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Wednesday Warning: A blueprint for success emerges

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CBS News Pittsburgh Live

Welcome to the Wednesday Warning - each Wednesday, KDKA-TV Sports' Josh Taylor takes you through what you need to know for that upcoming Sunday's Steelers game.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The Steelers checked off an item on the list Monday night in Indianapolis when they beat the Colts for their first road win in five tries since their season-opening victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime more than two months ago.

Now comes a few more boxes to check off all in one opportunity: win two games in a row, win on a short week of preparation, and win as a road favorite. And given the matchup with their upcoming opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, this could be the perfect time to do it.

In two of their last three games, the Steelers have won using their desired blueprint for winning games this season: playing sound defense, running the football, and winning the turnover margin.

It also shouldn't be lost on any observer that both of those wins have come against teams with losing records.

This week's matchup against Atlanta (5-7) is another chance to continue to build using that same blueprint. The Falcons are dead last in the league in total defense and passing defense, 24th in rushing defense, and 29th in scoring defense. If there's a time for the running game to continue to deliver efficiently and Kenny Pickett to whet his appetite throwing the football, this is it.

Najee Harris' availability aside, the Steelers showed the ability to still run efficiently in Indianapolis with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, their third and fourth running backs. Rookie Jaylen Warren has been limited in practice early in the week but if he plays in Atlanta, they'll have options in the backfield whether Harris plays or not.

Pickett has shown his most considerable growth over the three games since the bye week, with his three best complete games as far as passer rating, a number that has increased each game from 79.7 against the Saints, to 85.9 against the Bengals, to 87.5 in Indianapolis Monday night. His decision-making continues to improve and his mistakes are fewer.

Also, leading a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Colts should pay dividends for his confidence.

Defensively, this will be one of the best opportunities to see the Steelers' sixth-ranked run defense in a "good-on-good" situation. The Falcons have the second-most rushing yards in the league (1,920) and they're tied for fifth in yards per carry (4.9).

What also creates an interesting challenge is the triumvirate of men they use to carry the football, namely, running back Tyler Allgeier, quarterback Marcus Mariota, and receiver-turned-running back Cordarrelle Patterson. All three have more than 80 carries this season at more than 4.5 yards a pop. That combination creates multiple matchup concerns, but far fewer should come in the passing game.

With second-year tight end Kyle Pitts ruled out for the season after MCL surgery on his right knee, that leaves rookie wide receiver Drake London as the only target Mariota has trusted with a high volume. London has caught 41 of 69 targets, but only fellow wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus has caught more than 20.

It would be advantageous for the Steelers to find a way to limit London without letting another receiving option beat them.

Sunday presents another opportunity for the Steelers to control the game on the ground, give Kenny Pickett more favorable opportunities in the pocket to succeed, and for the defense to limit an opponent well enough to keep the game close and eventually win.

The Falcons, like the Steelers, are a team in transition, still finding out what works in order to win games. Both have two of what one could categorize as "quality wins", but winning games like these that are within your grasp is still the easiest way to beef up your season resume.

The seeds have been planted for what the identity of this Pittsburgh Steelers team could (or arguably has) become during the 2022 season.

All they need to do to win this game is continue to let those seeds grow in a still somewhat salvageable remainder of the season.

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