As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, scouting the New Orleans Saints’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
Saints’ RUN GAME
Led of course by RB Alvin Kamara, healthy and starting for the Saints. Kamara is a workhorse/all-situations player who has played 70% of the team’s offensive snaps in five games this season, including 88% against the Baltimore Ravens.
As a team, the Saints are averaging 4.9 yards per carry, tied for ninth-best in the league. They have 29 runs of 10+ yards, tied for 10th most in football. Kamara is averaging a solid 4.3 yards per carry though he has just one rushing touchdown this season. He’s being vultured by offensive weapon Taysom Hill who has five rushing scores this year. That’s more than Zeke Elliott, Dameon Pierce, and Leonard Fournette. It is worth pointing out that Hill isn’t just a goal-line guy. Only one of his five touchdowns has come inside the five. Three others have been between 6-10 yards out with a 60-yard score. But Hill is a red zone kind of guy and they get him involved the closer they get to the goal line.
Schematically, it’s a mix of gap and inside zone. Kamara fits the latter well with his quickness, vision, and change-of-direction ability. He makes decisive reads and cuts and hits the hole quickly.
Most of their gap runs are to the boundary/closed side.
Backup Mark Ingram is on IR and won’t play in this game, giving more carries to Kamara and some to Hill. Hill wears a variety of hats including QB-draw options. Some examples of Hill designed runs, QB power and sweeps that Pittsburgh will have to defend. How they do that with a variety of potential packages will be interesting. How they “define” Hill from a personnel grouping will be something to watch.
Some other offensive stats. They’re averaging 23.6 points per game, tied for 11th in football, though they’re coming off a cold performance against the Ravens and will be playing on a short week. They’re an above-average situational team, 12th on third down (42.2%) and 11th in the red zone (60%) so they sustain and finish drives.
However, the Saints are tied for the league-lead with 17 turnovers and are outright last in turnover differential (-10). Pittsburgh’s gotta take advantage.
Saints Pass Game
Former Cincinnati Bengal Andy Dalton will face the Steelers at least one more time, taking Jameis Winston’s job and holding his own. His overall numbers aren’t anything crazy but respectable. In six starts, he’s completed just over 65% of his passes while throwing ten touchdowns to five picks. Compare that to Winston who has four touchdowns and five picks on the season. Dalton’s also getting the ball out quicker, 2.66 seconds compared to Winston’s 2.76, which cuts down his sacks. Dalton has been sacked eight times in six starts while Winston was sacked 11 times in three starts.
As a team, they are pushing the ball downfield averaging 7.5 YPA (ninth in football), while their 15 passing touchdowns are tied for sixth most in the league. But they have thrown ten interceptions, tied for the most in the league.
From a receiving standpoint, rookie Chris Olave is returning on the team’s first-round investment. He’s first on the team in targets (72), receptions (43), and yards (618). Kamara is second on the team with 36 catches while TE Juwan Johnson, a former WR who bulked up, has 23 receptions and three touchdowns. He’s a sneaky threat to deal with. As a team, they have 27 completions of 20+ yards, a slightly above-average mark.
As we wrote above, Taysom Hill does it all. He has nine pass attempts this season and at least one in each of his last five games. He’s gotten more involved as the team turned to Dalton. All nine this season have come on 1st or 2nd down while eight of them have come in the opponent’s territory. The lone exception came at the Saints’ 42 so it’s a wrinkle they use near or past midfield, most often on 1st and 10 or 2nd and medium (3-5).
Conceptually, they run some interesting wrinkles. A short-passing game designed for YAC, they look to get guys like Hill and Kamara the ball. You may see some interesting looks like this 4×1 formation out of empty that hits Kamara on a bubble screen…
…or how about this funky three-man stack concept, a packaged play that can throw the screen or run the QB power.
They’re a pretty heavy play-action team with plenty of “trap passes” that pull the guard and try to suck the linebackers up. But they can also throw short and go 2×2 without/stick routes with Dalton finding the best-leveraged player and picking up a couple of yards.
Kamara catches the ball short and is a highly-targeted check-down option. Potentially, the Steelers could blitz their ILBs more to keep him in, forcing him to pass protect instead of catching the ball short and making plays in space. The left side of the Saints’ line has issues picking up stunts and twists and with starting center Erik McCoy potentially shifting LG Cesar Ruiz inside, it’s an area I’d exploit with Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Saints week, Steelers fans!
Coming out of a much-needed bye week, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain at home at Acrisure Stadium to take on the New Orleans Saints in a pivotal matchup for both teams in Week 10.
The last time the Steelers and Saints met, Drew Brees was still the quarterback in New Orleans, Sean Payton was the head coach, and Michael Thomas was one of the top receivers in all of football.
That’s not the case at this point.
Brees has been retired for two years, Payton resigned after the 2021 season, and Thomas is on Injured Reserve again with a toe injury.
