Take a look at the numbers the Steelers have given up to the tight end position the last three weeks:
Week 2) 7 receptions, 109 yards and 2 touchdowns
Week 3) 9 receptions 106 yards and 1 touchdown
Week 4) 10 receptions for 99 yards
It’s safe to say with all the attention that is going to be paid to Atlanta’s receivers, Austin Hooper is going to be in for quite a game.
Artie Burns/ Joe Haden
The Pittsburgh secondary has been a nightmare over the first four weeks. However, somebody has to be tasked with guarding the guy who leads the NFL in receiving, which has gotten exponentially tougher now that Atlanta has Calvin Ridley. So far, Artie Burns has not built off his 2017 campaign like the Steelers might have hoped, and Joe Haden is years removed from his prime. The Falcons are going to have success throwing the football no matter who they play, but it’s going to be up to these two guys to prevent them from scoring 40.
Running backs have feasted against the defense of Atlanta, particularly receiving the ball. Connor began 2018 with a bang replacing Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers fed him the ball 31 times as he rushed for 135 yards in a week one tie with the Cleveland Browns. Connor also finished with 5 receptions for 57 yards in the game. In the three weeks since, Connor has not accumulated 100 yards total on the ground, but this is the opportunity for him to be the game-changer. If he can’t take advantage of this Falcons defense, all the hype to begin the season was for not.
Senat has been really solid so far in his rookie campaign. Even though the Falcons defense has been atrocious this season, teams have not had much success on the ground. That is in large part because of an emerging star in Grady Jarrett, and this talented rookie right here.
Unfortunately, Jarrett has become the latest victim to the injury bug. Dan Quinn announced early in the week that he will be out this Sunday with a sprained ankle and could miss multiple weeks. Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford will attempt to fill the void left, but Senat is the guy I look for to become an impact player.
If there is any positive regarding the Falcons injury woes, it’s the amount of experience some of the younger players will gather. One of those guys to watch again this week is Isaiah Oliver.
Oliver is a rookie second-round pick out of Colorado. He was really thrust into the starting lineup on short notice last week and showed some flashes of why he was drafted so high. There were obviously some hiccups. Most noticeably, the one that ended last week’s game, which saw Oliver playing too far up in zone coverage, leaving A.J Green with space in the corner of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. He’s only going to get better, though, and I’m excited to see how he handles a tough challenge this Sunday against Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.