The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered their first decisive loss of the season on All Hallow’s Eve, falling to the New Orleans Saints 20-10. Prior to yesterday, you could easily argue the team was one play and about fifty seconds away from being undefeated. Not any more. While I’m sure sports talk radio in the ‘Burgh will be dissecting this game like Frankenstein’s monster, it really came down to a handful of plays. The Saints made them and the Steelers didn’t. End of story.
Ziggy Hood, making his first career start for the Black and Gold, acquitted himself well in place of Aaron Smith. He’s clearly not as stout at the point of attack and New Orleans was down to their third and fourth string running backs but he showed flashes of getting it. He still gets pushed around more than you wan to see from your 3-4 DL. Nick Eason, an 8th rounder and career backup, stood out much more impressively than our prize first rounder which is not exactly what one would hope for.
This game wasn’t a real test of our run defense, though, as the Saints abandoned the ground attack fairly quickly. Drew Brees threw 44 times, completing 34 for 305 yards. In my preview, I said we needed to pressure Breesus because our corners have no chance when a quarterback has time to throw. Well, the Steelers ended up with only 2 sacks because tricky Dick LeBeau went with a different scheme where only three or four guys would rush while everybody else dropped back into coverage.
This strategy worked for the most part, holding the high-powered Saints offense to only two field goals through the first three quarters. Ike Taylor even picked off his second pass of the season late in the first half. HANDS OF STONE! TWO PICKS IN ONE SEASON!
However, the secondary collapsed by the fourth. The Steelers had a HUGE problem getting off the field on third down. The Saints were 7 for 16 on conversions where Miami was only 3 of 12 last week. Bryant McFadden and William Gay had all sorts or trouble once again. Even Troy Polamalu did not play particularly well (to put it nicely).
B-Mac was torched for a 16 yard touchdown early in the fourth. I can almost forgive that because B-Mac made up for it by recovering a fumbled kickoff by Antonio Brown and caused a Brees fumble. Meanwhile, Troy’s guessing led to a 50 yard bomb which altered field position and he was also out of position on the late TD to Lance Moore which sealed the game. I realize freelancing and roving are what makes him unique but against a great quarterback he really should dial it back a notch.
Coming in, I didn’t think the Saints D was that great but they held the Steelers to only 279 yards of total offense. Ben Roethlisberger was only 17/28 for 195 yards. The pass/run ratio wasn’t bad (28 to 21) but they couldn’t sustain anything.
The Steelers came out chucking the ball. It almost paid off as Antwaan Randle El caught a 12 yarder where he clearly broke the plane of the goal line but the refs, obviously under orders to make up for last week, took the score away. Mike Tomlin already wasted a challenge earlier in the half on a play he had no business challenging so he didn’t challenge when Mendy appeared to cross the line two plays later. By the way, Tomlin is the worst challenger in history. Whoever watches things in the booth and calls down to him is either blind or an imbecile. Hey, guys, I work cheap. In any case, he didn’t want to waste another challenge when he had 1st and goal from the one foot line.
Three predictable runs failed to punch it home. Redzone Redman up the middle I have no problem with. Rashard Mendenhall off tackle didn’t work. So on third down, they ran THE EXACT SAME PLAY. This is why I hate Bruce Arians. I swear he doesn’t watch what’s happening on the field because he never seems to see what’s working and what’s not and then react accordingly. Anyway, Mendy was stuffed on third down leading to a Skippy FG.
Mendy’s final stats (15 for 71, a TD) are a bit misleading. 38 of those yards came on one run in the fourth quarter where a few short passes over the middle set up an off-tackle run which he broke for the Steelers lone touchdown. The rest of the time, they had him plunging straight ahead for little to no gain. I thought the return of Trai Essex and Flozell Adams might help him but the running game has inexplicably gone down the tubes since Ben returned.
The passing game wasn’t much better. It was all dink and dunk stuff to tight ends or Hines over the middle. When Randle El is targeted nine times, that’s not a good sign. I like Captain Faircatch but he’s a possession guy, not a playmaker. Mike Wallace was held completely in check. Hines’ lone big play was broken up by Emmanuel Sanders, who looked to have ran a bad route. Ward had his man beat and was cruising down the sideline when the rookie cut in front of him. Ben had a hissy fit although if he put more loft on the ball, Sanders wouldn’t have tried to make a play on it. Great leadership, dude.
That was a fourth down play so I guess I understand the rookie being a bit anxious. But it was just another of the Steelers various miscues. Even with the failure to punch the ball in from the goal line, the blown fourth down play, and various secondary breakdowns, I thought we were going to see yet another legendary Big Ben comeback. Down by 3 with nine minutes left, B-Mac strip-sacked Breesus to cause a huge turnover.
A couple plays later, Ben hit reliable Heath Miller down the middle for a big 25 yard gain. However, he tried doing a Mendy Spinerooni out of a tackle and left the ball exposed. The second tackler put his helmet on the ball and the helmet won. Tomlin’s college teammate, Darren Sharper, pounced on the fumble. I don’t think the deflated Steelers ever recovered from the sudden change in momentum.
The defense, charged with getting the ball back, put up only token resistance. James Harrison got a bogus roughing the passer penalty, as the league continues to single him out in an effort to drive him into early retirement, which moved them into FG range. With a little over three minutes left, holding them to a field goal would’ve been fine since Ben had time to drive for a winning TD. But the defense completely embarrassed themselves on a 3rd and 8 when Moore caught a little 3 yard dump-off then ran through Farrior and Gay for a first down. One play later and it was a 10 point New Orleans lead and all that was left for Ben to do was fling risky passes which led to the game-sealing INT.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing from “The Sky Is Falling!” yinzers all afternoon. Other than the fourth quarter meltdown, I don’t think the Black and Gold played that badly. I think many (myself included) were lulled into taking the Saints a bit lightly after they lost to the inept Browns. They’re a quality team. My only concern is we’re in week three of Big Ben’s big return and our offense seems to be regressing. Hopefully they can get things straightened out in time for Monday’s crucial divisional match-up against the faltering Bengals.
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