Despite some new faces with the Saints, New Orleans is led by a familiar face to the Steelers in veteran starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton opened the season as the backup to Jameis Winston, but injuries and poor play from the former top pick opened the door for Dalton, who has provided some stability offensively for the Saints.
Dalton isn’t much of a force multiplier or a rising tide that lifts all boats at the position, but he’s steady overall and gives New Orleans a shot.
One thing I’ve really liked about Dalton this season is his work off of play-action. Under head coach Dennis Allen and longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Dalton has looked rather comfortable and confident off of play-action.
He’s good at attacking the middle of the field, throwing with good accuracy and timing, and his overall ball placement is outstanding in these situations.
His best throw of the year off of play-action came against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football, finding wide receiver Rashid Shaheed for the 55-yard touchdown.
You can see how in rhythm and on time Dalton is, leading to the explosive play and the score.
Outside of Dalton at quarterback, the Saints have a unique wrinkle they can add offensively with do-everything weapon Taysom Hill, a guy the Steelers have talked about significantly in the days leading up to the matchup.
Hill can play the traditional quarterback role, can run the football and can even serve as a pass-catching weapon in the red zone for the Saints.
New Orleans is very comfortable utilizing him in all three phases offensively.
Hill has become the go-to power back in the red zone for the Saints, keeping Alvin Kamara out of harm’s way overall. Hill has taken to the role quite well, serving as that pile-moving, forward-falling bludgeon in the red zone that is quite successful for the Saints.
They don’t really try to hide what’s coming when he’s in the game. That’s how much trust they have in not only Hill as a runner, but in the offensive line up front.
As Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin and Alex Highsmith have talked about this week, the Steelers have to have a plan for how to stop Hill. That includes as a passer.
He’s only attempted nine passes this season, but he’s completed seven of them for 101 yards and a score. He was a quarterback coming out of BYU, so it’s not a new concept to him. He’s not the best passer of the football in the world, but he’s used in those situations, which can scheme up big plays due to his rushing ability that draws defenders’ attention.
In the backfield, Kamara remains a star running back. He’s really improved as a one-cut runner in recent seasons and does a really good job of getting north/south in a hurry, finishing off runs with authority.
His vision is his best quality, in my opinion. He sees things very well pre-snap and sets up his blockers perfectly, creating a ton of space overall.
With Mark Ingram II on the shelf due to a knee injury, veteran Dwayne Washington is serving as the backup to Kamara. It’s possible that veterans Derrick Gore or Jordan Howard could be elevated from the practice squad Saturday for the matchup.
At receiver, things look a little bare without Thomas in the lineup.
That said, rookie Chris Olave looks like the real deal. He’s an exceptional route runner already, one that creates a ton of separation on routes and routinely is making big plays for Dalton in the passing game.
Veteran Jarvis Landry has been banged up the last month and a half with a bad ankle. However, he has been a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday and could make his return to the field on Sunday against a familiar foe in the Steelers.
Role players Kevin White (yes, THAT Kevin White), Shaheed, and Marquez Callaway have stepped up in recent weeks as receiving options for the Saints, though none of the three should scare anyone at the moment.
Tight end is another tough position for the Saints.
Juwan Johnson has emerged in recent weeks as a strong connection with Dalton. He’s big, strong and physical and is a former wide receiver and Penn State and Oregon before making the switch to tight end last season in the NFL.
Adam Trautman, J.P. Holtz and Nick Vannett also see snaps at the position for the Saints, as does Hill. Holtz and Vannett are more of the blocking options, while Trautman gets some work in the passing game.
Up front, the Saints aren’t as dominant in the trenches as they once were due to the loss of Terron Armstead in free agency and injuries to the likes of Ryan Ramczyk and Cesar Ruiz, though both are playing through them.
Here’s how I expect the Saints to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT — James Hurst
LG — Andrus Peat
C — Erik McCoy
RG — Cesar Ruiz
RT — Ryan Ramczyk
Peat and McCoy have missed two practices this week with injuries, which puts their statuses in doubt. Neither has a backup listed on the depth chart, so that’s a huge concern for the Saints, though someone like Landon Young, Calvin Throckmorton or Lewis Kidd could step in at left guard or center.
Ramczyk will have a big test in front of him with the return of T.J. Watt to the lineup. Ramczyk is dealing with a knee issue, which could be a real problem for the veteran.
On special teams, kicker Wil Lutz has struggled this season after being one of the more consistent kickers in football over the last half-decade. On the year, Lutz has connected on just 73.68% of his field goals (14-for-19), but he does have a long of 60.
Punter Blake Gillikin is a major weapon for the Saints. The Penn State product has a monster leg, averaging 47.58 yards per punt with a long of 63 and 12 of 36 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
He can flip the field in a hurry and punts the football end over end, making it difficult for returners to catch cleanly.
Callaway and Shaheed serve as the return men for the Saints, depending on the situation. Shaheed has been getting more runs in the return game due to his game-breaking speed.