grades the Steelers' effort in the 38-31 win against the New Orleans Saints yesterday. The report is broken down into defensive and offensive positions and coaching.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 264 yards and three touchdowns and had another one dropped in the end zone by Nate Washington. More important, he did not force plays into coverage and was not intercepted. He also made a great pump-fake to free Cedrick Wilson on a 38-yard touchdown.
Willie Parker had runs of 72 and 76 yards en route to a career-high 213 yards and two touchdowns. Parker had only 26 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but his long runs set up two 4-yard touchdowns. The 76-yarder was a thing of beauty, bouncing an inside run around the right corner and down the sideline.
Big plays by the receivers were offset by two drops by Nate Washington, one which cost the team a touchdown. Hines Ward had five catches and made a nice run to turn a skinny post into a 37-yard touchdown. And Wilson had only two catches, but one was a 38-yard touchdown.
The running game struggled -- 47 yards on 15 carries -- until Parker's 72-yard run in the third quarter. LT Marvel Smith made a nice block on the run, but he later missed a big block on a third-down screen to Najeh Davenport that could have been a big gainer. After being sacked nine times in the past two games, all by linemen, Roethlisberger was sacked just twice.
The Saints rushed for 124 yards and Drew Brees was sacked just once. Brett Keisel had eight tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and a batted pass, but he also missed a chance to recover a Brees fumble at the Steelers' 14. DE Aaron Smith was assessed a debatable roughing-the-passer penalty that aided the Saints' second touchdown drive.
Larry Foote (11) and James Farrior (10) combined for 21 tackles and each forced a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Foote, though, dropped an easy interception that would have prevented the Saints' first touchdown. But they did a good job keeping Reggie Bush from anything longer than a 15-yard run gain.
Something is wrong when an opponent gains 517 yards -- 398 passing -- and has 29 first downs. But the secondary played three quarters without safety Troy Polamalu and the second half without cornerback Deshea Townsend. Safety Tyrone Carter, who replaced Polamalu, made two big hits to help force fumbles.
The good news was Najeh Davenport had kick returns of 40 and 31 yards. And Santonio Holmes did not fumble the only time he touched a punt. Here's the bad: Sean Morey, who had not returned a kickoff this season, fumbled the first time he got hit near the end of the first half. K Jeff Reed missed a 35-yard field goal when it was 24-17. And P Chris Gardocki averaged just 33 yards.
No turnovers and three takeaways are more circumstantial than anything, but the players responded well enough to end a three-game losing streak. The secondary was handcuffed with the loss of two starters, forcing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to use two rookies in the dime defense. But the offense gained more than 450 yards.