New Orleans Saints Can Make Statement With A Win Over Steelers
By Keith Null
The defending Super Bowl champion Saints (4-3) will play host to last seasons defending champs the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) this Sunday night at the Superdome in a nationally televised contest.
For the Saints the contest is much more than a potential win/loss on their record it’s a chance to get back on track after a disastrous loss to the Cleveland Browns (1-5) last week and prove they are still a contender to repeat as champ.
A win against the Steelers, who have already knocked off the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is just the kind of statment they need to make.
Unfortunately the Saints are decimated by injury at several key positions and likely will enter the game without some key players on both sides of the ball.
Reggie Bush has been cleared to practice but is unlikey to see any playing time this Sunday as is Pierre Thomas who is also questionable with a lingering ankle injury.
Neither has been totally ruled out at this point but it’s a stretch that they will actually play.
Both starting corner back’s,Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer, are also questionable but have practiced with the team in a limited capacity this week and although their progress is ecouraging it makes no gurantee they will actually play.
Porter has missed several games after tearing his MCL against the Panthers in week four and Greer has been out since a shoulder injury suffered in week six.
Entering the game Drew Brees has already thrown ten interceptions, a mark far off the eleven he pitched throughout the entirety of the Saints 2009 season
If there is one chink in the Steelers stellar defense it is their 24th ranked pass defense. Brees will likely have success against them but needs to be cautious throwing toward Steeler corner back Ike Taylor who is a phenomanal, yet often over looked, cover corner.
Troy Polamalu is one of the best safeties in the game so Brees must also stay aware of where he is at on the field or risk turning the ball over, an issue that must be put in check.
However Brees will not be successful if he has to throw the ball fifty times against the Steelers so the Saints must find a way to get their run game working without Bush and Thomas in the lineup.
Rookie running back Chris Ivory has proven he has big play ability and defenses cannot afford to leave him on the field unchecked. The bulk of the rush load will fall on his shoulders so he has to make the most of every carry and avoid being taken down in the backfield for no gain.
Ex-Seahawk running back Julius Jones will have to step up his play as well and get skinny to be successful against the Steelers number one ranked run defense (63.7 ypg).
The rushing success of the Saints won’t just be up to Ivory and Jones but also the offensive line who is among the best in the NFL when they decide to play like it come game day.
Left guard Jermon Bushrod, left tackle Carl Nicks, center Jonathan Goodwin, right tackle Jahri Evans and right guard Jon Stinchcomb will have to play up to their 2009 form and open holes for the ‘backs to get through while keeping Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton in check.
Free safety Darren Sharper is back, all be it in a shared role with Malcolm Jenkins. Although Jenkins has played well filling in for Sharper while he recovered from knee surgery he has been unable to match Sharper’s ability to snatch interceptions.
Jenkins has had his hands on a few balls this year but just isn’t quit at the level of Sharper who has the instinctive ability to know where the football is heading before it gets there.
In 2009 Sharper had nine interceptions and helped transform the Saints defense into a ball hawking unit that finished with 39 total takeaways and a +11 turnover differential, but in 2010 the Saints ahve dropped off sharply totaling only 14 total takeaways and a -5 turnover differential.
Equally important as turnovers is getting pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger who is among the best in the league at escaping the pocket and extending a play when pressure is applied.
The Saints defense doesn’t have alot of sacks to speak of but the their front four consiting of Will Smith, Sedrick Ellis, Remi Ayodele and Alex Brown do a great job penetrating offensive lines while being disruptive in the backfield.
The Steelers offensive line, although improved this season, can still be exploited so it will be up to the front four to keep Rothlisberger off rhythm and flustered in attempt to force errant throws downfield.
On a side note the Guiness World Book of Records will be in town at the Superdome in an attempt to validate the Steelers – Saints game as the largerst ever indoor Halloween gathering and with 70,000+ fans expected to be in attendance it seems all wrapped up.
Check out Keith Null’s weekly article about the Saints on NFL.com by clicking here.
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