As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in today’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Defense’s Games/Stunts Wreck Saints’ O-line
T.J. Watt’s return is obvious as it’ll be impactful. But I’m looking at the other side of the line. Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith could really work over the Saints’ offensive line, a group missing two starters at left guard and center. Even when healthier, the Saints struggled to pick up defense’s twists and stunts and it’s an area Heyward and Highsmith can really take advantage of. I can see multiple pressures and hopefully a few sacks based off those two confusing the heck out of the Saints’ line.
2. Najee Harris Makes Impact In Pass Game
Harris recently made the fair point that he and the Steelers’ running backs – but mostly him – should get more involved in the passing game. To get Harris in space besides being bottled up behind the line of scrimmage. Now, it won’t solve all of his or this offense’s problems but it’s one tweak that could pay off in this game. The Saints will be without starting linebacker Pete Werner, making the pass-game matchup more attractive for the Steelers. Flex Harris out wide, something this team hasn’t done much this season, and allow his receiving ability to shine through.
3. The On-Paper Matchup Holds True
On paper, things look decent for the Steelers. At home, coming off a bye, against a Saints team working on a short week, falling to the Ravens Monday night, while coming to Pittsburgh. I don’t have the data in front of me but based off those variables alone, I’d imagine the team in Pittsburgh’s position wins 75%+ of the time. Of course, paper is just that and everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. But those are real factors working in the Steelers favor and against the Saints.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. Tyrann Mathieu Fools Kenny Pickett
One of my biggest worries of the game. A savvy, ball-hawking vet like Mathieu baiting a rookie like Pickett underneath. Mathieu has both of the Saints’ two interceptions on the year and I could see him exiting today’s game with a third. Pickett will have to know where he’s at not just pre-snap but post-snap too. The Saints run a variety of rotations and coverages and try to muddy up the quarterback’s picture and plan. Mathieu is older but still a guy who can write headlines after a game.
2. Saints’ Pass Game Gets Vertical
And issue compounded by the last-minute loss of Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Saints do have plenty of speed at receiver and tight end with guys like Chris Olave, Tre’Quan Smith, and Juwan Johnson. Pittsburgh’s had a nasty habit of giving up big plays this season, only the Atlanta Falcons have allowed more 20+ yard completions than Pittsburgh’s 36, and losing Fitzpatrick isn’t going to help matters. Potential replacement Damontae Kazee will be making his 2022 debut.
Pittsburgh’s also down two corners though I’m in favor of seeing more of Levi Wallace and especially James Pierre. Still, coming out of the bye with new pieces and faces creates concern in the secondary.
3. Matthew Wright Reminds He Isn’t Chris Boswell
Wright is a fine kicker and much better than the last time he donned a Steelers’ uniform with a much stronger leg but still, he’s not Boswell. Weather conditions in Pittsburgh tomorrow look typical for mid-November. In the 30s and windy. Wright hasn’t kicked in a ton of conditions like that. Though he grew up in PA, he played football at UCF and did most of his kicking in Jacksonville. And Acrisure Stadium, while not as difficult a place as it used to be, still has its own quirks off the water that making it a tough kicking environment.
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