The Pittsburgh Steelers got the needed win to improve their record to 3-6 against the depleted New Orleans Saints. Lots of encouraging things we were hoping for coming off the bye week in the 20-10 victory, dominating in turnovers and explosive plays (8-0), time of possession (+17), first downs (28-10), rushing yards on both sides of the ball (217 on offense, 29 allowed on defense), and penalties (only three to New Orleans’ 10). In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
PFF’s highest graded offensive player was tackle Dan Moore (88.3) with a particularly good run block grade and allowing three pressures and a sack in pass pro, and personally didn’t expect to see him graded this high, though I agree it was one of his better performances of the season. Four other players had grades of 70+: fullback Derek Watt (81), running back Jaylen Warren (75.5), guard James Daniels (72), and center Mason Cole (71.9). Watt had two big carries for short yardage conversions on late downs. Warren fared well with an increased workload that many expected, in both the run and pass game. Daniels and Cole land nearly identical on the graph, and thought Cole had the better game in my opinion. Quarterback Kenny Pickett struggled particularly in the first half with accuracy, pocket presence, bringing some of his whopping six times on himself, his total for the second game in a row. He encouragingly didn’t have an interception, but also had zero passing touchdowns, but did provide a rushing touchdown on a sneak on the goal line. Tight end Zach Gentry was the only player on offense with a below 50 grade (48), struggling as a run blocker in my notes several times, and highlights the encouragingly stronger performance across the board.
Pittsburgh’s offense came on first to start the game, beginning with an empty set including wide receiver Steven Sims in the slot alongside running back Najee Harris who motioned out, and though tackles Chukwuma Okorafor and Dan Moore were pushed back, kept the edge rushers away long enough for Pickett to deliver but threw behind wide receiver George Pickens on the over route incomplete. On second and ten, Pickett flipped it to wide receiver Gunner Olszewski who ran to the left edge including a forced missed tackle, with tight end Pat Freiermuth and Pickens out in front, the former providing a good block on Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu and the latter allowing his man to make the tackle on the gain of four. Third and six now, and running back Najee Harris provided an excellent pancake block despite guard Kevin Dotson letting the blitzing linebacker past, a key in allowing Pickett time to get the pass to Pickens, who made the solid catch against tight coverage and slipped the tackle for YAC as well on the 14-yard gain and conversion.
The drive continued with a Harris run on first down, with good push from the interior line in particular, though Daniels allowed his man past along with tight end Conor Heyward connecting on his pulling block but allowing edge rusher Cam Jordan to combine to tackle the three-yard gain. On second and seven, Pickett fakes to Sims who came in motion once again, and slid right but Jordan won against Heyward cutting off the first read to Warren in the flat, then pursued prompting Pickett’s throwaway. Third and seven now, and the Saints bring a stunt where Cole did a good job picking up the crasher and Daniels was pushed back by the looper, but Pickett getting it out quick to Freiermuth on the out route that lacked sharpness and allowed the corner to break up the pass on the good reaction with the pass needing to be more in front as well. Steelers punt to close their first drive.
The offense returned with 10:59 on the clock, opening things on the ground and despite Okorafor unable to connect on the quick reaction by the linebacker, Harris was able to avoid him in the backfield and refreshingly get north and south behind good blocking from the rest of the line, Cole in particular on the combo to the second level for the five-yard gain. On second and five, it was back to the ground with great collective blocking from the line, along with a pancake by Pickens and plus blocks from Freiermuth and Johnson, freeing Harris for seven yards which unfortunately could have broke, but tripped over Moore’s foot.
The drive continued with play action from shotgun, but New Orleans brought the corner free on the blitz who jumped in the throwing lane and brought him down for the sack. On second and 14, Pickett quick triggered to Heyward in the flat who took a hard hit for only one yard, and noted Pickens open on the same side on the stop route. Third and a long 13 now, and New Orleans crowds the line then brings the five-man blitz with Mathieu, but Warren picks it up just enough along with Dotson getting pushed back, crowding Pickett’s throw to Freiermuth that was low and short of the chains on the intermediate out route for 11 yards. Pittsburgh is aggressive and goes for it in Saints territory on fourth and two, noting a poor rep from Dotson lunging forward and losing his balance, and over routes from Freiermuth and Pickens cleared space for Warren on the swing pass for the first down and YAC for seven yards. Good play call and liked the decision without kicker Chris Boswell (injured reserve) and just outside reasonable field goal range.
