PITTSBURGH — The Steelers and Falcons will face each other in a battle of mediocre teams on Sunday, but for both teams, it is a key game. The Falcons are fighting for positioning in the NFC South as the Buccaneers continue to slip, while Pittsburgh looks for continued development from Kenny Pickett and company.
In order to see who might pull out the game, there are just a few key players to watch for Pittsburgh to pull the game out and come back to the Steel City at 5-7 on the season.
Watch Cordarrelle Patterson, Wherever He Is
The Falcons have a weapon in Coradarrelle Patterson wherever he goes. That includes the return game, in which Isaiah Rodgers completely dominated the Steelers a week ago. If they do the same thing in Atlanta, there is a good bet that Patterson will end up in the endzone. In his career, Patterson has nine return touchdowns, including one this year. And there is nothing to simulate his elusiveness throughout the week, but Miles Boykin knows what Pittsburgh needed to do during the week.
“You can’t really simulate his elusiveness and strength,” Boykin said. “But what we can do is practice gang tackling. That’s what we have to do. He’s fast, strong, elusive, he’s all of that, but we can try to minimize that by flying to the ball as a unit together. So, it’s all about gang-tackling this week.”
Patterson plays at running back and wide receiver, too. The swiss army knife is one of the most versatile weapons in all of football has been since entering the league in 2013 up in Minnesota. Patterson could be looking at a potential Hall of Fame career, and being a four-time All-Pro, Boykin, the Steelers’ special teams, and the defense have taken notice.
“Look at his body of work, and you can see he’s a potential Hall of Fame guy,” Boykin said. “I mean, he’s the GOAT of kick returns. Yeah, we have our hands full this week. He’s as dynamic as they come. We have to be up to the task to slow him down.”
Drake London Breaking Out at the Right Time
When he was selected by the Falcons as the 8th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Drake London had lots of hopes for him. So far, the Falcons have slow-played the rookie wide receiver. But his role has grown, with a route tree that has diversified in recent weeks.
“You know, in recent weeks we’ve really opened up his route tree,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “He’s come along great for us. We’re really pleased with where Drake is at right now. He’s been everything we’ve hoped for and then some. So, yeah, really happy with Drake.”
Cam Sutton is ready to face London, who as a big receiver, can give the Steelers plenty of trouble. But it is not just his size that gives him the advantage. As a rookie, London’s growth and maturity have shown through as a unique trait. That makes his progressions, route tree, and status as a receiver that much more dangerous. So, what really sticks out to Sutton about London? It is his fluidity.
“Well, you see his size and already know that he can make those combat catches and play with physicality,” Sutton said. “But he’s really fluid for his size. I haven’t seen that many guys like that. His routes are really crisp and he’s grown as a player. I’m excited for the challenge.”
Boykin is a similarly big receiver. He never diversified his route tree until the second year of his career. Yet again, the fluidity stuck out to him as well. With no Kyle Pitts in the lineup, expect to see London emphasized by Marcus Mariota in the passing game.
The Steelers Rushing Attack
For the Steelers offense, running the ball at a high level has to be the top priority. They have the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL since coming out of the bye, and the Falcons are allowing over 180 rushing yards per game in their last three games. In other words, a strength that the Steelers have brought out of their offense feels like something that should continue in Atlanta.
“We feel like we could be building something here,” Najee Harris said. “It’s about stacking weeks with that. There’s something positive going on there, though. We just have to keep it up.”
Pittsburgh’s rushing attack could feature everyone in the backfield if Jaylen Warren suits up. It does not seem to matter who has lined up behind the offensive line to this point. The rushing attack just keeps churning ahead.