Week 16 in the NFL brought with it the biggest challenge of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That challenge came in the sizable form of the New Orleans Saints. A team who’s defense is as formidable as its offense and who is also led by a Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees. With all that in mind, the Steelers entered familiar territory in NOLA with one thing on their radar; bringing home the W!
Steelers succumb to their own mistakes
The officiating crew confirmed for the match were arguably the worst in the league. This is evidenced by the fact that they had called 67 penalties on the home team, compared to 106 on the road team before calling this game.
Aptly, this brings me to the biggest issue with the matchup. Firstly, the Saints were awarded a huge pass interference call on Joe Haden, which was nothing of the sort. The 34-yard penalty gifted the Saints a 1st & goal opportunity, from which they scored the opening touchdown. Had said penalty not been given, the Steelers would have taken over possession just inside their own half.
Even though Joe Haden did have a hand on the receiver prior to the ball being there, he should not have been penalized for Pass Interference on this play. This contact did not effect the receiver and is not severe enough to warrant a flag.#PITvsNO pic.twitter.com/xC4YcyNhKt
— Gene Steratore (@GeneSteratore) December 23, 2018
Some may also argue that the officials missed out on a huge fumble recovery, as Sean Davis’ big hit on Michael Thomas knocked the ball loose.
In spite of that, the officiating crew were not solely at fault for the loss. Once again, as has been standard, the Steelers fell upon their own sword. For example, Stevan Ridley’s fumble on a crucial 3rd & 2 early in the fourth totally shifted momentum. Moreover, a failed fake punt attempt with 4:06 on the clock proved fatal, despite the Steelers possessing the lead.
Then, to conclude the game, with the so much on the line, JuJu Smith-Schuster coughed up an unfortunate fumble. The overarching sadness of the turnover is that it couldn’t have happened to a better competitor, someone who has been absolute dynamite for us these past two seasons. Regardless, he’ll bounce back, and in emphatic fashion, next Sunday.
A performance for the ages
Honestly, the Steelers’ backs were against the wall in this one from the start. Not only did they face the huge challenge of the league leader in completion percentage (74.9) and quarterback rating (116.8) in Drew Brees, but they also had to deal with the most complete team in football.
As great a football team that the Saints are, the Steelers still played some fantastic football. Notably Big Ben Roethlisberger who produced one of his best performances ever. In the game, he completed 33 of 50 passes for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns. Aside from the statistics, Ben took control of the offense superbly well, often directing receivers mid-play. Similarly, the offensive line played well too, but did allow three sacks. Matt Feiler did a great job in particular, as he shutdown Cam Jordan for the majority of the game.
Joining Ben in the sentiment of having a great game was Antonio Brown. The best receiver in the league amassed 185 yards on 14 catches, averaging 13.2 yards per reception. He also accounted for 2 of the 3 TD catches. Additionally, Jaylen Samuels performed solidly again, with 64 yards and 1 touchdown collectively.
Defensively, the Steelers produced largely mixed results. Of course, the D-line were immense in pressuring Brees, with T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt accumulating a sack each. Besides that, Sean Davis recorded his first interception of the game. However, for the most part, the Steelers were too predictable. When they decided to blitz, Brees would utilize the receiver in single-man coverage with a quick pass. Oppositely, if the defense were passive, Brees would hand the ball off to Alvin Kamara or play the outlet man. This has been a regular occurrence this season, as Keith Butler continues to implement an outdated defensive scheme.
On the other hand, the special teams unit performed well also, as L.J. Fort blocked Will Lutz’s 50-yard field goal attempt. Furthermore, Chris Boswell also deserves immense praise in my opinion. Yes, I acknowledge kicking balls through the upright is his job, but what a way to bounce back from adversity. He converted 2 field goals, including the first points of the game via a 49-yard kick.
Where does the loss leave us?
The loss mirrors an all too familiar image for Pittsburgh, who have only really been defeated by themselves this season. As well as that, losing the turnover battle in the NFL, which has often been the case, almost always guarantees a loss.
In terms of the standings, the defeat relegates the Steelers to second in the AFC North, with the Ravens perched atop the division at 9-6. They host divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns in week 17, with a win securing the divisional crown for Baltimore. If however, the Browns win, and the Steelers win their game against the Bengals, then the Steelers will regain top spot in the AFC North. Another incredibly small chance of reaching the playoffs would require a Steeler win and a tie between the Colts and Titans.
To conclude, I still believe the Steelers have a significant chance of reaching the playoffs. The Browns always play with a chip on their shoulder come Ravens week, and that plays in our favor. On top of that, the Steelers should easily snatch a win over the struggling Bengals. Although, stranger things have happened.
As a final thought, Pittsburgh should unite together one last time, as we cheer our team to victory and onward to the playoffs!
Image Credits: CBS Pittsburgh