The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the 4-7 New Orleans Saints Sunday at Heinz Field, but even though the visitors have a losing record, they still have a very dangerous quarterback in Drew Brees, who has already thrown for 311 or more yards in a game six different times this season.
Brees enters Sunday’s game against the Steelers with a 70.3% completion percentage and that’s tops in the league when compared to other quarterbacks who have attempted 43 or more passes this season.
During his long career, Brees has played the Steelers four times and he’s only beaten them once. In three of those games against the Steelers, Dick LeBeau was the defensive coordinator, so Brees will certainly have some level of familiarity with the defense come Sunday. In those three games against LeBeau, Brees was 85-of-126 (67.5%) passing for 922 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. That equates to a 92.6 old school passer rating, if you’re scoring at home.
Curiously enough, the Steelers also only managed to sack Brees a total of four times in those three games. So far this season, Brees has only been sacked a total of 17 times in the 11 games and four of those sacks came Monday night in the Saints 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
I was curious to see how Brees has done on the road so far this season when throwing 15 or more yards down the field and I was quite surprised when I found the results at Pro Football Reference. According to my research, Brees currently has the best road deep pass completion percentage in the league (55.6%) this season when compared to quarterbacks that have attempted at least 11 or more such passes.
To make matters worse, the Steelers defense has allowed 54.8% of the passes thrown 15 or more yards down the field against them to be completed this season and that’s the third worst percentage in the league heading into Sunday’s game. Being as the Steelers defense isn’t likely to sack Brees very often on Sunday, I fully expect the Saints veteran quarterback to be able to go vertical in the game.
Have I scared you enough yet? If not, these next two nuggets should put you over the edge.
For starters, the Saints enter Sunday’s game with the best third down conversion percentage in the league (50.71 %). They’ve also converted 62.7% of the time on third downs when facing distances of five yards or less when you exclude kneel downs.
Also, dating back to 2006, Brees’ first year in New Orleans, the Saints are 26-0 in games that they don’t turn the football over. So far this season, the Steelers have failed to record a turnover in three different games and they lost two of them.
So, what will the Steelers need to do to beat the Saints and Brees on Sunday? As I mentioned on Tuesday, they really need to try to run early and often against the Saints, who haven’t been great at stopping it this season. In doing so, they should be able to control the clock and that will help keep Brees off the field.
Running the ball effectively should also open up the deep passing game for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who like I mentioned in an earlier post, is great so far this season at home at connecting deep.
The Steelers defense will also likely need to force at least one turnover Sunday in order to win. The Saints have already given the ball away 20 times so far this season and 11 of those have been Brees passes that were intercepted.
In reality, I see this game Sunday being a shootout that could resemble the Steelers game against the Indianapolis Colts several weeks ago. I don’t think the Steelers will be able to shut down Brees in this game, so much like they did against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, they’ll more than likely have to hang 40 or 50 points on the Heinz Field scoreboard in order to come away with a win.