Saints take down Steelers: Squandered opportunities and costly mistakes did the Steelers in Sunday night, losing to the New Orleans Saints 20-10 on the road to fall to 5-2 on the season.
Drew Brees passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Saints to 17 second half points. Brees and the Saints put the game away with an 8 yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 2:37 remaining in the game as the Saints pulled away 20-10. Brees’ first TD went to Marques Colston for 16 yards just 2:05 into the 4th quarter.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 17 of 28 for 195 yards and 1 interception. Rashard Mendenhall scored the Steelers only touchdown, a 38 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Saints figure out Steelers D in 2nd half: In a defensive battle in the first half, the Saints made the needed adjustments and found holes in the Steelers defense.
Brees was 20 of 22 for 191 yards in the second half and it was the second straight week that a team began to figure out the Steelers defense in the 2nd half.
Third down struggles on both sides of the ball: Pittsburgh’s offense had no answers for the Saints aggressive blitzing schemes. Pittsburgh struggled mightily on third downs, going 3-for-10 in the game and 0-for-1 on 4th downs.
Defensively though the Steelers had difficulties coming up with stops in the second half on 3rd downs. After going 1-for-7 in the first half, New Orleans went 6-for-9 in the second half. One of the Steelers three stops on 3rd downs in the second half was a forced fumble that Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley recovered on the Steelers 27, when Pittsburgh trailed 13-10.
Squandered Opportunities: The story of the game for Pittsburgh was squandered opportunities. In the first half, Pittsburgh had another touchdown taken away for the second consecutive game and botched another opportunity for points late in the half.
Antwaan Randle El had a touchdown called back on a drive where Emmanuel Sanders set the Steelers up with great field position, a punt return of 38 yards and bringing the ball up to the Saints 44 yard line.
Pittsburgh quickly marched down the field and on third down from the Saints 12 yard line, Randle El caught a Roethlisberger pass and officials ruled that Randle El scored a touchdown. After a coaches challenge, Randle was ruled to be down just inside the one yard line.
Pittsburgh then failed to punch the ball into the end zone on three straight running plays and had to settle for a field goal and took a 3-0 lead.
Leading 3-0, Ike Taylor made a nifty interception, taking the ball to the Saints 36 yard line with 1:51 remaining. Pittsburgh though failed to move the ball and Jeff Reed missed a 51 yard field goal wide to the left and the Saints took over at their 41 yard line with 1:11 remaining in the half. Enough time was left on the clock for the Saints, who kicked a 31 yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining in the half to tie the game at 3-3.
Game Changing Play: After a sluggish three quarters of play, the Steelers offense began to heat up in the 4th quarter. Marques Colston caught a 16 yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees with 12:55 remaining to push the Saints lead to 13-3.
With the way the Saints “D” was playing, Pittsburgh appeared to be in serious in trouble but Roethlisberger and the Steelers quickly responded.
All Pittsburgh needed was 4 plays and Rashard Mendenhall scored a 38 yard touchdown run, capping off a 4 play – 68 yard scoring drive. The Saints lead was down to 13-10 with 10:48 remaining.
The Steelers struggled stopping the Saints on third down in the second half but delivered what was the game changer as cornerback Bryant McFadden sacked Brees, forcing a fumble and Lamarr Woodley recovered the ball on the Steelers 27 yard line.
Suddenly momentum was moving into the direction of the Steelers and Roethlisberger was heating up to the point that he looked to be on his way to his 22nd career 4th quarter come from behind win.
The Steelers again quickly moved down the field but a costly turnover came from an unlikely source and possibly changed the outcome of the game.
Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller in the middle of the field for his first catch of the game and Miller barreled his way 26 yards (19 yards after the catch) to the Saints 32 yard line only to fumble and lose the ball from a hard hit by linebacker Marvin Mitchell. Saints safety Darren Sharper recovered the ball, returning it 11 yards to the Saints 45 yard line.
Miller’s fumble was costly as the Steelers appeared primed to get some points on the board.
Defense unable to make stop: Miller’s fumble with just under 6:30 remaining was devastating, however, the Steelers were unable to slow down Drew Brees with plenty of time left and the Saints only leading by three.
After Sharpers fumble recovery, the Saints took over at their 45 yard line with 6:24 remaining and Brees drove the Saints on an 8 play – 48 yard drive, with the knockout punch, an 8 yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 2:37 left. Brees was 6-for-6 on the drive for 38 yards and one touchdown.
A key play on the drive was a James Harrison 15 yard roughing the passer penalty that moved the ball 15 yards to Pittsburgh’s 20 yard line.
With the way Roethlisberger was heating up and finally showing signs of solving the Saints blitz, if Pittsburgh is able to hold New Orleans to a field goal and leave a few minutes on the clock, It’s hard not to imagine the Steelers making things interesting with a final minute comeback.
Questionable Playcalling?: Two questionable calls I’m sure that will be getting some play from fans and the talk shows.
The first one was deciding to kick a 51 yard field goal near the end of the first half, following a stalled drive after Ike Taylor’s interception.
The Steelers held a 3-0 lead at the time and could have played it safe by punting and would have likely gone into the half with a lead. After Reed’s miss, the Saints took over with 1:11 left and went 46 yards on 7 plays, kicking a 31 yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.
At the time I felt punting was the best move due to the possibility of giving the Saints great field position.
The decision shows the Steelers had enough confidence in their defense to get a stop if Reed were to miss and it still shows that the Steelers have confidence in Jeff Reed, despite his struggles this year.
The second noticeable call was the decision to go for it on 4th and 4 at the New Orleans 40 yard line with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter. I felt this was the right call. The issue you though was the execution as the Steelers ran the right play but had the wrong personnel.
The formation had Hines Ward in the right slot and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside with Ward. The play was for Sanders to run a “pick” as Ward curls up the sideline. It’s a play the Steelers have ran for years but Sanders didn’t run the play properly on what should have been an executed play and a big gain for Ward.
The decision though ended up backfiring on the coaching staff as the Saints went on a 10 play touchdown drive to take a 13-3 lead. They completed three third down conversations on the drive.
What does the loss mean: The Steelers fall to 5-2 on the season and are now tied with the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) for first place in the AFC North. The Ravens currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
With losses by Pittsburgh and the New York Jets (5-2), the New England Patriots (6-1) have taken over the top spot in the AFC.