After coming off a wild loss on Monday night football, where the Atlanta Falcons (5-8) fell to the Green Bay Packers 43-37, they still control their own destiny in Week 14 and still are in first place in the NFC South.
The Packers game was a tale of two halves for Steven Jackson and Atlanta. In the first half, they were not playing their game, falling behind 31-7, but in the second half, they showed they could hang with Green Bay, one of the NFL’s top offenses. Now as they prepare for another tough test against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5), SJ39 and Co. are focused on where they can improve to complete their playoff push.
“We have to look at the things that we could get better from the game Monday night,” Steven said. “But definitely look forward to another tough team, which the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing for something as well, so it’s going to be a very intense game this Sunday.”
Atlanta will be back in the Georgia Dome against the AFC’s No. 5 seed in the Steelers, who have had an up-and-down season thus far. This will be just the third time Steven has run against Pittsburgh, but the first in a Falcons uniform.
In two games against the Steelers, SJ39 is averaging 18.0 carries for 94 yards. The last time, SJ39 took on the Steelers was the 2011 season in week 16 at Heinz Field as a St. Louis Ram.
In that game, SJ had 103 rushing yards on 24 carries and 24 yards on two receptions. The Rams went on to lose that game 27-0.
For the Falcons to win on Sunday at the Georgia Dome, where they are 3-2 on the season, they will have to execute their game plan against a tough Steelers defense that is only giving up 104.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the NFL, but is giving up 248.5 passing yards per game, which ranks 23rd.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, this week, commented on Dick Labeau’s defense.
“Pittsburgh’s defense is very good. They present a lot of different looks. They’ve got a great blitz package, so you have to work really hard in the film room and on the practice field to be able to get the communication where you want it, in terms of pass protection and the run game. I think guys have done a good job early this week of getting a jump start on the week, and starting to get ourselves prepared for Sunday, but it’s one of those things, I think guys know how to get themselves right and know how to prepare. We’re going to do a great job of that this week.”
Ryan also knows for the team to be successful like they were in the second half of the Green Bay game, they have to keep playing at a high level.
“We’ve got to continue to play at a high level. I think there were times in the game this past week where we did that. We just need to be more consistent for four quarters, but it all starts up front for us. We’ve got to try to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and that’s where as a team that’s most important.”
Last week, the Steelers’ defense held Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals offense to 21 points and held Cincinnati to 86 total rushing yards.
The test for the Falcons defense will be if they can stop this balanced Pittsburgh offense that has seen Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell all put together strong seasons.
Falcons’ cornerback Dwight Lowery commented that Big Ben will present a similar challenge to what Aaron Rodgers did last week.
“You think he's sacked, but he can escape,” he said. “He can throw the ball with guys all over him. He's able to extend plays. I think he's protecting the football a lot better now than he has in years past. He's kind of similar to Aaron Rodgers as far as extending plays, but he's more physical and obviously a great quarterback as well.”
Falcons head coach Mike Smith was asked during the week about stopping Pittsburgh’s star running back, Bell, who has just been playing great football this season and this is what he had to say.
“He’s their work horse, no doubt, in terms of running, carrying the football and catching the football. 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 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.”
This season, Bell has 1,231 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 693 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He has been a threat in the passing and running game for the Steelers.
“Absolutely he does. In their empty package, which they have an extensive empty package, he will line up in different spots,” said Smith. “He can lineup out as a number one, a number two, or a number three. When you do that there’s multiple guys that’s going to have an opportunity to cover him when you’re playing man coverage.”
The Packers enter Sunday’s game with a 4-3 road record after knocking off their AFC North division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, 42-21. The Falcons come into the game with a 5-8 record but are happy that they have two of the last three games at home during the playoff push.
“I think anybody would. One of those things at the beginning of the year is you want to have a chance in December. You want to be in the mix, and we’re in the mix,” said Ryan. “We’ve got to focus on this week though. We can’t worry about the next two weeks, or what’s happening with other teams. We’ve got to take care of our business. We’re at the point of the season right now where it’s time to play our best football for four quarters consistently. I think that’s where everybody’s mindset is at, and what everybody’s thinking at this point.”
Kickoff from the Georgia Dome is slated for 1:00 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on CBS.
- Falcons vs. Steelers 2014: Stop Le'Veon Bell Or Face The Dire Consequences (The Falcoholic, Dec. 11, 2014)
- TRANSCRIPTS: SMITH, RYAN PRESS INTERVIEWS (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 10, 2014)
- Wednesday Press Pass: Falcons vs. Steelers (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 10, 2014)
- TRANSCRIPT: SMITH PRESS CONFERENCE (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 11, 2014)
- FALCONS PREPARED FOR STEELERS' OFFENSIVE ATTACK (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 12, 2014)