Game Seven Matchup: Steelers vs. Saints
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When the Saints have the ball: QB Drew Brees is tied for first in the NFL with 14 touchdowns and is third with 2,029 passing yards, but his average yards per attempt is among the lowest in the NFC (7.1). Eight different receivers have 16 or more catches, led by WR Marques Colston (40). But the short passing game has been affected by the absence of RB Reggie Bush, who fractured his fibula in Week 2, and RB Pierre Thomas, the team's leading rusher in 2009, who has missed the past four games with a high-ankle sprain. Both players are not expected to play. Rookie RB Chris Ivory has rushed for 325 yards in their absence. The Saints had three offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl last season -- C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Jahri Evans and RT Jon Stinchcomb -- but the line had problems locating and handling Browns NT Shawn Rodgers in the loss last week.
Game: Steelers (5-1) at New Orleans Saints (4-3), Superdome, New Orleans.
When: 8:20 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 3.
When the Steelers have the ball: QB Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 559 yards and five TDs with a passer rating of 122.4 in two games since returning. The biggest benefactor has been WR Hines Ward, who has 12 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints have had problems in the secondary. S Darren Sharper just returned from the physically unable to perform list. CB Tracy Porter has been out for a month with a knee injury and is not expected to play. And CB Jabari Greer might return after missing the previous game with a shoulder injury. That means rookie CB Patrick Robinson will get tested by WR Mike Wallace. Because the Saints haven't been playing with the lead, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has not blitzed as much this season, resulting in fewer takeaways.
DE Will Smith ... He has just one of the Saints' 12 sacks, but he led the team with 13 in 2009, second best in the NFL. Since being selected with the 18th overall pick in the '04 draft from Ohio State, Smith has had 491/2 sacks and 16 forced fumbles despite often being double-teamed on the edge. He will line against LT Max Starks in the Saints' 4-3 defensive front.
This is the first time the past two Super Bowl champions have met in a regular-season game since Denver (1998 champs) and St. Louis (1999) played Sept. 4, 2000. ... The Steelers have won four consecutive road games, dating to last season, but are 1-2 in the Superdome. They have won three of the past four overall meetings against the Saints since 1990. What's more, the Steelers are 22-4 in their past 26 games against the NFC, including 10-4 under Mike Tomlin. Brees is 8-1 against the AFC since joining the Saints.
To win, the Saints must ...
1. Not have Brees freeze. He has been intercepted eight times in the past three games, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.
2. Not let Mike down the pike. Wallace has five catches of 41 yards or longer and averages a team-best 25.3 yards per catch.
3. Say it 'Aints so. They have turned the ball over 14 times and had five scoring returns against them in seven games.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Put some teeth in Ivory. The rookie running back will be facing a defense that hasn't allowed a back more than 48 yards or a gain longer than 14 yards in 2010.
2. Stay Sharp. It is only his second game back from injury, but Sharper is a defensive playmaker who had three of his career 11 TD interception returns in 2009.
3. Lance Moore. The Saints' receiver leads the team with four touchdowns, two of which have been for 41 and 80 yards.
First Published October 31, 2010 12:00 am