Eighth play of the drive here and it’s a shotgun toss to Warren, but Moore pushed back cutting off any outside opportunity along with Gentry being ripped to the ground, and Daniels whiffing on a cut attempt on the second level all contributing to the gain of only two yards. On second and eight, great pocket all round from the o-line and Pickett takes his time then targets Pickens on what would have been a near interception, but the cornerback interfered on the 11-yard penalty that put Pittsburgh in the red zone.
On the ensuing first down, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and senses pressure from the blindside, but lacks pocket presence and begins scrambling toward the pressure where Okorafor was pushed back and beat worse than Moore, then running for his life on a rollout to the left and cuts his loses with his second throwaway of the game. On second and ten, Pickett anticipated what the linebackers were doing in coverage very well, with a nice timing throw to Johnson on the slant with a bit of YAC for the first down, refreshing after rarely seeing them to date.
First and goal from the six, and the offense that has struggled in the red zone begin with a shotgun pass, with Pickett targeting Freiermuth who was isolated out wide (Pickens, Johnson, and Olszewski on the other side with the latter two in the slot), and the back shoulder end zone target is a bit out of reach and incomplete, liked the process here though. On second and goal, Harris was decisive straight ahead again with a strong run between a smidge of space between Cole and Daniels, fighting and nearly able to dive across the goal line on the solid five-yard run. Big third and goal from the one-yard line, and Pickens comes in motion and gets the jet sweep, and great recognition seeing space and getting north/south quickly between good blocks from Okorafor and Gentry for the diving score! Very encouraging 13 play drive and early score for a struggling red zone and scoring offense coming out of the bye. Steelers up seven.
Returning at the 20 yard line with 2:11 in the first quarter, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and has time on his drop back, but is indecisive (at least had Warren open right in front of him), bailing a clean pocket on the scramble toward the sideline but his angle is cut off by the linebacker and flings it out of bounds for his third throwaway already, but better than taking a sack as we saw earlier this season. On second and ten, Warren got the carry straight ahead with Sims running reverse action behind it, gaining two yards behind a bit of push by Cole/Dotson and a good seal from Daniels, but Gentry missing on his inside pulling block and noted Moore whiffing away from the play. Third and eight now, and the Saints bring the house with seven on the blitz, and a rusher gets free between Cole and Daniels, crushing Pickett on the pass towards Johnson that flies out of bounds, and a huge 15-yard penalty on New Orleans for roughing the passer that moves the chains.
Pickett sold the following play action well the rolled out to the right, bouncing back well by working through his progressions with a good throw to Johnson past the linebacker for seven yards. On second and three, Harris got the carry with a good blocking, particularly from Moore and sans Daniels (on the ground), with a big lane on the cutback around Heyward’s pulling block to the left, getting the first down and more, along with an excellent broken tackle ten-ish yards downfield on the valiant effort for the first explosive run on the season on the 36 yarder! So refreshing to this success on the ground so far, a key missing ingredient so far this season.
This set up the offense in the red zone, giving it to Sims on the jet sweep but is forced to take a wide angle due to Freiermuth being pushed back off the line, and has nowhere to go on the sideline including Heyward pushed back easily on his block by Mathieu, forcing the run out of bounds for a loss of one. To start the second quarter on second and 11, Moore was pushed back but anchored on a hop step on Pickett’s deep target to Johnson on a stop and go, but unfortunately overthrows him in the end zone, big miss here that could have got DJ his first touchdown of the year. Third and 11 now, and the Saints bring another corner blitz with a free path to Pickett, who was able to elude and scramble to hit Freiermuth on the sideline on the comeback, but well short of the first down. Can’t capitalize on the explosive run with a touchdown, but do get the field goal to go up ten.
The offense returned at their own 11 yard line with 12:38 in the second quarter and the lead still ten, and Pickett takes the shotgun snap and drops back behind good initial blocks, but Daniels was late picking up the twist allowing pressure, and the issues of pocket presence rear it’s head again with his initial scramble angle directly towards Moore, but able to work forward for a positive gain of three yards cutting around Cole. On second and seven, it’s a draw but Daniels is pushed back with the defender closing the designed run lane, and Harris tries creating between Moore and Dotson, but linebacker Demario Davis blows the play up in the backfield for a loss of two. Third and a long nine now, and Pickett is forced to scramble again, this time with Heyward losing an unfavorable matchup against Jordan with only a three-man rush, which allowed for seemingly good coverage with numbers and the throw going to Pickens on the scramble drill for only six yards with a solid hit out of bounds. Pickett antsy in the pocket on the three and out drive, Steelers punt.
