As the Steelers and the rest of the Nation await the results of today’s early games, we prepare ourselves for what may well decide whether or not the team reaches the postseason this year. A win over the New Orleans Saints today would be huge, to put it mildly.
They have close to a full hand, the only injury of note being James Conner, who is missing his third consecutive game. Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley will have their work cut out for them against the Saints’ front. JuJu Smith-Schuster is active with a groin injury, but let’s see how he looks.
The rest of the inactives are predictable, Mason Rudolph, Zach Banner, L.T. Walton, Ola Adeniyi, Brian Allen, and Marcus Allen. Eli Rogers is among the six wide receivers dressing for the second week in a row.
The Steelers won the coin toss and chose to take the ball first, as they did last week against the Patriots. They opened with three receivers on the field, including Rogers. Ben Roethlisberger immediately went to Smith-Schuster for 15 yards. Now out of empty, Jaylen Samuels caught a pass but was tackled for just a yard on a bubble screen. He was stopped after a shot gain on a toss right to set up a third and seven. Roethlisberger feeling the pressure threw a pass into the dirt, sending Jordan Berry out after a four-play, 18-yard drive. Berry’s punt went for a touchback, a 37-yard net.
Mark Ingram proved a load on first down, bullying his way for eight yards. He picked up three to the 31 on the following play. Drew Brees connected to Michael Thomas for 13 with Vince Williams in zone coverage on him. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk got washed up on the play got washed up on the play injured.
Brees connected with Thomas against Joe Haden on a slant for another first down across midfield. Off play action, Tayson Hill threw a deep pass that Sean Davis intercepted in the end zone. He got up and returned it out past the 20, then the tight end tackled Davis with a horsecollar tackle for a 15-yard penalty.
Now at the 40, Roethlisberger tossed it to Samuels, who reversed field for five yards to the left. Out of a five-receiver set, he went to Ryan Switzer, who was able to get about three yards to set up a manageable third down. Roethlisberger dropped the ball on third down but was able to pick it up and zip a low pass to Smith-Schuster for a completion across midfield.
Following a short gain of two by Switzer, still in the five receiver look, Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster again for his third catch early for a first down. At the 39, Roethlisberger scrambled for five yards, just unable to completely escape from Sheldon Rankins. A short gain to Smith-Schuster set up another third and short, needing one yard, on the long end of field goal range. Chris Boswell struggled in pre-game already, mind you. On third and one, still five receivers on the field, empty set, Antonio Brown caught the pass but was hit by a loss, P.J. Williams working through James Washington. On fourth and two, Boswell made it from 49 yards at the right hash mark.
Ramczyk returned for the Saints’ next possession, starting at the. Alvin Kamara got his first touch for four yards. Thomas had space over the middle, getting plenty of YAC for 28 yards on quick slant cross midfield. Down to the 43, Ingram got about seven before the defense held up and brought him down. Cameron Heyward got up to knock down a Brees pass off a low snap. Now third down, they ran the ball with Ingram, but the defense stood up and held him. However, the Saints stayed on the field for fourth down and were able to convert on fourth and one via a defensive pass interference penalty on a deep shot into the end zone.
It was Haden on Kamara, and it was an absolutely terrible call that put the Saints on the one. It should have been a turnover on downs, but instead it was a touchdown one play later. That’s a seven-point swing and now the Steelers trail following a bad ruling.
A holding penalty on the ensuing kick return pushed the Steelers back to the 10. Samuels was stopped for no gain on first down but got 16 on a draw on second down. A short throw to Smith-Schsuter drew a pass interference call. Following a deep incompletion to Brown, Roethlisberger threw a screen to Smith-Schuster for six yards. Now third and four, Vance McDonald eventually got free with Eli Apple falling down in coverage for a big 40-plus yard gain at the end of the first quarter.
