These two teams are definitely contenders for the Super Bowl, and in the third preseason game, starters tend to play a lot.
So what matchups are important?
Is it the Steelers' defense versus Matt Ryan, or perhaps Michael Turner? Can the Falcons' aerial attack tear apart the Steelers and expose their secondary as the ultimate weakness, as many say? Or will this shown just another thing about the Steelers that is overblown?
I do know that the two general managers and head coaches are two of the best in the game. The GMs don't normally make splashy moves in the offseason. However, this year the Falcons traded way up for the right to draft Julio Jones.
So, who will win? Let's find out.
An obvious story is the Falcons' offensive line versus the Steelers' linebackers.
The Falcons have one of the sturdiest offensive lines in football. With players like Tyson Clabo, Atlanta's offensive line is very talented.
And what makes them even more dangerous is the fact that the sum is greater than the sum of the parts. They play outstanding together, so expect this line to be amazing.
As for the Steelers' linebackers, what can we say?
They are, without a doubt, the best linebacking corps in football.
James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are all Pro Bowl-caliber players except maybe Farrior, who is still playing at a high level. The zone blitz schemes the Steelers will throw at Atlanta will completely throw them off, and the linebackers are a huge part of that. They can rush the passer, drop back into coverage and play either zone or man-to-man.
In conclusion, the Steelers get the upper hand here. The best linebacking corps in football is just too much for anyone to handle.
With that in mind, if Matt Ryan is able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, the Falcons can win this battle.
Roddy White is an elite wide receiver, and the Falcons have done everything in their power to help him.
They gave White an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan. They got another weapon in Tony Gonzalez to keep the pressure off White, and this year they got him Julio Jones.
The Falcons' entire wide receiving corps is amazing, and White is something truly special.
Ike Taylor did very well against him last year. Although White caught 13 passes for 111 yards, Matt Ryan targeted him about 24 times, and Ryan was only able to complete his passes to White about half the time.
Expect Ryan to do a bit better with White given the addition of Julio Jones.
Even if Ryan completes more passes to White, expect Taylor to do OK against him. You can never shut down a player like that, but you can contain him.
Tony Gonzalez is a Hall of Famer. He is the most elusive tight end in the history of football, and the man can flat-out play.
Gonzalez changed all the rules about what a tight end should be. He can make quick cut moves, and he can go take a hit. As he gets older he may lose a step, but for now, let us assume he is still the best tight end in the game.
Defending Defensive Player of the Year. An absolute beast who can stuff the run and cover the pass.
He can start off 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and still stuff the running back for a 2-yard loss.
The man is arguably the best safety in football. There aren't enough good things to say about him.
My conclusion is that it's a tie. Although Polamalu will have other responsibilities, his abilities say he can keep up with Gonzalez.
I cannot say for sure what will happen, but expect these two to put on a great show.
The two rookies are going to battle it out.
The Atlanta Falcons sold the farm to get Julio Jones. He was an awesome wide receiver in college, and now he will be a solid wide receiver in the NFL.
The question is, how soon?
Jones must prove himself to get a lot of snaps in the regular season, but I think the Falcons are already committed to playing him in the regular season.
Keenan Lewis is a different story.
Lewis struggled against the Redskins when he was on the second-team defense, but excelled in the first-team defense against the Philadelphia Eagles ("The Dream Team"). This is his make-or-break game. Although Jones comes with more hype, Lewis has shown to be solid, and with an unbelievable defense supporting him, he should be just fine.
At the end of the day, the fact that Lewis is going to be hungrier will help him shut down Jones. This is not a knock on Jones either since he needs to learn the intricacies of the NFL, which Lewis has had some time to learn.
Michael Turner is a game-changer.
The Falcons got turner to help Matt Ryan with his development. He has been to two Pro Bowls and rushed for more than 1,600 yards at one point. Along with the offensive line that seems built for the run, this guy is amazing.
The Steelers' front seven is the best in football, which is why they have been the best defense against the run the last two years.
We have already touched on the linebackers, so let's go to the defensive line.
Casey Hampton is a potential Pro Bowler. Aaron Smith is pretty good when healthy. Evander (Ziggy) Hood is looking like a great up-and-coming DE, and Brett Keisel and Nick Eason are also very solid.
This is the Steelers' bread and butter. Expect them to completely shut down Turner and the running game of the Falcons.
This is one matchup to watch.
John Abraham is a beast—make absolutely no mistake about it.
The man can rush the quarterback and get a ton of sacks. He can stuff the run, and he just might be able to do that without any help at all.
The Steelers are going to try to double-team Abraham all game long, but at the end of the day, his talent alone will bring him success.
The Steelers' offensive line is one of the most maligned in football.
Their best player is a sophomore center by the name of Maurkice Pouncey.
After that, you have Jonathan Scott, who is injured. You have a rookie tackle by the name of Marcus Gilbert; he wasn't a first-round pick, he was a second-rounder!
And then you have Willie Colon, who is solid, but may be better suited to guard. Problem is the Steelers have very few tackles, so Colon will be Ben Roethlisberger's blind-side protector.
Trai Essex is not that great; in fact, when the Steelers cut him, nobody tried to sign him. That's a bad sign.
And then you have a solid guard in Chris Kemoeatu.
In conclusion, John Abraham is going to eat them alive. Big Ben needs to extend plays with his feet and get the ball off in a hurry.
The advantage clearly belongs to the Falcons.
I question whether the fire is gone from Dunta Robinson now that he has signed that big-money contract.
However, he is still a fine cornerback. He has never made the Pro Bowl, but he still plays a very solid game.
And he needs to stay healthy to do anything this year.
Mike Wallace is the guy who wants to get 2,000 yards receiving.
Yes, you read that right, 2,000 yards. That would be a new NFL record and would help him break the bank when his contract is up for renewal at the end of the year.
Wallace is one of, if not the fastest, receivers in the NFL. He will make Robinson's life hell tonight.
This one is going to be tight. The deep passes may not reach Wallace with Robinson covering him, but I still think Wallace sneaks in a few receptions to get 100 yards receiving.
The Falcons have a solid front seven. They have John Abraham who is a beast, Jonathan Babineaux and Curtis Lofton.
At the end of the day, the Falcons have a terrifying run-defense (though it looks tame if compared to the Steelers').
Rashard Mendenhall is an amazing running back. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards last year behind a patchwork offensive line.
This year, the offensive line should be solid, and this should help him get even more yards.
In the end, the Falcons have too good of a front seven. They will stop Mendenhall by putting the ball in Big Ben's hands (not exactly the worst thing in the world for the Steelers).
I think these are the matchups that will determine the game, and I have shown you how I expect these matchups to end. I think this is going to be a solid game and a tight, low-scoring affair.
In the end I expect the Steelers to pull it out. This is because of how great their defense is; it really is hard to game plan against this defense (unless you're Belichick).
At the end of the day, it will win the Steelers the game at 13-7.