The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to get to four games over .500 for the first time since 2011 today as they take on the visiting New Orleans Saints. The team has been much more successful on offense at home than on the road, which could come in handy if Ben Roethlisberger finds himself in a shootout with Drew Brees.
While the Steelers have gotten two members of their secondary back in Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, nose tackle Steve McLendon and linebacker Ryan Shazier remain out, while right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his second game, replaced by Mike Adams.
The Saints won the coin toss and deferred, with the kickoff going for a touchback. On first down, Roethlisberger looked deep down the field to Markus Wheaton, but the ball was out of reach. On second down, Le’Veon Bell was lucky to find space for three yards. Antonio Brown shook out of a tackle to move the chains on third and seven.
Off play action, Roethlisberger found rookie Martavis Bryant cutting inside for a catch and run of about 20 yards across midfield. Back on the ground, Bell went for about another three yards up the middle. The flea flicker backfired with Keenan Lewis attacking the quarterback and forcing him to throw the ball away and setting up another long third down. Under pressure, Roethlisberger couldn’t get the ball to Bryant, which the Saints threatened to intercept. Brad Wing‘s punt was downed near the 15.
The Steelers opened in the nickel defense, and Brees dumped it off on first down under pressure to Pierre Thomas for a first down against James Harrison. Nick Toon could not haul in a pass in front of William Gay, but the left tackle was flagged for holding anyway.
On first and 20, Mark Ingram picked up five yards up the middle. A screen pass to the back got back to the original line of scrimmage. On third and 10, Brice McCain was in coverage for an incompletion. Ike Taylor was covering Jimmy Graham on the play.
Bell’s third carry of the game was another short one between the tackles. On second and seven, he was able to break through for a gain of about 12 to midfield, following a lead block by Will Johnson.
Following Johnson again, Bell took the left sideline and broke a couple of tackles with a shoulder charge for a gain of 13. From the 32, he was stopped after about a yard on first down. Lance Moore was flagged for a false start. On second and 14, Roethlisberger initially had time, but then scrambled and threw high down the field to Wheaton. Now third and long, the Saints jumped offside. Heavy pressure resulted in an incompletion and a field goal attempt from Shaun Suisham. The 49-yarder hooked just inside the left upright for a 3-0 lead.
With Cam Thomas at nose tackle, Ingram picked up about three yards on first down from the 20. The Steelers just missed getting to Brees on second down, but the pressure resulted in an incompletion anyway. On third and long, pressure influenced an overthrow of an open Kenny Stills, who was behind the coverage that could have gone for a long touchdown.
Roethlisberger didn’t read Patrick Robinson jumping the screen, but the cornerback couldn’t secure the pick, which would certainly have been returned for a score. Bell picked up a couple yards on second down. On another third and long, this one from eight, Roethlisberger stared down the pressure and hit Brown for the first down to midfield, but the quarterback was struck on his throwing hand on the play.
Roethlisberger handed off to Bell with his left hand on the following play, which went for four yards. The same on second down, for one yard. On third and five, Bell took the quick draw up the middle for 10+ yards and a first down.
From the 29, Bell rode a stiff arm for about five yards up the left sideline. Nothing much up the middle on second down. On third and three, Roethlisberger finally took to the air, rolling right and throwing a strong pass short to Moore for the first down to end the first quarter.
From the 18 now, Bell went up the middle for five yards. Roethlisberger threw to Brown on a ball that could have been intercepted again by Robinson, but Brown nearly stole the ball away for a touchdown, settling for an incompletion. On third and five, Bryant failed to come up with what should have been a touchdown at the right pylon. Suisham was good from 31 yards to make it 6-0.
Thomas got good penetration off the snap on first down, but Ingram found room around him for six yards. On second and four, Cadet recorded the first down over Harrison.
Sean Spence was in on coverage over the tight end down the field for the incompletion. On second down, Ingram was wrestled down for no gain. On third and 10, Brees threw to Thomas well short, with minimal pressure. The Saints punted once again, with Brown returning the ball to the 25.
Heath Miller motioned around the formation for an easy throw, but the connection only picked up two yards on first down. On second and eight, Bell slithered through a narrow alley for four yards to set up third and four. Roethlisberger’s pass was just a bit high and off the fingertips of Bell down the field, forcing a three and out for the first time today. Wing’s punt bounced and rolled all the way to the 21 for a 48-yard punt.
On first down for the Saints, a two-yard gain was all that could be found on the ground. Stills converted the first down over Gay on the following play. Heavy pressure forced a throwaway on first down. Antwon Blake made the tackle on Marques Colston short of the first to set up third and two. Thomas caught the left sideline for the first down and more across midfield.
Ingram scraped through the defense for a big gain, down to the 27. He ripped off another 12-yarder to the 15. Benjamin Watson was left open in the end zone to give the Saints the 7-6 lead.
Wheaton returned the kick 41 yards to the 43-yard line, easily the Steelers’ best kick return of the year. Bell was stopped after two yards on first down. Play action got Miller open for the first down across midfield. Roethlisberger threw into double coverage to Darrius Heyward-Bey to the end zone, resulting in a foolish interception, only his second interception at home and the first since the season opener.
Following the turnover in the end zone, Ingram went up the middle for five, but shut down a screen for an incompletion on second down to set up third and five. Toon recorded the conversion, and Polamalu shook himself up, taking himself off the field after delivering a hit.
Ingram was stopped after a yard following the first down. He was bottled up again attacking the left side. On third and six, Brees found Stills deep over Gay for 44 yards into scoring range at the two-minute warning.
Ingram fought off tackles for nine yards to the 11. He set up first and goal at the four on the following play. Brees connected for the touchdown on the next play as the Saints took a 14-6 lead.
With little time left but three timeouts, Roethlisberger found Miller in space to the 43 with 30 seconds remaining. He was incomplete deep to Wheaton on the second play of the drive. Roethlisberger lofted one to Brown, who quickly got out of bounds at the cusp of field goal range with 16 seconds to go. He overthrew Miller on the following play. Another two incompletions set up a 54-yard field goal attempt. After a partially botched hold, the field goal was short.