Steelers, fresh off a victory, are starting to heat up

The Steelers, the Falcons’ next opponent Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are starting to get hot.

Behind rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (4-7) defeated Matt Ryan and the host Colts 24-17 on Monday night for its second win in its past three games.

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Pickett, who played in college at Pitt, was 20-of-28 passing for 174 yards. He also rushed six times for 32 yards.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday they won’t need to review Pickett’s work in college to formulate a plan. He is 175-of-265 passing for 1,600 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions. Because he has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long, he’s been sacked 19 times in the past five games, including three by the Colts. However, Pickett hasn’t had a turnover in his past three games.

“There’s enough now, you have a good feeling,” Smith said.

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell said Monday an effective way to confuse a rookie quarterback such as Pickett is by disguising coverages. Terrell, who played at Clemson, said Pickett is a competitor. He said a key is making him stay in the pocket.

Benny Snell led Pittsburgh’s rushing attack with 62 yards, including a touchdown, on 12 carries against the Colts. Snell replaced leading rusher Najee Harris, who left the game with an abdominal injury in the second quarter. Backup Jaylen Warren also didn’t play because of an injury. Harris had 35 yards on 10 carries before sustaining his injury. Pittsburgh rushed for 172 yards. The Commanders rushed for 176 yards in their 19-13 victory against the Falcons on Sunday. The Falcons will try to slow Pittsburgh’s rushing attack, even if it’s missing its two best rushers.

Former Georgia Bulldogs standout George Pickens had three receptions for 57 yards, including a key two-point conversion, Monday night.

In something that is relatable to Falcons supporters, Pittsburgh’s offense struggled in the third quarter against the Colts. The Steelers generated 18 yards on eight plays.

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Pittsburgh’s defense limited Ryan and the Colts to 290 yards, including 180 passing. Indianapolis produced 152 yards in the third quarter. The Steelers jumped on many of the underneath routes attempted by Colts receivers early in the game. They almost picked off Ryan on the game’s first play and intercepted him on the second. The Colts failed to convert on 9 of 12 third downs, and they failed on a fourth-down attempt with the game on the line in the final minute. The Falcons’ defense is steadily improving its third-down defense, but it remains among the worst in the league.

Sunday’s game is important for the Falcons (5-7) because despite losing at Washington they remain a half-game behind the Bucs for first place in the NFC South with five games to play. The schedule is favorable. Momentum can be produced. After the Steelers, the Falcons have a bye and then will play at New Orleans (4-8), will go to Baltimore (7-4) and will host Arizona (4-8) and Tampa (5-6) in the finale with a possible playoff spot on the line.

“One week at a time, just to try to go 1-0 and win the games we are supposed to win,” Terrell said. “We are right in the hunt, just have to make that push for it.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

Nov. 27 Commanders 19, Falcons 13

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD