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Thread: Steelers present chance to cure tough times in Big Easy

  1. #1

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    Steelers present chance to cure tough times in Big Easy

    Steelers present chance to cure tough times in Big Easy

    By Vic Carucci

    [url=""] ... n-big-easy[/url]

    Questions dogged the New Orleans Saints well before last Sunday's debacle against the Cleveland Browns.

    What's wrong with Drew Brees? What's wrong with Sean Payton? Where did all of the dominance that led to last year's magical Super Bowl title go?
    Steelers ready for road win?
    The Steelers are 3-0 on the road this season, and now Ben Roethlisberger and Co. appear primed and ready to make it four road victories this Sunday in New Orleans. More ...

    The Cleveland game simply served as an ugly reminder to Saints fans that the worries they had leading up to Week 6, when they watched their team pound the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were well placed after all.

    Now, there is reason for full-fledged panic.

    After suffering a 30-17 loss to the now 2-5 Browns at the Superdome, the 4-3 Saints find themselves facing the genuine prospect of suffering back-to-back home losses, their fourth defeat in six games, and falling into third place in the NFC South. The 5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers, regarded by many to be the best team in the NFL, are coming to the Big Easy on Halloween night. And if the Saints and their followers think what they've experienced so far has been scary, they haven't seen anything yet.

    "Now, coming off a clunker of a performance at home, they've got the Pittsburgh Steelers coming in," former NFL quarterback and ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski said. "If that doesn't get your attention, something's wrong. I think this is kind of a litmus test of where they are coming off a world championship ... where they are this year. And this will tell a lot about their football team."

    As Saints safety Darren Sharper told reporters, "Right now, (the Steelers are) playing as an elite team. So it's a good measuring stick for us. We're trying to get to that level. Right now, we're not playing at the level that they are."

    The Steelers went 3-1 while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was serving his suspension for violating the league's conduct policy. They've won both games since his return, and his teammates think he is playing the best he ever has.

    The Steelers' defense ranks fifth in the league and first against the run. Their biggest flaw appears to be their pass defense, which ranks 24th. It would make sense to assume New Orleans' fifth-ranked passing attack could exploit the Steelers through the air, but there has been little about the Saints' offense that can be counted on from week to week.

    "I thought they had fixed their issues (in a 31-6 victory against the Bucs) and you look at that Cleveland game, it was not the same team that we saw late last year and in the playoffs and, obviously, the Super Bowl," Jaworski said. "I think, first and foremost, they're still a quality football team. In the ebb and flow of the season, I think there are always some games where you go, 'Wow, it wasn't our day.' And that may have been their game last week."

    Still, Jaworski and others who have followed the Saints closely point to the following reasons why the team isn't performing at the level it did for most of 2009:

    Offensive predictability. It's to be expected that every opponent will invest maximum time studying the offense of a defending Super Bowl champ that excels on that side of the ball. But Payton has made it a bit easier by frequently running the same plays in his pass-heavy scheme. That was evident in Week 7, with Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan staying a step ahead of Payton throughout the game.

    "It doesn't happen often, but I thought Rob Ryan had outcoached Sean Payton in this one," Jaworski said. "There's nothing wrong, actually, with teams that run the same plays a lot, and they're successful. It just shows they execute very well. But I thought there was a predictability that Rob was able to decode and beat receivers to their routes. And it forced Brees, a lot of times, to hold onto the football. His No. 1 (receiver) was taken away, No. 2 was taken away, and then (he's) trying to get to three, and the pressure was on him."

    The loss of running back Reggie Bush. He has missed five games with a fractured fibula suffered in Week 2, and is likely to be out again Sunday night. It isn't that Bush has overwhelming involvement with the number of times he handles the ball as a receiver or a running back. It's that defenses must account for him in ways they don't for the Saints' other backs. Now, opponents can trust linebackers to handle pass coverage on pass routes the New Orleans backs run, leaving more defensive backs available for deeper coverage.

    Brees' inconsistency. To some degree, he has been hampered by the offense's predictability and Bush's absence. He also is still trying to find a comfort zone with newcomer Ladell Betts, whose failure to stop in the right spot of Cleveland's zone coverage resulted in one of Brees' four interceptions. A classic case of a quarterback and receiver who simply haven't worked together long enough.
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    "But I'm not going to lie to you," Jaworski said. "He's made some bad decisions as well, which is uncharacteristic of Drew Brees."

    Said former Saints quarterback and New Orleans radio talk-show host Bobby Hebert: "For this team to win, Drew Brees just can't play good or average. He has to play great. And he played great last year, and they ended up winning the championship."

    Right offensive tackle Jonathan Stinchcomb has struggled. The line, in general, hasn't performed well and that has caused Brees to feel a good deal of pressure. But Stinchcomb's play has been particularly below par, NFL observers say.

    "I'm definitely surprised," Hebert said. "I thought, like the whole fan base, (the Saints' offensive success) doesn't happen by accident. Since Coach Payton and Drew Brees have been here, you don't have a top-five offense. You have the No. 1 offense in the NFL, and worst they've finished was fourth."

    All of which sets the Saints up for a deeper decline -- or a much-needed rebound.

    "(The feeling's) not, mathematically, we have to win this game," Hebert said. "But I just think, from a swagger, from a confidence standpoint, just to feel good about yourself going forward, you've got to beat a team like the Steelers. The game Sunday night is more important from a psychological standpoint than just, 'Oh, we've got to catch the Falcons and have a chance to win the NFC South.'"

    Of course, the Saints could go a long way toward helping themselves on that count as well.

