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Inside the Steelers: Saints-Steelers Preview

It’s the stretch run in the NFL, as five games remain in the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who trail AFC North division leader Cincinnati by one game in the loss column, thanks to the Bengals tying Carolina earlier this season. The Steelers still face the Bengals twice, including next week in Cincinnati. Unlike last year at this time, the Steelers control their destiny, and would finish no lower than the #3 seed in the AFC Playoffs if they won out and finished 12-4.

For the season, when the Steelers are in attack mode and throwing the ball vertically, they have been an offensive machine led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. When Steelers’ OC Todd Haley turtles with his calls, and has the team employing short, horizontal passes, the team has sputtered. Pittsburgh has had two weeks to prepare for the Saints and work on game planning to adhere to their strengths, so members of Steeler Nation are hoping they used their time wisely. Simply put, if the Steelers want to be where they want to be at the end of the season, they need to ride the arm of Ben Roethlisberger, and the legs of Le’Veon Bell.

For the season, Roethlisberger is 5th in passing yards with 3,270. He tied for 5th in touchdown passes with 24, but only has six interceptions to boot. Antonio Brown continues to be at the top of the NFL in receiving yards (1,161) and receptions (88) on the year. Rookie WR Martavis Bryant has been a Red Zone monster for Roethlisberger, and Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore continue to contribute each week. Tight End Heath Miller is 3rd on the team in receptions with 43 for 501 yards and two scores.

Le’Veon Bell has been the man on the ground and through the air, as he has 951 yards rushing and 57 receptions for 484 yards so far. Rookie’s Dri Archer and Josh Harris will serve as back-ups to Bell, as LaGarrette Blount was released last week after he walked off the field early in the Steelers victory against Tennessee.

Tackle Mike Adams, who played well earlier this season in place of an injured Marcus Gilbert, will be called upon again, as Gilbert is likely out with an ankle injury.

On Defense, Pittsburgh will be aided by the return of several starters, as SS Troy Polamalu, LB Ryan Shazier, and CB Ike Taylor are all healthy again. DC Dick LeBeau expects the Saints to come out attacking deep, so the Steelers will have to find ways to get to Drew Brees and make him pay for every throw. Employing a physical approach to the Saints is one way to knock them off of their game offensively. Baltimore was effective in using that strategy last week in their win over New Orleans. The Steelers must do the same.

New Orleans enters the game with a 4-7 record, which, amazingly, is still good enough for first place in the NFC South. Drew Brees is still at the top of his game as he is currently 3rd in the NFL with 3,491 yards passing. He has 22 touchdown passes to go with 11 interceptions. His main target downfield, is Tight End Jimmy Graham, who leads the team with 65 catches, 670 yards receiving, and nine scoring grabs. He is a freak athletically, and the Steelers will have their hands full all day with him. Expect plenty of match-up’s between Graham and Steelers’ LB Lawrence Timmons. Marques Colston and Kenny  Stills will also be in the mix. The Saints lost a big chunk of their offensive talent when rookie Brandin Cooks was lost for the season.

On the ground, Mark Ingram is likely to lead the way for the Saints. Ingram had been on a roll until the Ravens shut him down last week, as he only gained 27 yards for the day. Pierre Thomas will also see time behind Ingram. Travaris Cadet is used primarily as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

On defense, Nose Tackle Brodrick Bunkley suffered a torn quad against the Ravens, and the Ravens were able to lay 215 yards rushing on New Orleans. In their last three games, the Saints are giving up an astounding 5.45 yards per rush. That’s not good news against one of the game’s best runners in Bell.

 

Prediction: Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have been playing well at Heinz all year. The Saints have been relatively awful all year, despite being a good offensive team. Pittsburgh should be able to exploit the Saints’ weak defense and put up a good amount of yards and points. The Saints will put up a fight early, but in the end, the Steelers will stand tall and improve to 8-4 and put themselves in position to take the division lead next week against the Bengals.  Steelers 34  Saints 23

 

Team Rankings

Total Offense: Steelers rank 5th / Saints rank 3rd

Rushing: Steelers rank 10th / Saints rank 8th

Passing: Steelers rank 5th / Saints rank 2nd

 

Total Defense: Steelers rank 13th / Saints rank 27th

Rushing: Steelers rank 10th / Saints rank 23rd

Passing: Steelers rank 16th / Saints rank 23rd

 

Game Information

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4) vs New Orleans Saints (4-7)

Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game-time: Sunday at 1:00 PM

TV: CBS

Weather: 55 degrees with a 60% chance of showers. Winds 15-25 mph.

Vegas Line: Pittsburgh (-5)

 

Game Notes

* Steelers are even in the overall series against the Saints at 7-7 . Steelers lead the series playing at home 3-2.

* Last Regular-Season Meeting:  Oct. 31, 2010 at New Orleans,  New Orleans 20  Pittsburgh 10

* Steelers WR Lance Moore spent nine years (2005-13) with the Saints.

* Le’Veon Bell will record the first 1,000 rushing yard season of his NFL career with 49 yards.

* Heath Miller will move into sole possession of fourth in Steelers team history for most receiving touchdowns with his next scoring grab.

 

Injury Report (11/28/2014)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Out: CB Cortez Allen (thumb), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder)

Doubtful:

Questionable: T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), LB Ryan Shazier (ankle)

Probable: WR Martavis Bryant (illness), DE Brett Keisel (not injury related), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), S Troy Polamalu (not injury related), CB Ivan Taylor (forearm), S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring)

 

New Orleans Saints

Out: 

Doubtful:

Questionable: 

Probable: 

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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
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