Back with 6:40 until halftime and the lead now seven, Pittsburgh goes to Harris on the ground on first down for a gain of only one with good o-line blocks overall, but Davis making the play staying clean along with Gentry pancaked to the ground allowing the tackle. On second and nine, Johnson won on his inside release off the line, drawing the defensive pass interference penalty as Pickett targets him quickly on the slant. This set up another first down, with Johnson running a similar release and route with this one going for a catch this time, but running backward into a tackler, an example of his poor YAC this season, a sure first down if he works north/south. On second and one Pittsburgh attempts to move the chains with Harris on the ground, instead stuffed for no gain where his quick decision took him into traffic with Moore allowing his man to win inside for the tackle, and noted a hole for a cutback to the other side. Third and one now, and Pittsburgh brings on heavy personnel and gives the quick handoff to fullback Derek Watt who was able to get a solid three yards behind a good o-line push, particularly from Okorafor, Daniels, and Dotson.
Following the conversion, Pittsburgh goes play action with a good overall pocket and though Daniels was beat, recovered to block his man to the ground, but Pickett forces to Freiermuth on the deep over route overthrowing into triple coverage, seemingly a preconceived decision instead of reading and getting through his progressions, at least target someone singled up against good coverage across the board. On second and ten, Pickett sold a great play action to Warren, then a quick spin and throws with zip to Sims on the screen inside the numbers, with Olszewski in front combo blocking from the slot, giving Okorafor time to get there for an additional block to aid the solid 15-yard pickup. Loving this element Sims presents, and good blocking concept.
Continuing on first and ten Pickett goes read option and keeps it, a good decision running behind Warren with a good block along with Pickens (a particularly good block) and Johnson as well, diving for the five-yard gain. On second and five, Warren got the handoff but a lack of push overall from the line, and Freiermuth hesitant on his pulling block, in the way on the running lane along with not reaching the possible block on the edge rusher, who was free to combine on the tackle for no gain. Third and five now, and New Orleans crowds the line on third down again, bringing four and pressuring Moore with two men, creating looping action for the edge rusher (picked up well by Warren) but the linebacker wins easily to get a massive shot to Pickett’s back, bad loss for Moore but Dotson was also blocking no one and has to recognize and help there. Big drive stall here missing the opportunity to add to the lead that remains at seven.
The offense returned with 13 second left in the half and the lead erased, and Cole pass blocks his man to the ground which cut off Dotson’s angle to pick up the twist, able to recover just enough late on Pickett’s scramble and dive for 12 yards and a quick timeout. Pickett then unnecessarily scrambled yet again, frustratingly running himself into a sack heading into the locker room.
Pittsburgh’s offense returned with 13:34 in the third quarter following a defensive three and out, and Cole provided a pancake on the drop back but Dotson losing his block to the outside, forcing Pickett to step up and makes a good decision against seemingly good coverage to scramble with ample room getting between two defenders on the good angle and sliding down for the explosive 23-yard gain, the second of the game after not having one all season! The following first down was a run where the o-line got a good push, particularly Cole and Dotson for Harris’ straight ahead churn for five yards. On second and five, it was back to Harris on the ground and Moore was pushed into the designed run lane that initially had a sliver of space behind Cole and Daniels, then having to reverse field along with spinning inside another man to make it a positive gain of two. Third and three now, and Pickett drops back finding Pickens on yet another slant, a good throw in between the defense along with a few yards of YAC (loving the presence and results of both) with Jordan making the tackle off his zone drop.
The drive continued with another touch from Pickens, this one off strong play action baiting the majority of the defense and Pickett flipping it to him on the reverse from tight alignment, getting behind a great pulling seal block by Freiermuth on Mathieu allowing the cut inside, springing him for another explosive run (third of game and season) along with a solid block downfield from Johnson on the 22-yard gain. Grinning ear to ear with the team finally finding success on the ground in 2022.
