Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gameday: New Orleans Saints

Louisiana Superdome
Radio: 102.5 WDVE

What to Watch For

1. Run Defense

With Aaron Smith out for an extended period of time, the Steelers will be playing with a weakened defensive front. The Saints have run the ball well on occasion and Chris Ivory has shown he is capable of carrying the load if called upon. That said, the Saints are a pass-first team and the Steelers defense needs to shut things down up front and make sure the Saints are a pass-only team.

2. Pass Rush

The Steelers had done a great job getting to the quarterback this year, but LeBeau has a tendency to fold up and play more conservatively (usually only rushing 3 or 4) when on the road. Their nickel defense can be their most deadly weapon when everyone plays (Keisel and Woodley bring a lot here). If the Diesel or Woodley can't go, We might get to see some more of Jason Worlids in obvious passing situations. Worlids isn't very sound in run defense or pass coverage, but he's got a ton of speed coming off the edge. You'd better believe the Steelers will be watching tape of what the Cowboys did to the Saints O-line last year when they gameplan for this game.

3. Ben Roethlisberger v Drew Brees

Two of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league squaring off on Halloween in New Orleans? Sounds like the makings of a shootout. That said, both the Steelers and Saints defenses rank in the top 5 in the league in total defense. However, even if they game turns into a defensive struggle, both teams have the offensive firepower to turn it on at any time. Brees will spread the ball around. Last season he had 7 receivers with over 35 catches. That's just insane. Ben doesn't spread the ball around quite as much, but he's just as capable of going stride-for-stride with Brees.

4. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman

Last time these two teams faced off, Willie Parker had one of the best rushing games in Steelers history, racking up over 200 yards on the ground. The Saints run defense has gotten a lot better in the last four years, but that doesn't mean that the Steelers aren't capable of running over these guys. The Browns and Peyton Hillis did it last week.

5. Halloween

"Halloween" comes from the Christian celebration of "All Hallows Eve" or the night before All Saints Day. Wiki it. Lots of connections we could make between the holiday and this game. But Ian is going to the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC this weekend.

Behind Enemy Lines

This week's guest is Andrew from The Saints Nation, a solid blog over on the Bloguin network. If you're not aware of the Bloguin network, get off you ass and check out some of the titans of the Pittsburgh blogosphere: The Pensblog, WHYGAVS?, and PSAMP. Also, you can hit up Andrew on Twitter.

1. In a matchup of the last two Super Bowl Champions, the Steelers and Saints come into this game from very different perspectives. The Saints have lost two of their last three and looking to turn things around while the Steelers have won their last two. Despite the Saints stumbling over themselves against Cleveland, what have you been most impressed with from the Saints this year?

I'd say the run defense, which was suspect last year, has been a real bright spot. For the most part the Saints have been very good against the run. Coverage units on special teams have been impressive for the most part, too. To be honest, that's about the only things I've been "impressed" by this year. Granted we've been spoiled in New Orleans having the top offense in the NFL 3 out of the last 4 years. I will say our ability to miss short field goals this year has been pretty impressive. It takes real talent to find two NFL kickers capable of missing 29 yard attempts in the span of 3 weeks.

2. Reggie Bush appears to be on the verge of coming back from his broken leg, which should re-energize the Saints running and passing game. With Pierre Thomas still nursing an injury, do you think the Saints will exclusively attack the Steelers through the air or will they try to keep things balanced and attempt to grind it out against a tough Steelers run defense?

Sean Payton loves to pass, and he sometimes gets into ruts as a play caller where he doesn't incorporate the run game enough. Chris Ivory is a capable back that showed he's capable of big things when he rushed for over 150 yards against the Bucs. For the Saints to be at their peak offensively, they need to have a healthy run/pass balance. When you saw them rolling people by 30+ points last year, that's what they were doing so well. I know the coaching staff always strives for a good balance and that's the objective going into any game. There is no doubt they sometimes throw too much, though. I don't think Pierre Thomas being out changes much from a play calling philosophy perspective, though, because Chris Ivory has basically replaced him as the feature back. I'm not ready to say he's as good as Pierre, but he's certainly got promise and needs to be accounted for.

