Steelers realize that Brees-led Saints are always dangerous
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell saw enough of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees last season to understand what it takes to minimize his effectiveness. Still, he watched Monday night’s game to see how Baltimore game-planned one of the league’s most prolific passers.
“He’s one of those guys when you’re watching on tape you try to figure out what he’s doing, and you appreciate how good he is,” Mitchell said after Monday’s practice. “From the neck up, he’s one of the best three quarterbacks in the league.
“He knows how to manipulate (defensive backs) in the post and linebackers in the red zone. He moves them with his eyes, and he knows exactly what he wants to do with the football.”
Last season, Brees had a field day in the Saints’ first meeting against Mitchell’s former team, eventual NFC South champion Carolina. Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns as the Saints rolled 31-13.
Mitchell and the Panthers countered with a narrow 17-13 victory in a rematch, partly because they took Brees out of his comfort zone with a relentless pass rush that led to six sacks and two interceptions.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison said that will be the game plan when the Steelers (7-4) face the Saints on Sunday at Heinz Field in a game with playoff implications for both.
“We have to pressure him constantly,” said Harrison, who has a team-high four sacks and 12 quarterback pressures. “They are struggling in terms of wins and losses, but the offense isn’t struggling.”
The Saints are second in total offense behind Indianapolis.
Brees completed 290 of 417 passes for 3,071 yards and 19 touchdowns entering Monday night’s game.
However, the Saints barely are keeping pace with the Atlanta Falcons (4-7) because they are 27th with a minus-9 turnover ratio.
“The turnovers have set them back, but their offense is up there,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We can’t overlook the fact they have great stats. They’re waiting on a team to give them a chance, and we can’t be that team.”
The Saints offense isn’t as balanced as in previous seasons. Yet running backs Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have run effectively enough that New Orleans is seventh in rushing to complement a passing attack that’s third in net yards.
Brees has reliable targets in Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham (59 receptions) and receiver Marques Colston (53). He’ll be without rookie standout Brandin Cooks, who was placed on injured reserve with a broken thumb.
The offense has clicked despite the losses of running back Darren Sproles (Philadelphia) and Steelers receiver Lance Moore.
“You don’t see the crazy Sproles plays where a running back gets the check-down pass and goes 40 yards,” Mitchell said. “They still throw to the backs a lot, and he gets the ball out fast. They’re still doing the same things with Graham and Colston. The receivers are good in the seams and they all are vertical threats in the red zone.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].