New Orleans was dinged for yet another penalty on this first down on a defensive holding, negating pressure allowed by Moore and good job shedding Okorafor’s man as he let up on his effort to scramble to the sideline. The Saints penalty put Pittsburgh in the red zone yet again, and on first and goal from the ten-yard line, Pickett takes the shotgun empty set snap but is sacked for a loss of 11 with Dotson getting beat to the outside and good coverage to the right, on Freiermuth (wheel from tight end alignment) and Pickens (slant from the slot). Gotta get rid of it given the field position. On second and goal from the 21 yard line, Pittsburgh tried a similar route concept with Freiermuth running the inside route this time to attempt to free up Harris on the wheel along with a shoulder shrug to try and sell the flat route, but great play by the linebacker to stay in phase along with Mathieu getting there at the catch point on the good pass but off his fingertips on the leaping attempt at the goal line. So close. Third and goal now, and Pittsburgh goes conservative with a screen to Sims, but Jordan penetrates and blows up the passing lane forcing the wide pass and incompletion. Another encouraging and long drive fizzles, and come up empty with the backup kicker missing the short 39-yard field goal. Ouch.
The Steelers returned pinned back at their own two due to a terrific punt and the game still tied, beginning with a Warren run stuffed for only a yard where Dotson lost his block, Heyward connected on his pulling block, but Okorafor missed his second level block allowing the linebacker to combine for the tackle. On second and nine, Pickett surveys from the endzone on the shotgun snap, completing to Heyward quickly in the flat, making a good cut inside to avoid the defender for good YAC for the eight-yard gain. Third and one now, getting low between Dotson and Cole’s blocks and falling forward for more than enough on the conversion and gain of three.
On first down, Pittsburgh goes play action with the convincing pulling guard (Daniels) on the enjoyable concept we’ve seen this game, sucking Davis up and allowing Pickett to hit Freiermuth on the short over route, making the incredible one-handed snag between the hashes along with good separation for YAC to pick up the first down on the gain of 12. The following first down was a straight-ahead handoff to Warren, but Okorafor lost his block forcing the cut outside toward the free defender on the edge, hitting him at the line but able to churn for three yards. On second and seven, the Saints were hit with yet another penalty for illegal contact, negating their six-man blitz where the looping linebacker came free up the middle initially and Harris did a great job getting there in pass pro, but Pickett slides right upon seeing this and throws high over Gentry’s head on the out route along the sideline.
This set up another first down, continuing with a Harris run up the middle behind good collective blocks and hitting the hole between Dotson and Moore quickly and then plenty of space between second level blocks from Cole and Freiermuth, then breaking an ankle tackle along with a spinning churn to finish of the ten-yard run. What a great job in the run game this week. The following play was another encouraging first down, with Pickett triggering deep down the right sideline where Johnson stacked on the go route down the right sideline, with a jump off the couch completion, for 36 yards which is Pickett’s longest completion on the year, and what a sigh of relief considering the abysmal downfield results for Johnson pre-bye week that you can see in my Steelers Receivers Passing Locations. Third first down in a row and in the red zone, and it was Harris taking the wildcat snap for three yards with Gentry losing his block and allowing the tackle to cap of the fantastic third quarter.
Continuing to start the fourth quarter, it was Harris up the middle for another successful run with a good initial hole between Cole and Daniels pulling block, but the former and Okorafor allowing their men to get to Harris, but didn’t give up and with great effort pushing the pile and the churning gain of five yards. Third and two now, and unfortunately Pickett gets very antsy in the clean pocket, and curious to see the all-22 to see if he had any open options as he scrambled, taking a terrible sack along with a declined illegal formation penalty for a very disappointing end to this great drive. Pittsburgh gets the field goal though, up by three.
Pittsburgh’s offense returned with 12:16 left in the fourth quarter off the huge defensive takeaway and up 13-10, and the first down call was a shotgun toss to Harris, working inside Cole’s pulling block and nerve rackingly fumbles right away but thankfully Okorafor sees it and makes a great play to recover it and maintain possession despite three Saints having an opportunity, whew. On second and eight Harris is understandably taken out, and Pickett takes the shotgun snap, standing tall in the pocket even though Okorafor allowed his man around the edge, getting the dump off pass to Warren who had ample cushion with the linebackers way off, and able to dart around Davis up the sideline behind a good downfield block from Pickens for the explosive gain of 26 yards, the fifth of the game!
