So, it's a Halloween night game...a night for tricks or treats. Well, I guess we got the trick instead of the treat on this one. I think I saw Mendenhall run for two TD's tonight, unfortunately only one of them counted (more on that later on). Credit must go to the Saints coaching staff because they won the coaching battle tonight, and it was a big win for them.
No secret here, Big Ben stunk it up tonight. As I just mentioned above, credit must go to the Saints coaches for blitzing him relentlessly andfor being able to get solid secondary play with all but one of their CBs hurt. As far as Ben goes though, the pressure really rattled him, and he looked hesitant all night. Everytime I saw a shot of his eyes, he just didn't look confident. Up until the last series, the one thing I thought was "at least he hasn't turned the ball over". It was fitting though, that he threw the pic on the pass to Wallace because that seemed to be how his game went...he was pressured, didn't make his best throw and you saw what happened. In fairness to him, the line did a poor job picking up the blitz much of the game. I think part of that, though, was due to the plays and schemes they were using (more on that later). Will be interesting to see how Ben bounces back in Cincy.
Until the TD run, Mendy was having another tough game finding running room. I was trying to watch to see if it was because he wasn't hitting the holes correctly, or if the line just wasn't opening them up. From what I could tell it was a little of both. One thing he can improve on is knowing when to hit the hole hard and straight on. He has a tendency to want to do his spin move to avoid a tackle, but sometimes its better to just hit the hole quickly. His 38 yd. TD run was a thing of beauty though...perfectly executed (same play that won the Atlanta game) and was worked for them often this season. Memo had a nice 18 yard run and showed that he can still carry the rock when needed. Same can be said for Ike Redman on his 15 yarder, but for the second week in a row he couldn't get it done on the goal line...would like to just see him punch it though.
It's no secret that Wallace is good for a TD minimum per game unless you game plan against him. The Saints did a terrific job doing that tonight. The relentless blitzing didn't allow Ben time to throw it deep to Wallace. Still, he can be used it other ways as we saw on the quick hitch in the 4th QTR. It was only 9yds. but since CBsplay deep off him, a quick throw out to him should get you an easy 5-9 every time with the possibility that he could break one and take it to the house. Hines and Ben didn't seem to be on the same page tonight on the hot reads. Not sure why, they seemed to be clicking well the past two games. Of course Hines was a monster blocking as always, but that just wasn't enough tonight. El made a few nice grabs, shame he couldn't have gotten an inch further on the goal line or else this may have been a different game. Sanders had a clutch catch for 21yds on 3rd-8 on the final drive right before Ben threw the game ending pic. Earlier though, Collinsworth was saying that Sanders took a TD away from Hines on the 4th-4 play when he went to make the catch but missed and Hines was there. Not sure if someone ran the wrong route on that play but there seemed to be confusion among those two and Ben. Spaeth actually caught a ball tonight...wait, make that two, how bout that? Both were key catches in the 4th QTR. DJ had some nice blocks tonight (especially on the Mendy TD run) and even had a catch too.
Ok, you have to feel sorry for Heath. He didn't have a catch all night, then makes a big catch on 2nd-8 after the Brees fumble. He breaks the first tackle andspins around then gets hit and fumbles. Obviously, this was huge at that point in the game (6:24 to go in the 4th). The score was 13-10 and he got us just about into FG range before fumbling.There really wasn't much he could have done to prevent it, just an unfortunate circumstance. Sad part is when Heath fumbles or tips a pass for an INT (think it was the KC game last year), it always seems to be at the very worst time.
Ugh! Another game where you would have to say that they lost the battle of the line of scrimmage. The most glaring example was obviously the 1st-goal from the 6-inch line where they couldn't punch it in on three sucessive plays. On the second Mendy run, I saw Bronko Legursky get manhandled. On the others, I saw no push from the line. In pass blocking, I saw them having trouble picking up the blitz. Granted there were many times where they were simply out-numbered, but there were others where it was 6-on-6 (6 rushing vs. 5 OL and a RB in to block). As seems to be the trend, Pouncey was the best among this group. Essex was back at RG but him and Flo seemed to have trouble on the right side (give or take a few running plays like Mendy's TD). Starks and Kemo weren't much better on the left side. My concern is that the OL play can't regress as the season wears on, it should only improve. Hopefully, this will be the case if there are no more injuries and the same 5 can mesh together over the remainder of the season.