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

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  2. #2

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    Re: Steelers present chance to cure tough times in Big Easy

    Saints' Brees may find a vulnerable secondary
    Friday, October 29, 2010
    [url=""] ... 06639.html[/url]

    The contention by the Steelers players and coaches that the team's No. 24 ranking in passing defense is just a meaningless number will be tested Sunday night in New Orleans.

    Drew Brees figures to fill the electric Superdome air with passes, and he is at a different level than any quarterback the Steelers have played against to this point.

    What will go a long way toward determining which team wins the contest between last two Super Bowl champions is how several numbers games play out in the Big Easy.

    Will Brees, who has completed just over 70 percent of his passes dating back to last season, riddle a defense that has allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just over 66 percent of their throws?

    Or will a defense that has allowed just four touchdown passes and is tied for seventh in the NFL with nine interceptions get the better of the quarterback that has already thrown 10 interceptions, one less than he did all of last season?

    "Teams that are really patient do pretty well against us," Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said. "But no offense is really patient. I think the most patient offense we've played against since I've been here is the Dolphins."

    That patience did not translate into a victory for Miami in part because they had to settle for four field goals in the Steelers' 23-22 win last Sunday.

    Of Chad Henne's 23 completions, 12 went for 10 yards or less and only three covered more than 20 yards.

    The Steelers players have generally shrugged off the fact they have given up 235.7 passing yards per game, which puts them in the bottom third of the NFL in that category.

    So, too, did Brees, whose 18,298 passing yards from 2006-09 are the most in NFL history during a four-year span.

    "All that means is they've been ahead in most of their games, and their run defense is No. 1 in the league," Brees said, "so teams are forced to pass against them."

    Said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: "There are so many statistics in football that it's so hard to be real good in all of them. I've seen it around here when we've done that, but that was a rare, rare year."

    Translation: the Steelers probably had a once-in-a-generation season in 2008, when they came within 55 rushing yards of leading the NFL in rushing, passing and total defense.

    "The bottom line," LeBeau said, "is how's the team doing?"

    The 5-1 Steelers have done just fine, but they have yet to face a quarterback the caliber of Brees, the MVP of last season's Super Bowl.

    The six quarterbacks that have started against the Steelers this season have one Pro Bowl appearance among them.

    Brees, meanwhile, has been selected to the annual all-star game four times and was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2008.

    The Steelers are expected to blitz Brees often to keep him from getting in a rhythm.

    "We tried to rush him up the middle a lot because he would always step up in the pocket," said cornerback Bryant McFadden, who played against the Saints in the playoffs while with the Cardinals last season. "With him not being as tall (6-feet-0) as a lot of other quarterbacks, we tried to come at him from the front."

    The Steelers have a reptuation of coming from anywhere and everywhere with LeBeau running their defense.

    That has not changed, even though Polamalu is not moving around as much before the snap this season perhaps because of the emergence of Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.

    "Every week, we have new plays, we have new blitzes that we put in," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "Some weeks, we scrap some of the old things and bring them back later. I don't know how (LeBeau) keeps a rolodex in his brain, but he has it. We've got some new things we put in specifically (for the Saints). Hopefully, it will work."

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

    American metal pimped by asiansteel
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you 1. Jesus Christ, 2.The American G.I., One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.

  3. #3

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    Re: Steelers present chance to cure tough times in Big Easy

    Woodley, Adams both full participants in practice
    Friday, October 29, 2010
    [url=""] ... 06642.html[/url]

    The Steelers got some good news on the injury front Thursday as outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and right tackle Flozell Adams were full participants in practice.

    Neither Woodley (hamstring) nor Adams (ankle) practiced Wednesday.

    Barring any setbacks, the two should play Sunday in New Orleans.

    The Steelers may limit Woodley's snaps against the Saints because of the nature of his injury and the depth they have at linebacker.

    Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is versatile enough to play outside if the Steelers want to spell Woodley, and Larry Foote can play in Timmons' spot.

    The fumble Emmanuel Sanders lost during the opening kickoff last Sunday in Miami is apparently still weighing heavily on him. The rookie wide receiver walked around the Steelers' practice facility yesterday with a football tucked against his right shoulder. It was reminiscent of when the veteran players had Rashard Mendenhall carry around a football during his rookie preseason in 2008 because of fumbling issues. Sanders said he took the initiative to do the same thing yesterday. "I've been telling myself that can't happen again," Sanders said of the fumble.

    Saints running backs Reggie Bush (leg) and Pierre Thomas (ankle), who have not practiced this week because of injuries, are not expected to play against the Steelers. Center Jonathan Goodwin (groin), linebacker Scott Shanle (hamstring) and cornerbacks Jabari Greer (shoulder) and Tracy Porter (knee) were limited participants in practice yesterday.

    Defensive end Ziggy Hood, who is in line to make his first NFL start in New Orleans, received a vote of confidence from Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "I think he'll play well," LeBeau said.

    LeBeau on injured defensive end Aaron Smith: "He's one tough son of a gun, and he'll get back quicker than most people would. It's one of the downsides of this business, seeing people you love get injured. But it happens to every team. Aaron will triumph in the end."

    Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward got into the Halloween spirit yesterday as he wore a wig with long black hair during the first of two open locker room sessions. "Troy (Polamalu) lent me his Head & Shoulders (shampoo) overnight, and it works," Ward joked. "I don't know how he does it because the hair keeps getting in my face every time I run."

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

    American metal pimped by asiansteel
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you 1. Jesus Christ, 2.The American G.I., One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.


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