By Matthew Asher

With the Atlanta Falcons (5-8) still clinging to the top spot in the NFC South, things don’t get any easier for the Dirty Birds. After a rough game against the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta returns home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5), who just came off a 42-21 beatdown on the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. 

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Steelers Offense

The days of the Steelers being a ‘three yards and a cloud of dust” type offense are over. Statistically speaking, this is one of the best all-around offenses in the league as Pittsburgh ranks in the top 10 of the league. Each game the Steelers average 27.8 points (6th best) and 427 total yards (2nd best) with 303.2 yards coming through the air (2nd best) and 123.8 yards on the ground (8th best). Pittsburgh does have a very competent running game and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had a great season. He’s completed 66 percent of his throws for 4,055 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions for a passer rating of 103. Twice this season Big Ben has thrown 6 touchdowns in a game. The one “problem” is that he’s been sacked 31 times already.

The other major offensive weapon for Pittsburgh is running back Le’Veon Bell. He’s picked up 1,924 yards of total offense and 8 total touchdowns. He’s the only Steeler to have at least 25 carries as he leads the team with 1,231 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. Bell ranks second on the team in most of the receiving statistics as well, as he’s caught 71 passes for 693 yards and 3 touchdowns. Containing him will be of the utmost importance for Atlanta. The leading Steeler receiver is wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has 105 receptions for 1,375 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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Steelers Defense
  
As far as stats go, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a very impressive defense. The one bright spot on their defense is their run-prevention, which allows 104.1 yards, the ninth best in the league. The other major categories including points allowed, total yards and passing yards surrendered are all ranked in the bottom half of the league. A lot of this has to do with their lack of forcing turnovers as Pittsburgh is currently at a negative-two in that department. The Steelers have recorded just 8 interceptions, with William Gay and Cortez Allen each with two picks apiece. The difference between the two is that Gay has returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns. Brice McCain is the other Steeler with a pick-six to his credit this season.

As mentioned earlier, Big Ben has been sacked 31 times. Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t done a good job of sacking the opponents quarterbacks as they’ve recorded just 24. Cameron Heyward leads the team with 5 sacks and Jason Worilds is right behind him with 4.5. The reason for Pittsburgh’s success has really been the offense and the fact that they have the ball for more than 33 minutes each game.

Conclusion
This won’t be an easy game. The NFC South hasn’t fared very well this season against the AFC North. Atlanta has yet to win a game against an AFC opponent. Pittsburgh put up 25 points in the fourth quarter against Cincy, so Atlanta’s defense better be prepared for a rough game. Still, nothing’s out of the question and this is a winnable game for the Dirty Birds. Kickoff from the Georgia Dome is scheduled for 1pm ET. #RiseUp

For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.

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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.