A pretty strong effort from this group, particularly considering depth is very thin right now. The Saints knew they couldn't run against this D and when they tried, they were stuffed just about every time. Big Snack Hampton made some nice plays. Hokie Pokie got in there and stuffed a run near the goal line in the 2nd half. Eason and Ziggy didn't get many tackles, but they did a decent job imitating Smith and Keisel which is key.
Let me just say that barring injury or complete meltdown, Timmons most certainly will make the Pro Bowl. He is asked to and makes plays all over the field. Another monster game for him yet again (12 total tackles). He's starting to become the LB version of Polamalu. I think his level of play right now is even making Farrior better by allowing him to do the things he can, but not things he can't (like cover RBs). Mr. Nasty Harrison was nasty again getting after Brees, shame the one hit in the 4th QTR cost them 15yds. I saw about 4-5 holds on him that weren't called (as usual). Woodley got in there some but I'd still like to see more from him, although he did pounce on Brees fumble after the Dmac sack. Another overall strong performance from the best LB unit in the NFL.
Wait! Did I see Ike Taylor make another INT? What? He has two? In one season? And this one was actually a nice catch. What's going on here? I must say, I tend to pick on Ike (pun intended), but he's put together two solid games against two good WRs in a row. Ike needs to stay in this zone and not lose focus like he did last year. On the other side, Dmac did a pretty decent job too, and of course his sack/fumble on Brees was key at that point in the game. Troy was back to his old self flying all over the place. He had some nasty hits, but unfortunately he got caught guessing on that one long pass to Meachem, and somehow Shockey beat him 1-on-1 earlier on a key 3rd-5. Clark was OK, I think he broke up one pass, but had a quiet game for the most part. Gay had a few good tackles in run support but I think he was beat on the Colston TD (can't remember).
Sanders has shown that he can make some plays both in the KR and PR game. Problem is that he can hurt you there too. He fumbled for the 2nd consecutive game, but this time Ike Redman saved it for him. I'm starting to feel the Reed is not a money K anymore. 51yds. obviously isn't a gimme, but indoors it is very makeable. Reed is now 1-5 from 40+ yards. I wonder if Tomlin will start to lose confidence in him unless they get the ball inside the 25.
Ok, so here's where ultimately I think the game was lost. It started off with the Saints game plan to pressure Ben and take the deep ball to Wallace out of the equation...brilliant. Next, instead of trying to force themselves to establish the run (which they know the Steelers will stuff anyway), take what they give in the passing game and wear the D down that way, another good move.
On the Steelers end, the first mistake came early on. It was Tomlin's decision to challenge Moore's potential fumble. Not sure why he did, because it seemed fairly clear that the elbow was down anyway, so why waste a challenge unless no one on the Steelers staff saw the replay. Then, on Mendy's 2nd down attempt at the goal line, it really looked like the ball broke the plane. Why didn't he challenge that play? I know they already lost first one and this would be their last challenge, but on an apparent TD...that's when you challenge! Then, not only do they not challenge the call, but they run the same play on the very next down (3rd) and get stuffed again. Bad playing calling there. Honestly, on 1st-goal from the 6" line, I'd have Ben sneak it in over Pouncey...simple enough.
Then, the play calling before the half was poor. After Ike's INT with under 2 min to go, ball on the NO36, every play that series was a pass...why? After the nice pass to Wallace getting them down to the 23, they go to Hines in the endzone and he gets flagged for the rare offensive PI...sets them back 10 to the 33. Then, they try three sucessive passes, all incomplete and try a 51yrd with Reed. Makes no sense. With 1st-20 from the 33, run the ball and try to get some positive yards first. At that point, play for the FG andrun out the clock on the half going in with a 6-0 lead. Instead they miss a long FG with still over 1:00 left andlet the Saints tie it up with their own FG. When you combine that with the non-challenge of the Mendy TD, that game might have been 10-0 at the half...who knows?
It wasn't until the 4th QTR that they ran plays to counteract the blitz...passes up the middle to the TE (Spaeth/Miller), quick hits to Wallace, and then mix in an off tackle run, like the Mendy TD.
On D, they shut down Brees for the most part for the first half, but he was money in the second half taking what they gave him. In the end he made the plays to beat them against the zone blitz.
So, now we're 5-2 and technically in 2nd place to the Ravens. The trip to Cincy has to end with a victory, otherwise there will be talk about how this is starting to look like the beginning of what happened last year. Here we got STEELERS! Here we go!