The drive continued in the red zone yet again with another first down touch for Warren, and the o-line created a good initial wall but Okorafor losing his block and allowed his man to get to him at the line, breaking the tackle and getting around a Derek Watt seal block and churning for four-yard run. On second and six, Okorafor allowed a hurry on an inside spin prompting Pickett to scramble left, and throws it away for the third time against good end zone coverage. Third and six now, and Pickett gets it to Warren in the flat, who does a valiant job getting to the sideline and fighting for just enough YAC to pick up the conversion on the seven-yard gain.
First and goal from the five now, and Harris comes back in for the wildcat run where Daniels, Cole and Warren all ended up on the ground on their block attempts, allowing the defense to rally for the run stop at the line of scrimmage. On second and goal, Pickett play actions Gentry blocking initially, then leaking out late to the flat on the target, but good reaction from Jordan to break up the pass for the incompletion. Huge third and goal, and Pickett targets Freiermuth back shoulder on the right sideline in the end zone, and draws a crucial pass interference call on the Saints, setting up an ideal first and goal from the one-yard line. Right away Pickett takes it on the quarterback sneak behind Daniels who created space for the huge touchdown to increase Pittsburgh’s lead to ten!
Returning at 7:44 following a huge defensive stand and the scoreboard the same, Harris got the carry with good blocks across the board, finding a bit of room to the right for two yards. On second and eight, Okorafor was pushed back easily and allowed the quick sack on Pickett. Third and a long 13 now, and Pittsburgh goes with a tight end screen to Freiermuth that countered the Saints blitz well, able to cut inside and make the first defender miss, but unfortunately the second trips him up due to Okorafor missing the downfield block out in front. No points here with Wright missing his second field goal of the day. Hopefully the missed opportunity doesn’t rear its head late.
4:23 left in the game and the lead still ten thanks to the second consecutive defensive takeaway, Pittsburgh gets the clock running with Harris up the middle, able to pick up two yards. The following Harris run had much more breathing room thanks to good blocks, but New Orleans not crowding the line as much on second and eight, finding a crease between Cole and Gentry, then getting behind a good push from Dotson and Moore for six yards and the Saints take their second timeout. Third and two now, and Sims gets the handoff around the edge with Warren leading the way, and a Saints defender darts in for the big hit at the line of scrimmage but doesn’t wrap up, and Sims is able to stay on his feet and fall forward for the conversion, and thankfully staying in bounds as well.
2:56 left, and Warren gets the first down carry straight ahead and is stuffed for no gain with Heyward losing his block and allowing his man to make the tackle. On second and ten, Harris gets the carry this time, gaining two yards up the middle. Third and eight at the two-minute warning, and Warren gets the carry to the right side, beating the defender to the edge, then an unexpected hurdle over the low tackle attempt (likely making Harris proud), and getting up the sideline for another explosive run to put the game away! Fourth explosive run of the day, after having zero heading into the game!
Pittsburgh just needed to run the clock out at this point, starting with a first down Warren run for four. Following New Orleans final timeout, Harris ran hard and nearly converted on the churning five yard run on second and six that got the clock to start dwindling again. Third and one, and the Steelers hand it to Derek Watt for the easy pickup, allowing Pickett to kneel for the final play for the exciting and much needed win!
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest graded defender was edge rusher Alex Highsmith (91.4), highlighted by his four pressures and two sacks. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward (89.9) had a solid game overall including three pressures and a solid day against the run along with fellow lineman Montravius Adams (89.7). A whopping seven other players had 70+ grades: safety Damontae Kazee (76) and Terrell Edmunds (74.5), cornerbacks Levi Wallace (75.5) and Arthur Maulet (74.2), linebacker Devin Bush (73.2), defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (73.1), and last but not least edge rusher T.J. Watt (71.5), with the only argument being Watt’s grade a bit low in my opinion.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on at 13:04 with the scoreboard empty, and New Orleans with dinged by a false start out of the gate. The following first down was a give to Alvin Kamara on the ground, and Watt makes his presence felt immediately winning easily inside on the tight end as well as Heyward beating the left tackle and working down the line to combine for the run stop for no gain. On second and 15, Taysom Hill comes in as the shotgun quarterback, rushing straight ahead and thankfully Ogunjobi worked off the block along with Watt getting back inside to close up the initial hole on the right and combine for another run stop of two yards. Third and 13 now, and quarterback Andy Dalton is prompted to throw short against Pittsburgh’s zone coverage, and good job by linebacker Robert Spillane and Kazee to get downhill (each filling in for the injured Myles Jack and Minkah Fitzpatrick respectively) with the former pushing him out of bounds. Great start by the defense to provide the three and out.
