The New Orleans Saints sit at 4-3 and are not on top of the NFC South like they would have liked to have been at this point. The road doesn't get easier as they host the red hot Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Sunday Night Football. While the Saints lost to the Cleveland Browns 30-17, the Steelers beat the Miami Dolphins 23-22.
The Steelers come into this game with a great defense and an offense that has gotten better since the return of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They have been playing wellon both sides of the ball and present quite a challenge to the 2009 NFL World Champions.
So what can the Saints do to win this game? Can they win this game? Are we starting to see the decline of the Saints? Let’s find out in this extended game preview.
When the Saints have the Ball
New Orleans was “shown up” by the Cleveland Browns defense this past weekend and really didn’t get much going on offense until the game was well out of hand. What has happened to this once vaunted offense? Why aren’t they playing as well as they did last season?
One reason may be that teams are playing them much differently than they did last season. The Saints offense has been getting about 279 passing yards a game out of their offense which would be pretty good in most cases, but turnovers and breakdowns at the wrong time have really set their once powerful offense back.
Things won’t get any easier with the Steelers coming to town this Sunday. Pittsburgh is allowing an average of 235 yards through the air which is a pretty respectable number. Teams have had to pass on the Steelers to try to get ahead so that number may be skewed a little bit.
The thing that the Saints have to look out for is turnovers. Turnovers have killed them at critical times and have cost them games. So far this season, quarterback Drew Brees has thrown ten interceptions which is quite a lot considering how many he threw last season overall (just 11 in all of 2009). It has been a rough start to the season.
The leading wide receiver for the Saints is Marques Colston. He has caught 40 passes for 452 yards and one touchdown. Their leading receiver in touchdowns is Lance Moore with four. The Saints typically got the ball out to their receivers early and often in games last season, but this year they have struggled to complete passes and have thrown many interceptions
Last year’s Saints team had no problem scoring through the air, building up leads early in games so that teams would be forced to try to play catch up. Most of the time the Saints would win those games. This just isn’t happening.
One other thing that the Saints had last year that they are just now starting to see work better this season is their running game. The Saints are averaging 92 yards rushing but they have had some big ground games this season (as well as some poor ones) so that number is a little bit skewed.
Chris Ivory is their leading rusher, Pierre Thomas has been out with an injury. So far this season Ivory has rushed 59 times for 325 yards with no touchdowns. The yardage totals are good but his production (in points) is lacking. Perhaps the Saints are missing Reggie Bush more than anyone thought that they would, but he just might be back for this game.
Pittsburgh is allowing opponents just 63 yards per game on the ground so the Saints may have to try to pass their way to a win and abandon the run.
When the Steelers have the Ball
After serving a four game suspension, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back and playing pretty well. Since returning to the Steelers he has thrown five touchdown passes and targeted wide receivers Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. This is an offense that has been hard to stop.
The Steelers are averaging right around 181 yards per game but that number is misguided a bit because Pittsburgh didn’t pass the ball much in their games prior to Roethlisberger’s return from suspension.
The Steelers' rushing attack has been productive averaging right around 118 yards per game. Their leading rusher is Rashard Mendenhall and he has 535 yards and five touchdowns. He’s a load and the Saints will have their hands full trying to bring him down.
On defense, New Orleans is allowing opponents to gain 108 yards per game on the ground and 179 yards through the air. That is a reflection of just how much turnovers have affected the Saints. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards on offense for opposing teams but those turnovers haven’t helped matters any, giving opponents good field position.
The Saints have been playing sloppy football as of late and no one is quite sure why this is the case. Perhaps teams are playing them differently this season and the Saints just haven’t been able to defend against this newfound energy.
Perhaps this team has just become careless and its players don’t have their head in the game? Whatever it is, it has got this team down and out of the lead in the NFC South.
One good thing is that the Saints did get safety Darren Sharper back last week after having him out for six weeks. He should be able to play much better in this game after missing a long amount of time. Hopefully he will be able to assume a similar role to what he did last season and help the Saints out on defense.
New Orleans already has one advantage in this game and that’s the fact that they are playing it at home. However, that is right about where their advantages end. The Steelers are superior in many aspects of the game especially on defense and in the running game.
The Saints can win this game if they limit their mistakes and can get their passing game going early and often. They might have to set the running game aside for a little while as they attempt to get a big lead and then try to hold the Steelers off and win the game.
Is this realistic? Probably not, but anything is possible in New Orleans.
The Saints are hurting and are probably quite angry right now. They have watched their season get off to a rocky start and haven’t been able to find out how to stop teams from beating them. They also haven’t figured out a way to curb their turnovers.
This is going to be an interesting game and one that the Saints will probably come up short in.
Pittsburgh 24, New Orleans 21