Steelers’ lookahead: New Orleans Saints
Three people to spotlight while scouting the New Orleans Saints:
Things could be worse for the Saints — they could play in a division other than the NFC South.
The Saints remain in the thick of things for the division title and a home playoff game despite playing some miserable football over the past three weeks. The Saints are 4-7 and tied atop the NFC South standings with Atlanta with five games remaining.
It hasn’t been pretty for Payton, who came into the season with four consecutive 11-win seasons (minus the Bountygate year when he was suspended.)
The Saints were 4-4 and on a two-game winning streak that included a 21-point win over arguably the best team in the NFC now in Green Bay. They also had a three-game homestand on tap, which looked promising considering they had won 10 in a row at home and 20 straight with Payton on the sidelines.
So, of course, the Saints proceeded to blow a late lead against the 49ers and lost; scored their fewest points at home since 2006 against the Bengals and lost; and gave up more than 200 yards rushing against the Ravens and lost.
The three-game home losing streak is their first since 2005, but that’s when they were displaced because of Hurricane Katrina.
The NFL schedule makers didn’t help much. The Steelers’ game will mark the third consecutive week the Saints played a team with extra preparation time — the Bengals had 10 days, and the Ravens and Steelers were coming off byes.
The offense behind Drew Brees has been uneven, and the defense has been downright putrid, especially against the run.
The Saints — behind defensive coordinator Rob Ryan — allowed a season-high 215 rushing yards against the Ravens, including five runs of 20 yards or more. The Saints have allowed AFC North running backs to rush for 182 and 152 yards in consecutive weeks, and the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell is coming off a 204-yard effort against the Titans.
The Saints defense isn’t good, but the former Steelers cornerback hasn’t been the culprit. Despite nursing a knee injury the past two weeks that got so bad last week he had to go to the hospital, Lewis played all 60 defensive snaps against the Ravens. On that bad knee, Lewis was matched up against A.J. Green and Steve Smith Sr. in consecutive weeks and gave up two catches.
STAT: (5) Interceptions for Lewis since joining the Saints in 2013.
Brees has thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight of 11 games. However, he hasn’t been perfect — case in point against the Ravens. Brees threw for a season-high 420 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had an interception returned for a score in a 34-27 loss. Brees has thrown 22 touchdown passes, but he also has thrown 11 interceptions — 3 of which were returned for scores.
STAT: (317) Average passing yards per game for Brees this year.
DID YOU KNOW?
With the Falcons (4-7) and Saints (4-7) tied atop the NFC South standings, it is still a mathematical possibility that a five-win team can win the division.