By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers watched another game fall through their hands, in some cases literally, as the New Orleans Saints came to Heinz Field and did just enough to get a win. The scoring summary, quarter by quarter, summed up the game effectively. Pittsburgh settled for field goals in the first two quarters while Drew Brees and the Saints got the offense firing, scoring two touchdowns before halftime. New Orleans outscored Pittsburgh by seven points in the third quarter. By the time the fourth and final quarter rolled around, the Steelers were able to put up 17 points, including two two-point conversions, far too late to make a difference.
You have to wonder exactly what the Steelers prepared for during the bye week after watching the Steelers start off once again very slowly on offense and not be up to the task of handling the Saints on Sunday. Despite gaining Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, the coaching staff did little to get Dri Archer involved in the game and Josh Harris was never utilized. The defensive backfield was beaten time and time again, missing tackles and playing poor coverage. The coaching staff has to take responsibility for the fact that their team wasn’t able to make adjustments on either side of the ball. Time management was a major factor as well.
Todd Haley can’t take the blame for Ben Roethlisberger’s play. Once Roethlisberger hit his wrist on an incoming defender, passing became a major issue for the veteran quarterback. Out of sync, Roethlisberger overthrew several receivers, letting the ball sail over their heads or out of reach. The lack of efficient passing made the Steelers offense very one-sided, giving the Saints defense an opportunity to focus on Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. Roethlisberger finished the day with 32-of-58 completions for 435 yards and two touchdowns. His one sack and two interceptions were drive killers.
The Steelers played as a unit at home, but without the confidence needed to outscore the Saints. Once again, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller were the most dominant receivers. With Archer unable to find success on the ground, Bell was once again called on to carry the load in the rushing game. Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant continue to struggle balancing route-running and hauling in catches. Bryant had a nice deep reception for 23 yards. One of the most glaring issues this season has been the fact that receivers outside of Brown and Miller, a tight end, fail to return to the ball when Roethlisberger runs into trouble.
The Steelers could have benefited from a hurry-up offense earlier in the second half of the game, but didn’t initiate it until the second half of the final quarter. With the offensive line allowing batted balls, one that was intercepted, and Saints defenders get leverage, the Steelers had to force plays instead of taking control and managing a solid game. With time ticking quickly off the clock, Pittsburgh was forced to take anything they could get, looking desperate.
Give Bell and Brown kudos for a late surge in the fourth quarter to show that there is still some fight in the hearts of the black and gold. Unfortunately, their individual efforts were wasted by a team that let down early and just couldn’t recover in time to make a difference.
The Steelers defense was expected to be tested by Drew Brees and his ability to find open targets, but by the third quarter, they looked almost completely defeated. Pittsburgh was able to force the Saints to complete only four-of-ten third-downs, but couldn’t close the door despite the fact that Jimmy Graham didn’t have a single catch on the game.
Taylor’s return to the field wasn’t the reunion that was expected. In fact, Taylor looked slow, unsure in coverage and was beaten several times. Whether it was hesitation due to his forearm not being as strong as he believed it would be after weeks of rehabbing or just too much time away from contact-based practices, Taylor could have benefited from his fellow cornerbacks stepping up their game to give him a morale boost.
Where Pittsburgh was expected to be tough was against the run, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas were able to chew up a lot of extra yardage instead. It didn’t help that Troy Polamalu had to take a few snaps off due to a stinger and defensive end Brett Keisel suffered a triceps injury and was forced to the leave the game. The Steelers are vulnerable to the run, and it is something that should worry the franchise heading into their final three games of the regular season – two of which will be against the Cincinnati Bengals who sit atop the AFC North.
Shaun Suisham missed a long field goal that sailed beneath the horizontal goal post. Some could argue that it was a bad snap by Greg Warren or a poor hold by Brad Wing. Either way, the Steelers shouldn’t have been forced to count on Suisham to kick at all. If Suisham had made the kick, the last-ditch effort by the Steelers offense may have ended up forcing overtime. Wing had two punts on the game, one of which was inside the 20 yard-line. Wheaton was utilized on kickoff returns and in three attempts gained 87 yards, his longest a 41-yarder. Brown looked like he believed one punt would bounce into the end zone and allowed it to hop only to realize it was going to bounce in the Saints’ favor. The coverage team held the Saints to only 75 return yards due to two kicks being sent into the end zone by Suisham for a touchback.
When the chants in the fourth quarter are “who dey” instead of “here we go Steelers” in a near-empty stadium, you know that the Steelers have disappointed yet again in a game they should have been able to handle. It was one more game that the Steelers allowed a team with a losing record to hand them a loss in 2014. The Steelers franchise has to be concerned about their next three games. Facing the Bengals twice in three weeks would be problematic even if they were playing top-notch football this season. Now the Steelers have to be concerned that they’ve lost the spark that could have given them the boost they needed to have a possible playoff chance. Overall grade: D
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on