The Steelers had a chance to make a statement against the defending champion New Orleans Saints. They did make a statement, but sadly it was the wrong one. The Saints dominated the line of scrimmage on defense, making the Steelers offense look pathetic. This was very apparent when the Steelers had a first and goal from inside the one-yard line and were stuffed on three straight running plays.
The Saints also seemed to move the ball at will against the Steelers' D, utilizing an effective short yardage passing attack.
The Steelers had a chance to pull this one out of the crapper, but a key fumble lost by Heath Miller was the final straw that ended those hopes. A very frustrating loss, but let’s move on to the grades.
Ben Roethlisberger was under duress all night long, no doubt. But even when he did have a few seconds to pass, many of his throws were off the mark. His interception on the last gasp final drive was the nail in the coffin. 195 yards, no touchdowns and a passer rating of 66.8 says it all.
There were several times he could have scrambled away from some pressure, but he chose to try and make the big plays that just weren’t there tonight.
Running Back: D
You might look at Rashard Mendenhall’s line tonight and think he had a solid effort against the Saints. Numbers can lie. His only good run of the night was the big 38-yard touchdown run that managed to keep the Steelers in the thick of things. However, with first-and-goal at the Saints one-yard line following the challenge, the Steelers ran it three straight times and could not get that much-needed yard. It was a game-changer and the Steelers never recovered.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: D
This unit seemed off all night long. Many of them appeared to be running the wrong hot routes, and they were not getting open down field fast enough against a severely depleted Saints' secondary. Heath Miller lost a crucial fumble trying to fight for extra yardage, and it cost the Steelers the chance to tie or take the lead. I’ll give them a D instead of an F because once again they were making some key blocks to get a few extra yards throughout the game.
Offensive Line: F
Big Ben was sacked three times but was under pressure the entire night. There just was not enough time for the offense to get any kind of rhythm going. The aforementioned first-and-goal was a prime example of the line getting blown off the ball. Overall, the offense played like total crap tonight and was a major reason the Steelers are coming home with a loss.
Defensive Front Seven: D
They may have held the Saints to 30 yards rushing, but running the ball was never part of the Saints game plan. The Steelers came close on a lot of plays but weren’t able to disrupt Brees much in his passing attack. Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison each got a sack, but this unit didn’t do enough to stop the constant short passing and screens that the Saints were employing all game long.
Troy Polamalu did an awful lot of guessing in this game, and it looked like he was guessing wrong. Ike Taylor did have a nice interception where he guessed right and left his man uncovered to go for the pick. Bryant McFadden forced a fumble which should have changed the Steelers' momentum if Heath Miller didn’t fumble a few minutes later to give the ball right back. Sadly, that was the high point of the game for the secondary. Much of the passing was short routes and screens, so you can’t fault the secondary completely.
Special Teams: C
Jeff Reed missed a 51-yard field goal which would have meant a lot in this game, but it WAS a 50+ yard attempt. Those are hardly automatic. He did make his other attempt, a chip shot after the goal line stand by the Saints following the challenge. Daniel Sepulveda averaged 48 yards per punt, which is pretty solid. Emmanuel Sanders made some big plays on his kickoff returns, and even got a punt return for 38 yards. That may have been the first punt return for over five yards all season.