Steelers hope to pile on struggling Saints

(SportsNetwork.com) – Will the real Ben Roethlisberger please stand up?

Or, at least throw a half-dozen or so touchdown passes so we’ll know it’s you?

The Pittsburgh QB threw for a preposterous 12 TDs over a two-game home stretch
– against Indianapolis and Baltimore – in Weeks 8 and 9, then took to the road
for games against suspect opponents (the New York Jets and Tennessee) against
whom it appeared that double-digits were a likelihood.

Instead, the Steelers hit the offensive skids against the Jets and Titans,
splitting the two games in the standings while Roethlisberger was sacked seven
times, threw three interceptions and had just two plays that generated 25 or
more yards.

Pittsburgh was off last week for its bye and returns home for a Week 13 game
with New Orleans, trailing first-place Cincinnati by a half-game in the AFC
North.

“All we have to focus on is the stadium that we’re in because we’re in the
thick of that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “If we do what we need to do
on a week-in and week-out basis in terms of our business in our stadium, then
it’s not going to be required that we look around. We play some significant
people moving forward. New Orleans being the most significant because that’s
who we play this week.”

In five games at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger has a 130.5 passer rating, 18
touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he’s generated 19 plays of 25
yards or more – best in the NFL. That equals the total that Sunday’s passing
opponent, Drew Brees, has managed in all 11 games this season.

“We appreciate it. We don’t take it for granted,” Tomlin said. “It’s been
really good. But it’s not unlike him. He is capable of heating up and going
for these stretches and being a significant reason why we are successful, not
only offensively but as a football team.”

Inconveniently for the Saints, their defense is suddenly dinged-up.

Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley tore a quad muscle in last week’s home loss to
Baltimore, a game in which the Ravens rushed for 215 yards. The last three New
Orleans opponents have averaged 5.45 yards per carry, which could mean good
things for Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who’ll presumably get the bulk of the
ball-carrying after LeGarrette Blount was released following the Tennessee
game.

Bell ran for 204 yards against the Titans.

Additionally, quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco have completed better
than 70 percent of their passes and averaged more than 10 yards per attempt
against New Orleans in the last two weeks, while throwing for four touchdowns
and 453 yards.

The Saints have three safeties on injured reserve and will be facing a
Roethlisberger receiving corps that includes Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL
with 88 catches, and Lance Moore, who played with New Orleans from 2006 to
2013.

“Every game that we come out, it is something new,” Saints cornerback Keenan
Lewis said. “Sometimes we have problems with the pass. Sometimes we have
problems with the run. Sometimes we have a problem with both. We have to fix
everything.”

When it comes to offense, New Orleans is third in the league on the road with
an average of 418 yards per game, though it’s been hurt by 11 road turnovers
and has won just once in five tries.

Brees and the Saints will face a Steelers defense buffeted by the possible
returns of cornerback Ike Taylor, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Ryan
Shazier. Taylor has been out since Week 3 with a broken forearm, Polamalu
missed two games with a sprained knee and Shazier last played in Week 9 before
suffering an ankle injury.

New Orleans has the opposite record as Pittsburgh’s at 4-7, but shares first
place in a dreadful NFC South with Atlanta. The NFC South is the first
division to have all three of its teams three or more games below .500, while
the Steelers and the rest of the AFC North make up the only division in which
all teams are three or more games above .500.

The South is 1-10-1 in 11 games against the North this season, with the lone
victory coming from 2-9 Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh in Week 4. The Saints lost
three straight at home to fall to 4-7.

“Obviously, our margin for error is not good enough to win close games,” New
Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “We have to be able to play better and coach
better. Most importantly, we have to make sure we have thick enough skin and
be able to have the mental and physical toughness to bounce back and play (at
Pittsburgh), because we are playing, obviously, an important game.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Tighten Up

The Steelers have allowed TDs from tight ends in four consecutive games, and
those scores came from the less-than-All-Pro likes of Dwayne Allen, Crockett
Gilmore, Jace Amaro and Chase Coffman.

They step up the opposition dramatically against the Saints’ Jimmy Graham,
who’s got 65 receptions for 670 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games. To only
say “Advantage New Orleans” seems insufficient.

Painting Heinz Field Brown

The aforementioned Brown has certainly established himself among the top pass-
catching threats in the NFL over the last two seasons, and keeping him in
check this week will be a huge way that the Saints can keep Sunday from
turning into a video game shootout. Lewis, himself a former Steeler, will
attempt to disrupt his athletic counterpart with a decided aim at physicality
along the line of scrimmage.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If you’re of the betting persuasion, the over seems like a formality here.
Brees and Roethlisberger combine for a matchup of premier NFL quarterbacks and
offensive names like Brown, Graham and Bell certainly indicate that stops will
be at a premium. The team that emerges with the fewest mistakes is likely to
have the best time of it, and the Saints’ road performance thus far indicates
it won’t be them.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 30, Saints 21