An attractive non-conference game is on the schedule for week one of the NFL regular season as the Atlanta Falcons visit the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Vegas odds have placed the Falcons as 2.5-point favorites as the home team. In 2009, the Falcons did well against the spread (ATS), especially on the road, going 5-3. The Steelers, in 2009, on the other hand, were not an underdog at home in any game. The teams last played in Atlanta in 2006, with the Falcons winning 41-38 in OT.
The Atlanta Falcons are a dangerous team offensively with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and wide receiver Roddy White as the Falcons finished in the top half of the league statistically. Ryan is smart and accurate with the ball, throwing 22 TDs against 14 INTs in 2009, and only taking 27 sacks. He better be ready to move around against the Steelers sack-happy defense. Turner had an injury-plagued season in 2009 and is eager to bounce back in 2010. He might have to start in week 2 since the Steelers specialize in stopping the run. Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood provided change-of pace runners out of the backfield and can have some success against the Steelers, who were vulnerable to quick runners in the flat and on sprint draws in passing situations. TE Tony Gonzalez was a red zone option for Ryan and could find some room against the Steelers blitzing defense. Falcons’ receiver Michael Jenkins is questionable so someone else must step-up.
For the Steelers, defensively, everything starts with All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Polamalu was injured for most of 2009 and is healthy again. His presence alone will make this defense - which struggled protecting fourth quarter leads - much better in 2010. So will DE Aaron Smith, who also injured for most of the year. He, along with NT Casey Hampton, anchors a D-line that shuts down the run. The Steelers linebackers, especially OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, create havoc and make plays in the backfield. Against the Falcons, the Steelers will blitz from a number of formations and packages but must also defend against the big play. Big plays hurt the Steelers in 2009 and cornerback Ike Taylor must upgrade his play, starting with defending the Falcons’ White, who will stretch the field.
With Polamalu on the field, the Steelers should be able to pressure the QB and defend the middle of the field. Ryan can make a few big plays but, if the Steelers make his offense one-dimensional, he could be in for a long day.
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