By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons in an AFC North versus NFC South game that has playoff implications for both teams. Pittsburgh has seen its share of injuries this season, losing defensive end Brett Keisel for the season, putting Cortez Allen on the injured-reserved list and trying to get several players back on the field. In week 15, the only player that is a scratch is veteran cornerback Ike Taylor. Veteran linebacker James Harrison is questionable to play on Sunday, but was able to participate in practice this week in a limited capacity.
The Steelers have two major challenges on offense in their second road game in as many weeks. In a tight AFC North race, Pittsburgh needs a successful outing that results in a win. “We are facing another division leader on the road…we expect (Atlanta) to be at their best,” head coach Mike Tomlin said in his weekly press conference. “We know that we need to come out fast and work to neutralize a hostile environment.” The Falcons have been doing extremely well at producing defensive turnovers. In fact, Atlanta is plus-five on the season in that area, and the Steelers will need to protect the ball on offense to eliminate giving the ball back to a Falcons offense that can be explosive if left unchecked. After going relatively unheralded this season, the Steelers’ offensive line has been the biggest key to the success of the offense, but they will definitely be challenged by Atlanta’s defensive front. “Defensively under Coach Nolan, they are very versatile,” Tomlin said of the Falcons. “Biermann is a guy that plays end but they also move him around in rover packages…Jonathan Babineaux…Tyson Jackson…Osi Umenyiora….they play a lot of people. They are very multiple. They create one-on-one matchups…We have to be at our best in that regard, particularly from a pass protection standpoint.”
With Taylor out on defense, it is highly likely that Antwon Blake, who had a nice outing in week 14, will take his position at corner. The defensive backfield, who has looked thin throughout the season, will need an outing without mistakes in coverage and open-field tackling. Highlight-reel Atlanta receiver Julio Jones has a hip injury and is listed as questionable to play on Sunday, but Jones has been working on the sideline with performance staff according to head coach Mike Smith. “I want the doctors to say he’s ready to go,” said Smith. “It’s not going to be a decision I’m going to make. It’s not going to be a decision that Julio is going to make.” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wouldn’t be surprised if Jones is indeed available come Sunday. “I think he’ll be there. He’s a great competitor,” said LeBeau. “If there’s any way he can play, he’ll play. We have to (be) ready for the strong possibility that he will play. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t make any difference. We have to stop who’s there.” Atlanta receivers Roddy White and Harry Douglas have also been dealing with injuries, but both were able to give a full practice on Friday. Devin Hester is always a threat, especially in the special teams return game. The Steelers special teams will need to utilize strength in containing long returns.
The Steelers need a full-team performance that finally showed up against Cincinnati. On both sides of the football, the team pulled together to control the game. It resulted in a blow-out of the current AFC North leaders. Pittsburgh has the talent to walk away with a win, but they’ll have to dig deep once again. Lawrence Timmons has been a steady force this season, and if he can have a big performance and assist in keeping Matt Ryan honest at quarterback and give the defensive line help with rushers Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, it can flip the field. Pittsburgh’s offense can then open up, using Le’Veon Bell to balance the run versus pass and give Ben Roethlisberger the ability to spread his passes out among a group of receivers who have gotten on the same page. “When you have an explosive passing game coupled with a pretty explosive running game,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley explained, “I think that’s the combination everybody is searching for.”
Atlanta will be without cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) on Sunday. Fullback Patrick DiMarco and safety William Moore are questionable and did not practice this week. Offensive guards Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock are both suffering from back issues. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai has been dealing with a shoulder injury but is expected to play in the week 15 home game.
Steelers Injury Recap
Ike Taylor (CB, shoulder/forarm)
James Harrison (OLB, knee)
William Gay (CB, quadricep)
Marcus Gilbert (T, ankle)
Cameron Heyward (DE, not injury related)
Heath Miller (TE, not injury related)
Maurkice Pouncey (C, ankle)
Ben Roethlisberger (QB, not injury related)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on