The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the stretch run of the season today with five more games left on deck, and they find themselves right in the thick of the AFC playoff chase—that thick spot being the six different teams who have a 7-4 record. Throw in the AFC North division leaders at 7-3-1 and you start to get the idea that every game from here on out is critical.
It would seem that the Steelers have what is arguably their easiest remaining game on deck with the New Orleans Saints traveling to Heinz Field. While the idea that the Saints are much better at home than on the road might not be entirely true, or at least exaggerated, it’s certainly been the case that the Steelers have been better at home than away.
That applies much more, however, to the offensive side of the ball than it does to the defensive side. At home, the Steelers command one of the best offensive attacks in the league, but on the road, they’ve only twice managed to put more than one touchdown on the board.
One of those two occasions came in the last game in Tennessee, lifted by an exceptional rushing performance upon which the Steelers should look to build, given that the Saints have shown to have a less than stellar run defense, particularly in recent weeks.
With the loss of their starting nose tackle, and injuries at the safety position, it only makes further sense for Pittsburgh to tie its leash to Le’Veon Bell and let him take the team where he can. He may have had a career-high in carries in the last game, but that was two weeks ago, and it’s not as though he was unaccustomed to a heavy workload in college.
Prior to the Tennessee game, the Steelers had actually struggled a bit to run the ball, but they looked to have turned things around, and the Saints defense would seem to the right team to keep the ball rolling on that front.
To that end, we may see more early action out of the Steelers 13 look, with tight ends Matt Spaeth and Will Johnson—coming off some of their best performances—seeing the field more often than they have been.
Of course, there’s little sense arguing that Pittsburgh is now primarily a passing team with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown being the engine that drives the Steelers and determines how far they can go. Brown is about as reliable as they come, so there’s little sense harping on him.
Meanwhile, rookie Martavis Bryant is certainly coming off of his most frustrating game of the season, and the only one in which he did not record a touchdown. The Steelers will be looking to get him back into the end zone for sure.
With the injuries in the Saints’ secondary, however, it’s possible that the Steelers can have a successful day through the air with some of their other receiving components. And with a premiere quarterback standing on the opposite sideline, you know that Roethlisberger will be eager to prove himself.