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Know Thy Enemy: New Orleans Saints

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Hope everybody had a great Turkey Day.

If you’re reading this, congratulations, you’ve successfully managed to avoid Black Friday madness. Or you’ve already spent all of your money and have resorted to cheap (ie: free) entertainment. Never let it be said that here at ToteStillers you don’t get what you paid for!

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be hoping to avoid a Black Sunday of their own when they face the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are one of the more interesting conundrums in the NFL. They’re not out-and-out terrible like the Bucs or Jets but at 4-7 they’re not exactly a good team either. It’s the kind of game I worry about because they have enough talent to be dangerous, especially for a team that loves to play down to their opponents like the Steelers.

New Orleans is such a study in contradictions they might as well change their team colors to green and blame the season on having been exposed to gamma radiation. Offensively, they’re among the league’s best as one might expect from a team quarterbacked by Drew Brees. The Saints boast the NFL’s 3rd best passing offense, and eighth best rushing attack while averaging an excellent 26 points per game.

Why are they 4-7 then?

Well, their defense is nearly as bad as their offense is excellent. They’re 23rd against both the run and the pass while allowing 26 points per game. When you average the same amount of points as you give up, that’s not usually a recipe for any kind of success. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan must be the black sheep of the family.

The Steelers defense is hard to figure out. They seem to take one step forward and two steps back. Some of that may be due to injuries, which struck just when the secondary was beginning to show signs of improvement. The good news is it appears both Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor are a go this weekend. Troy and Mike Mitchell seemed to finally gel right before he got hurt so hopefully his return will solidify the defensive backfield. I’m not sure where Ike fits in – it seems like Brice McCain, Willie Gay, and Antwon Blake all have their good moments and their bad. I’d probably let McGay start with Ike playing nickel and then juggle things if somebody starts struggling.

Brees is still playing quarterback at an elite level as he rockets to a season stat line somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 yards and 30 TDs. TE Jimmy Graham and WR Marques Colston are still the explosive playmakers that give the Saints one of the league’s more potent offenses. They’ve recently gotten a boost from RB Mark Ingram. Ingram, a career underachiever who may have been held back by being rotated with the departed Darren Sproles, has emerged this season as a legit workhorse back with 100, 120, and 172 yard games on his stat sheet.

The D shouldn’t have to worry about pitching a shutout, though, because there is no excuse for the offense not putting up plenty of points. Raven RB Justin Forsett absolutely gashed New Orleans this past Monday so Le’Veon Bell, coming off his 200 yard(!!) statement game, better expect to get plenty of carries. Hopefully his cardio is in tip top form as with the release of LaGarrette Blount we’re left with midget Dri Archer and undrafted rookie Josh Harris as the back-up backs. I don’t expect another deuce from Bell – that was Najeh Davenport’s specialty anyway – but anything under 100 would be something of a disappointment.

Ben Roethlisberger has been in something of a slump since those back-to-back six TD pass games. He stunk against the Jets and really didn’t have his best game against the mediocre Titans either. While the 500 yard/6 TD Ben was probably him overachieving a bit the last couple weeks have to go in the underachieving column. It’d be nice if Ben could find a happy medium. My fantasy team would definitely appreciate Martavis Bryant finding his way back to the end zone.

I don’t have to explain how tight the AFC North race currently is. I wrote a bunch of words about that in my previous post. The Steelers still have two big showdowns with the Bengals looming so falling behind the pack this week certainly wouldn’t be totally disastrous although it would make a sweep much more vital. It would be nice if this stress-inducing team would – just one time – do things the easy way by beating the teams they should beat. And what better time to start than against the team from the Big Easy?