The defense returned with 4:58 in the first quarter up seven thanks to the long scoring drive from the offense, defending a quick swing pass to Kamara and great job by Highsmith who aligned out with a wide receiver and got through the block along with Kazee taking a good angle to help push him out of bounds for only two yards. On second and eight, Heyward won inside getting pressure on Dalton, who was able to elude and find his tight end wide open short along the sideline, seemingly linebacker Devin Bush’s responsibility, who did get there to combine for the tackle with Edmunds that allowed a gain of 18.
On the following first down, Heyward and Highsmith did a good job setting the edge, turning Kamara back inside on the run where Adams did a great job shedding the block along with Edmunds staying clean from his box alignment to combine to tackle the one-yard gain. On second and nine, Hill is in at quarterback and takes the shotgun snap and the pass is thankfully high on the target to Kamara on an out from the slot, with Pittsburgh in a poor matchup with Spillane beat in coverage. Third and nine now, and Watt got a great push on his pass rush, getting near Dalton on his dump off to Kamara, with the coverage benefitting playing the sticks where Spillane and cornerback Arthur Maulet rallied to tackle the gain of seven short of the sticks. Another short drive for the defense and limiting Kamara, Steelers still up seven.
With 14:12 in the second quarter, the defense returned to a play action pass from Dalton, targeting Chris Olave who muscled the strong catch in tight coverage from cornerback Levi Wallace on the gain of 12. The next first down was back to Kamara on the ground, where defensive lineman Tyson Alualu shot clean into the backfield between the center and guard but was unable to make the play in the backfield, and Heyward threw off the blocker to tackle the gain of three. On second and seven, Highsmith got a good push and pressured Dalton’s off target pass to wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the pivot route with cornerback Cameron Sutton in coverage. Third and seven now, Pittsburgh brings six on the blitz including Edmunds and Spillane, with Dalton quick trigging to Olave on the go route along on the sideline, and outstanding late pass break up by Maulet to rip the would be catch out for the third down stop! Huge play from him considering his limitations in coverage overall, and the defense comes up big again with another short drive. Lead is still ten.
Back quickly following an offensive three and out at 10:44, with Watt shooting into the backfield clean and committing to Hill on the read option, handing it to Kamara with the edge open and Ogunjobi pushed back and Bush washed, cutting inside Wallace, then finally brought down by Kazee on the gain of 14. Dalton came back on for the following first down, play actioning which sucked up the linebackers and Edmunds, getting the pass to Landry wide open on the post route in front of Wallace and Kazee reacting quickly to tackle the 11-yard gain.
Third first down in a row, and Edmunds came into the box late and got into the backfield on the Kamara handoff, but missed the tackle then defensive lineman Chris Wormley and Spillane both worked off their blocks well to combine for the tackle of three yards. On second and seven, Dalton targets Olave quickly on the slant from the slot against cushion, thrown behind and good reaction from Sutton to make the hit at the catch point to ensure the incompletion. Third and seven now, and Heyward gets a good push along with a late surge from Ogunjobi outside the blocker, but Dalton is able to find the receiver in the soft spot of the zone past the sticks for the diving 12-yard gain where Kazee touched him down.
The drive continued with Hill in at quarterback again, keeping on the designed run behind pulling blocks, with great recognition and edge set from Spillane along with Wormley dominating his man into the backfield to combine for the tackle on the loss of one. On second and 11, Watt won to the inside, getting the quarterback hit and affecting Dalton’s accuracy on the incompletion to Landry on the out route with Spillane in good coverage. Third and 11 now, and Pittsburgh rushes four, with Highsmith pushed past the pocket and Watt winning to the outside prompting Dalton’s decision to scramble, and good pursuit working off his block nearly get the sack on the tackle and gain of one. Good job tightening up after a tough start to the drive, holding the Saints to a field goal on their first points of the game, score’s now 10-3 Pittsburgh.
