The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fifteenth game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon on the road against the New Orleans Saints and they’ll be looking to stay atop the AFC North division in the process. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their fifth road win of the 2018 season Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Be ready for action – Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the best play-action quarterbacks in the league this this season as he’s thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions while using it. The Saints offense attempts to lull defenses to sleep early with running plays only to use some of those same run keys and some play-action to freeze linebackers and safeties later in the game. The Steelers defense must do a great job of distinguishing run from pass keys early and not get frozen the six to eight times that Brees uses play-action.
Go easy on a big blitzkrieg – Brees and the Saints offense has been extremely good against the blitz this season and especially at home in the dome. Brees even has the top passer rating in the league to date when faced with a blitz. Much like they did last week in their home win over the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, the Steelers defense must do a great job on Sunday in New Orleans of disguising not only their blitzes well, but also their coverages. If Brees sees the blitz coming pre-snap, his great autonomy ability at the line of scrimmage will easily allow for the offense to be checked into a proper play to beat it.
Gimme more fives – Last week in their home win over the Patriots the Steelers offense had five wide receivers on the field for 14 plays and that included all of the second touchdown-scoring drive. Early against the Saints it will be interesting to see if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner are able to use that same personnel grouping on the road and if so, how the New Orleans defense is able to handle it. The Saints claim they’ll be ready for the Steelers five-wide packages, but just how ready? There’s likely a mismatch or two to be had and even out of empty formations when just four wide receivers might be on the field along with rookie running back Jaylen Samuels.
Deep big Apple bites – Roethlisberger should have his chances on Sunday to take a few deep shots down the right side of the field and especially whenever he catches Saints cornerback Eli Apple in man coverage with just one safety deep. While Apple has played better since being acquired by the Saints via a trade with the New York Giants, he still has enough visible warts that warrant him being targeted quite frequently by the Steelers passing game. The Saints defense is in the bottom third of the league when it comes to defensing deep passes so look for Roethlisberger to take several shots and he needs to connect for several chunk plays.
No Big Easy communication breakdowns – The Steelers will play in a very hostile Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday and that place is sure to be rocking. While Steelers fans do travel well and will certainly be visible on Sunday in New Orleans, it might not make a huge difference. The Steelers offense will need to work via a silent count most of the game and hopefully they don’t incur many penalties because of that. One poorly communicated play-call or change in assignment by either the Steelers offense or defense on Sunday could wind up being the difference in this game. This past week Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin praised the way inside linebacker Vince Williams communicated the defense at home against the Patriots and on Sunday he’ll be asked to repeat that performance on the road in New Orleans.