3. The last meeting between these two teams was in 2006 when the Saints were just starting to come out of their shell offensively. Then-rookie WR Marques Colston ran over, around, and through the Steelers defense (10 rec, 169 yds). However, the Steelers were able to win a game that turned into a school-yard shootout on the shoulders of one of the greatest running efforts in Steelers history (Willie Parker: 22 car, 213 yds, 2 TD). Do you expect another shootout between offenses that have the potential to be high-powered or do you think the defenses, both of which rank in the top 5 in Yards Against, will steal the show?

I expect a low scoring game, honestly. The Saints won't have Pierre Thomas, and I am skeptical Reggie Bush will play either. The Saints just haven't hit on all cylinders yet offensively this season. I have a hard time believing they will do it against the Steelers' defense. On the flip side, the Superdome is one of the hardest places to play. The Saints will give the Steelers their best shot looking to redeem themselves from a sorry performance against the Browns. Make no mistake, the team that didn't show up against the Browns is not the real Saints and this team has too much character to not come back fighting hard after an embarrassing showing like that. I think it will be a 20-17 type score, liking coming down to a final play in the 4th quarter.

4. After the Super Bowl, players like Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Tracy Porter are household names. We all know what Jonathan Vilma brings to the table on defense. Are there any lesser-known or "under-the-radar" players that you think will have a big impact on the game?

I mentioned Chris Ivory, and he's a running back with some potential. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham is a huge target with really good hands that's starting to get more involved in the offense. Most defenses aren't paying much attention to him because of all the weapons on offense, so he could be dangerous. The thing with Brees is, if you're open, he'll throw you the ball. For that reason, really anyone that's on the field offensively can hurt you if you let them. Defensively, defensive tackles Sedrick Ellis and Remi Ayodele have both played at an extremely high level all season long. They're a major reason why the Saints have been so effective on the interior against the run. If Mendenhall is going to have success, the Steelers have to do a good job of getting push at the point of attack on those two guys. Strong safety Roman Harper is also playing at an extremely high level. He stays around the box, hits very hard, tackles well, and is one of the team's best defenders. Don't forget Darren Sharper, either, who is just back from injury. He's one of those ballhawk defenders that just knows how to find the football.

5. Any other final thoughts?

The Saints have been very Jekyll and Hyde this year. It's just tough, I think, to bounce back from the emotional ride that is winning a Super Bowl. You guys experienced the exact same thing the last couple of times... it's just hard to win the year after being champions. The Saints have been hit or miss this year. They didn't show up against the lowly Cards and Browns. To be honest, I think they went into both of those games thinking the teams would be cupcakes and gave them little respect. That's the harsh reality of the NFL. Even when you have Colt McCoy and Max Hall at quarterback, you can find ways to sneak up on teams and beat them. At other times, they've played better this season like the team we saw last year. There's no doubt they're a good team when they want to be, and I think at home vs. a top team like the Steelers on Sunday night, you should expect we'll bring our A game. I think it's going to be a great battle. There's no denying the Steelers are the class of the NFL right now, but I think that will bring out the best in the Saints. I truly expect it will come down to the end and be a really good battle. Honestly, I will be really disappointed if we don't see anything less than two elite teams giving it their all in a tightly contested NFL game. Obviously I hope the Saints get this W because I think they desperately need it right now (more so than the Steelers need it).

Around the League

AFC North

Miami @ Cincinnati

Miami hasn't lost on the road yet this year.

Game of the Week

Pittsburgh @ New Orleans

We're not kidding anyone. The last two Super Bowl champions square off on Halloween night? Does it really get any better than this? Nope.

Games of Note

Green Bay @ NY Jets

Houston @ Indianapolis

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