From the 13, Roethlisberger threw too high for McDonald on first down, Von Bell in coverage. Samuels stumbled on the draw for just a yard to make it third and nine, not a promising start to their first red zone possession. From the 12, Roethlisberger threw too hard for Smith-Schuster, getting one hand on it to knock it down but incomplete. So they had to settle for another Boswell field goal, trailing 7-6.
Brees connected with Ted Ginn Jr for 15 on first down. After a short Ingram run, the defense was able to force an incompletion to Josh Hill. Now third and eight, however, he was able to find Thomas again, getting separation for 20 against a zone. Terron Armstead now down, however. After forcing an incompletion deep with Davis knocking the ball out, Brees went deep for his tight end, Morgan Burnett breaking it up but for a pass interference penalty.
From the 16, Ingram picked up four yards on first down. Bud Dupree tackled Kamara short of the first on a pass. Now third and two, Hill in the backfield, it was a handoff to Kamara, slipping through some ugly defense for the touchdown. Davis was the last line of defense and missed the tackle. Now down 14-6 as missed opportunities and some unfavorable officiating decisions begin to add up.
After narrowly avoiding a sack on first down, Roethlisberger overthrew Xavier Grimble for an incompletion to begin their fourth drive. Roethlisberger was tackled at the line of scrimmage on the following play. The ball came out, the Saints recovering, but it was ruled after the tackle. So now third and 11, he threw a bit too high for Brown, incomplete. He’s been high on a lot of throws so far. Berry’s second punt of the evening was fair caught at just the 35, a 41-yard punt.
A pass on first down got them close to midfield. Play action to Josh Hill ended up losing a few years with Mike Hilton not biting on pre-snap motion. Stephon Tuitt got pressure to force an early throw to Thomas, Terrell Edmunds on the tackle for a four-yard gain. Now third and 11, Brees was flushed out wide and looked deep for Ginn, but couldn’t find him inbounds. The receiver made a fantastic effort too. The Saints’ first punt was downed at about the five.
An illegal touching penalty on the player that downed it, however, forced a rekick. The second punt went out of bounds at about the three though…
Stevan Ridley got the carry from near the goal line, picking up six yards to get out from the shadow of the goal line. Samuels added two on second down. Roethlisberger was able to connect with Brown down the field, finally connecting on a positive play to about the 40. Another completion went for 10 down to the 49. A third straight went to Brown for 11 to the 38.
A delayed handoff to Samuels was able to add five yards as the clock ticked below two and a half minutes. Roethlisberger was just tripped up for a sack on second down, grabbing his leg from on the ground, on a weird play. Now third and long, needing 11 yards on the other side of the two-minute warning, the Ben-Brown connection came up again for the big conversion inside the 25.
With under 90 seconds to play, Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster were not on the same page on a swing pass that the receiver wasn’t looking for. Samuels was stuffed on second down, leaving 1:19 to go on third and nine, the Saints still with another timeout. From the 22, Roethlisberger took a deep shot to Smith-Schuster in the end zone, the ball bouncing off of the defender incomplete; a flag was thrown on the play for pass interference, however, moving the ball inside the five for a first and goal. Apple was the defender on the play.
At the two-yard line, out of 23 personnel, Roethlisberger looked to throw it off play action, but pressure forced him to throw the ball away. Cameron Jordan put a big hit on him. On second and goal, Roethlisberger fell on the handoff, getting the ball to Ridley, who was stuffed for no gain. Now third and goal with 44 seconds to play in the half, showing four wide, three receivers to the left, Roethlisberger swung the pass out to Samuels from the backfield, who was wide open for the touchdown, his third receiving touchdown of the season.
On the two-point conversion attempt, Roethlisberger hit Eli Rogers to tie the game at 14-14 with 40 seconds in the half.
On the second play of the Saints’ following drive, Dupree leveled Brees on a short completed pass inbounds. But he slipped one to Kamara, whom nobody in the secondary showed any real interest in tackling, putting New Orleans in field goal range. From 43 yards, Will Lutz gave the Saints the lead back at the end of the half with a field goal, going up 17-14. New Orleans gets the ball in the second half as well.