare for.

On top of that, the Falcons' secondary has to keep an eye on a talent Pittsburgh wide receiving corps, led by Hines Ward.

"For Hines Ward, you just have to bring your work hat. Bring your lunchbox. He's going to be a tough man in the physical game — a tough receiver," Coleman said. "He's a very crafty receiver. He knows how to get open.

"Then, they've got (Mike) Wallace out there, who's a speed demon. They've got a good tight end in (Heath) Miller. They have their bases covered as far as the passing game. They have a lot of good players that they can get the ball to, so you just have to stay grounded, play within the defense and get to the ball."

With so much to pay attention to on the field, it's perhaps no wonder that the Falcons aren't concerning themselves with anything going on off it.

"We're looking at it as the first game of the season and it's on the road," Anderson said. "We know their crowd is gonna be there. It's gonna be very amped. But we just want to go in there with a great mind, focusing on that this is the real deal, this is the opener and we want to make a strong statement in the first game."

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