The Atlanta Falcons return to the Georgia Dome in Week 15 for a matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, December 14. The Falcons and Steelers have met 15 times with Pittsburgh holding a 12-2-1 edge in the all-time series, including a 15-9 overtime win in the 2010 season opener at Heinz Field.
Top Matchup: Falcons CB Desmond Trufant vs Steelers WR Antonio Brown
Following his national-attention-grabbing game Monday night in Green Bay, Trufant's workload doesn't get any easier. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been tearing up the league with eye-popping numbers, including 105 receptions for 1,375 yards and 11 touchdowns. If the Falcons are to accomplish their "1-0" goal this week, they'll need Trufant to slow Brown's big-play abilities.
"He's a great player," Trufant said. "He's definitely one of the best in the league. He's quick, athletic and a big-play type of guy. I have to be on my "A-game" just like every other week."
Under the Radar Player to Watch: Falcons S Kemal Ishmael
Like wide receiver Julio Jones (hip), Falcons safety William Moore (foot) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The team's unquestionable leader of the defense has been proud of the work his fellow safeties have done in his absence, including Ishmael. Falcons fans hope Ishmael, the team's interceptions leader (4), delivers his fifth pick of the season, ideally returning it for the score like he did in Week 3.
On the Radar Player to Watch: Falcons WR Roddy White
It's tough to be off the radar when you're one score shy of becoming your team's all-time leader in touchdowns. White needs just one score to pass Michael Turner (61 TDs) to establish yet another franchise record. Despite the individual accolade, White remains focused solely on playing at his best against a solid Steelers defense.
"It's just hard-nosed football over there, and that's the Steeler way," White said. "They've been playing football like that for years. We have to take the fight to them. They are a physical football team. We have to pack our lunch, bring the lunch pail, put on the hard hat, and let's go to work."
Number of the Game: 5.1
In just his second season, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is lighting up the league, including an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Bell is also a huge threat in the passing game, logging 71 receptions for 693 yards and three touchdowns this year.
"He's their work horse, no doubt, in terms of running, carrying the football and catching the football," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "He's their second-leading receiver. He has over 300 touches thus far in the season, so you've got to have a plan when they split him out of the backfield of who's going to cover him. You want to make sure that you have the most advantageous match, because he's a very good receiver."
**Three Keys to Victory:
1. Pin the Arm: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. His size and strength make it extra difficult to bring the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller to the ground.
"If you do get in there, we have to be conscious of pinning that throwing arm, maybe even more so than you would with other quarterbacks," Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow said.
2. Communication is Key: Earlier this week, Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice described the Steelers defensive front as fast, athletic and explosive. Facing a disciplined defense makes communication that much more important.
"(Steelers defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau has done a great job over the years confusing guys and making sure that his defensive teams are very heady and smart about what they do and how they execute their defense," Falcons running back Steven Jackson said.
"Our center, quarterback and myself, everyone that's in protection, we need them all to be on the same page and make sure we're seeing things the same way."
3. Hester Time:The last time Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester played in the Georgia Dome on a short week, a Thursday night game in Week 3, he became the NFL's all-time return-touchdowns leader. Another return by Hester would be huge in trying to achieve the team's sixth win of the season.
"It's going to be a tough game," Hester said. "Our mentality is to finish this season strong. We've worked hard this week and hopefully we'll come out with the win." * *