Returning with 1:53 left until halftime, and Dalton connects with Landry again for the solid 17-yard gain beating a good pocket push from Heyward, Ogunjobi, and Highsmith where Sutton had tight coverage but allowed the catch and made the ankle tackle as he worked forward. The pass rush was able to get home on the following first down on a great spin move by Highsmith for the sack and eight-yard loss. On second and 18, Highsmith got a good push to get close to Dalton as he targeted Olave, making a good catch on the low pass against the zone between Maulet, Spillane, and Wallace with the latter touching down the gain of 14. Third and a short four now, and Heyward won to the outside to get close to Dalton again, but gets the pass out quick on the short out to the open tight end with YAC with Spillane running the ten yard gain out of bounds.
With the clock stopped at 34 seconds and in Steelers territory, with the Steelers switching to man coverage but the pass went to the same receiver, route, and Spillane allowing the catch again, this time for eight yards where he pushed him out of bounds. On second and two, Dalton goes deep for Olave with Wallace beat down the sideline, but Kazee is penalized on a crucial 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, like the aggressiveness to jar it incomplete but the helmet-to-helmet hit puts the Saints in the red zone. With Pittsburgh back in zone coverage, Dalton exploits it on the tight end slot fade to Juwan Johnson for the touchdown (a worry I had in my pregame stats outlook), where Spillane hesitated on his short assignment and Wallace guessed wrong going toward the route toward the middle on the way too easy touchdown. Special teams and Kazee penalty prove costly allowing the Saints to tie the game.
The Steelers defense came on to start the second half, benefitting from an offensive pass interference on New Orleans where Landry pushed off on Sutton. This set up first and 20 where Pittsburgh brought five down lineman on the pass rush, and Dalton quick triggered to Juwan Johnson on the short stick route in front of Sutton who made another ankle tackle on the eight-yard gain. On second and 12, Dalton targeted the in route and Sutton reacted very well in coverage to provide the solid pass breakup for the incompletion. Third and a long 12 now, and with four down lineman Pittsburgh brings the blitz with Spillane who was pancaked, and Heyward got a great push on his pass rush up the middle affecting Dalton’s high pass to the tight end in the flat along with Edmunds reacting well in coverage. Great defensive start to force the three and out, game still tied.
With the game still tied at 8:55 in the third quarter, New Orleans kicked the drive off with a Kamara run where Watt pushed his man back along with Ogunjobi getting good interior penetration into the backfield forcing the bounce outside, Spillane winning and getting too him behind the line but missing the tackle along the sideline, but Bush working off his block and there to push him out of bounds for no gain. On second and ten, Pittsburgh brings a four-man pass rush with Highsmith winning around the edge and forcing the step up, and Dalton throwing to the tight end intermediate over the middle where Wallace had solid coverage to challenge the low incompletion. Third and ten now, and Dalton completes over the middle this time, to Olave on a good throw just over Sutton in coverage, and Wallace coming over to tackle the gain of 14 quickly but goes for the conversion.
Hill came in at quarterback for the following first down, and Highsmith did a great job to accelerate and get past the pulling guard unblocked on the designed run to sling him down along with the assist from Adams for only one yard. On second and nine, the Saints have another unforced error in the form of a false start, setting up second and 14. New Orleans shoots themselves in the foot again here with a low shotgun snap, but Dalton recovers it and is brought down by Ogunjobi (beating his man) and Highsmith (coming free on the twist inside) for a loss of four. This forces another third and long where New Orleans cuts their losses and hand to Kamara, who knocks Highsmith to the ground and stays away from Ogunjobi’s diving attempt off a spin, and safety Tre Norwood firing downfield quickly to tackle the five-yard gain shortly after thereafter forcing the punt.
The defense returned up by three now to a run up the middle where Watt made a great play to push the tight end back and get inside him for the run stop of just one yard. On second and nine, Dalton found the tight end on the out route where Bush allowed the catch but wrapped him up quickly on the four-yard gain. Big third and five now, where Highsmith and Ogunjobi were able to collapse the pocket on Dalton’s throw to the 15-yard in route to Landry, tipped in the air off his hands with Wallace there in tight contested coverage, and Kazee did a great job reacting to slow up on his pursuit and make a play on the ball for the timely interception in Fitzpatrick’s absence, providing a much needed takeaway to add to his resume in his already strong performance.
