The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to enter the postseason and do so with some momentum after losing three straight games. Coming off of a win against the New England Patriots—of all teams—it doesn’t get any easier today as they visit the New Orleans Saints, who have the best record in the NFL.
While the Saints’ offense has been slowed in recent weeks—all in games on the road, mind you—the defense has been among the best in football during the most recent stretch, and that has included recorded turnovers in bulk.
So as you can imagine, that is where I’m going to start things off. Ball security is going to be huge in this game. The Saints are not an offense you can afford to give free possessions to. And it begins with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. While he has 13 interceptions on the season, eight of them have come over just the past five games. That included two against the Patriots.
The Saints average two takeaways per game at home this season. The Steelers average slightly more than that per game on the road, though there is a bit of an outlier with the stunning six turnovers in the opener. But they also had games with three and four turnovers in Jacksonville and Denver. And the Saints have the ninth-most takeaways in the NFL.
JuJu Smith-Schuster announced on his own that he will be playing, but he is nursing some sort of injury, so it’s natural to mention him here as something to watch for, if he’s slowed. But if he can play, he could have a good matchup against Eli Apple. I thought the same against JC Jackson last week too, though.
Will the five-wide receiver package make an appearance for the second straight week? They ran it for 17 snaps against the Patriots, but it’s not a surprise any longer. On the other hand, Eli Rogers’ return makes it more desirable, and the way the 53-man roster is now makes it easier to dress all six receivers.
The running game, or more specifically the play of Jaylen Samuels, will be big. While he will have to continue to run the ball effectively when they do hand it off, he will need to be more on-point in pass protection. I could also see this being an active game for him as a pass-catching option.
The Steelers’ pass rush was pretty great last week for a group that only managed one sack. But they won’t have the homefield crowd on their side helping them, so they will have to try to take this show on the road. Making Drew Brees uncomfortable will be a necessity for a win.
The Saints are a team that both like to and succeed in running the ball off the edges, averaging about 5.4 yards per carry on either side. The perimeter defense of Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt is going to be really important in keeping both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in check.