Pittsburg SteelersCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

atlanta falcons

We are five games into the NFL season, and both the Pittsburg Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons only have one win each.  What’s interested is that these two teams play each other this Sunday.  Many have predicted that these two teams would play each other in the Super Bowl on February 3, but that’s unlikely to happen at this rate.  What does this mean?  It means that one of these teams will enter into Week 6 with just one win.  In the NFL’s modern era, only 12 teams have made the playoffs after winning just one of their first five games, and only two of those teams—the ’76 Steelers and ’02 Titans—made it past the divisional round. Translation – it doesn’t look good for whichever team loses this weekend.

What’s Wrong with Pittsburg?

Many believe the issue is the absence of linebacker Ryan Shazier is the cause of the problems facing the Steelers.  Sure, their defense is not doing great without him, but many of the post-Shazier issues that have plagued the Steelers late last season have been remedied by Jon Bostic.  Bostic is a former second-round pick and has been decisive in run defense, and extremely alert in zone coverage.  Many are suggesting that the problem isn’t Bostic, but rather everyone around him.  Is that fair to say?  It starts with a pass defense that ranks 29th, having given up 18 completions of 20 yards or more—sixth most in the league—and twelve of those have come against single-high safety coverage.

What can they do to remedy this?  Well, it’s kind of already started to unfold.  The Steelers clearly made a halftime adjustment against the Ravens on Sunday night, shifting to safe two-deep coverages.  The two-deep coverages put a lid on Baltimore’s explosive downfield passes, but it also allowed Joe Flacco to bring some points with field goals.

What’s Wrong with Atlanta?

The problem with Atlanta is that the entire back middle of the defense is out with injuries. Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are done for the season, and middle linebacker Deion Jones is gone until at least November. Since the league won’t postpone any games, the Falcons must keep playing, bad luck and all, and the team elected to promote and relocate players from within rather than sign outside help.

What’s the solution for Atlanta?  Keep playing man-to-man.  This is what we know and understand of Atlanta.  It’s a simple identity and one that Atlanta must maintain.  With speed at linebacker and safety, the Falcons try to run with receivers and/or keep the action in front of them and rally to the ball.

Alternatively, the Falcons can decide to blitz, which Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel have both thought long and hard about.  But after the Bengals torched them on these in the first half, during last Sunday’s game, the two coaches decided that it wasn’t worth expanding their scheme with so many players.

Who will win this weekend’s matchup is anyone’s guess, really.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it will make Sunday’s gameplay much more interesting.