With a ten-point lead now following a late touchdown by the offense and 8:38 left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh rushes four and Highsmith wins inside to get close to Dalton on his target to Landry on the post against Wallace who had tight coverage but allowed the catch, making the quick tackle on the gain of nine yards. On second and one, Watt, Highsmith, and Heyward all beat their men to collapse the pocket, but Dalton gets the pass off to the tight end on the go route where Edmunds skied up for the tip, followed by Wallace getting the pass breakup at the catch point. Third and one now, and New Orleans attempts to pick up the short conversion with Kamara on the ground, and Heyward worked around his man along with Ogunjobi pushing his man back and shedding late to combine for the big time third down run stop! Going for it on fourth and one, everyone knew it was a sneak and the defense did an excellent job swarming and leaving nowhere for Dalton to go, with Spillane getting the tackle for the second ginormous stop for no gain, and the offense takes over on downs!
5:33 left in the game now and the scoreboard remaining after a missed field goal, Highsmith wins once again on his pass rush around the edge, providing a very well-timed strip sack, but Dalton able to get back on it for the recovery on the loss of eight. On second and 18, Dalton takes the wide open checkdown with Pittsburgh playing deep zone, with Kamara getting good YAC on the gain of ten where Wallace made the tackle. Third and nine now, and the defense answers the bell late in the game once again, with Wallace providing the takeaway via a fantastic interception where he stayed step for step with the receiver on the go ball, got his head around and timed his jump well to get his hands on it and muscle the contested catch away from the receiver, which would end up sealing the victory. Amazing job by the defense who was mostly dominant, especially with big plays and not allowing any points in the second half…WOW!
Let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer is Derek Watt (75.7). He is the only grade above 70, highlighting the down performance for the group overall that I agree with. Four players have below 50 grades: Warren (46.3), Marcus Allen (42.8), kicker Matthew Wright (38.7), and cornerback James Pierre (34.6).
Punter Pressley Harvin got his first opportunity at 13:12 following the offenses first drive, a 45-yarder that was thankfully fair caught at the nine-yard line prematurely with gunners James Pierre and Miles Boykin blocked. With 5:06 in the first quarter following the offenses early touchdown, the kickoff coverage unit allowed a big return with missed angles/opportunites including Conor Heyward, Marcus Allen, and Benny Snell, but thankfully New Orleans was called for holding bringing the play back to the ten-yard line.
With 14:20 in the second quarter, kicker Matthew Wright capped an encouraging drive that unfortunately stalled with a 33-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh on top 10-0. His following kickoff went to the end zone with the returner deciding to take it out, able to get to the 28-yard line with Miles Killebrew missing the angle/tackle opportunity, then Snell and Pierre combining for the tackle. Harvin had a 48-yard punt with 10:52 left in the second quarter to the 34-yard line for the fair catch thanks to Boykin pressuring the catch. At the two-minute warning before halftime Harvin came on again, trying to pin the Saints back but the 30-yard punt went to the 14-yard line, and a big 15-yard penalty on Pierre for kick catch interference. Sims got a kick return opportunity following the allowed touchdown by the defense just before halftime, fielding it at the two-yard line and able to get it to the 29 with good overall blocks, but Snell’s man working off the block late to make the tackle.
Wright kicked off to start the second half, a poor attempt that only traveled to the 12-yard line with Boykin working off his blocker late but unable to make a play on the diving attempt, and the return reaching the 35-yard line where Norwood and Snell combined for the tackle. At 13:46 in the third quarter, Sims got a punt return opportunity that was negated by penalty on an Allen hold. At 8:59, Wright was in good position for a 39-yard field goal, but misses wide left and Boswell’s absence is unfortunately felt quickly. The Saints got a very lucky on a punt with 5:14 in the third quarter, with Sims letting it go over his head with it seemingly about to go for a touchback, but instead lands at the two and bounces perfectly horizontal and goes out of bounds there.
With 13:47 in the fourth quarter, Wright got some redemption by making a 33-yard field goal despite it being tipped at the line to give the Steelers a three-point lead. His following kickoff was another short offering to the nine-yard line, with Pierre staying clean and directing the returner to the middle of the field, Boykin getting tripped up, then Maulet darting through and coming clean up the middle to make the solid tackle at the 25-yard line. With 5:39 left in the game, Wright came on for a 48-yard field goal, but unfortunately is no good for the second time on an ugly shank to the left, leaving the lead at 20-10 and the door open for New Orleans, which may not be true for his job in Pittsburgh after his rough day.
STEELERS VS. SAINTS WEEK 10 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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