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Pregame Zone Blitz: Week 8 Lite Version

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A work trip combined with a family wedding is leading to a shortened, Halloween-themed (not really) version of PZB.

The rollercoaster ride that is the NFL season rolls on. Even if the Steelers lost one of their most important players, they travel to New Orleans to take on a struggling but very dangerous Saints team. The weight of the loss of Aaron Smith, coupled with new accusations of having the officiating crews in their back pockets, the resilient Steelers take on a Saints team that matches up with them quite well.

New Orleans can throw the ball, and won't even bother running it. The Steelers have found new problems in their pass defense the last few weeks, dropping to 26th in the league.

The 2010 Saints aren't the 2009 Saints, that's for sure, but road primetime games are the toughest in the league. If nothing else, the Steelers will hope not to turn the ball over in their first two possessions, like certain other recent road games.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Saints RB Pierre Thomas is frustrated with the sprained ankle that's kept him out the bulk of the season. He doesn't expect to play Sunday.

Speaking of frustrated, Bradley Handwerger of WWLTV TV in New Orleansthinks the Saints are wasting some great defensive performances.

Last Game

If people are unhappy with the call after replay, they may as well advocate the removal of all on-field decisions, and just simply view every snap via replay, and dole out penalties and rulings from that.

The referees were not watching the fumble because there was no fumble at that point. Complain all you want, but if the ref is supposed to make a call on the field, why would he confirm possession after he ended the play?

He fumbled the ball, and it's an unfortunate break, but not nearly as unfortunate as the three yards gained on two trips to the red zone in the first five minutes of the game.

Let's say they gave them the fumble, Dolphins ball at their 20. There's like 2:40 left on the clock, the Steelers have three timeouts plus the two minute warning and Miami can't run the ball. There are a lot of things working against the Dolphins at that point. People can complain that the official missed the call on the field, and PZB will agree with them, but to suggest it cost Miami the game is ridiculous.

Enough of that.

The loss of Aaron Smith definitely affected the team down the stretch, but this defense can't be worked over drive-in and drive-out over four quarters. Credit to Miami, as PZB previously reported, they're an excellent football team on the verge of becoming a top-flight contender. But over four quarters, every team is going to struggle with Pittsburgh's defense.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Drew Brees

Stat-geeks have to go all the way back to Week 4 of the 2007 season to find a game where Brees tossed four interceptions, like he did against Cleveland last week. It's just not characteristic of the Super Bowl MVP and media darling.

He just doesn't seem the same as he did last year, when he dominated just about every team he played.

He's the heart and soul of a Saints team that isn't the same multi-faceted and inventive offensive group that won Super Bowl XLIV. Thus far, without RB Reggie Bush, the Saints and lived and died with Brees. The level of big plays they created last year was a big part of their success; it's far less frequent on offense, and defensively, it's nearly non-existent.

It's cliché to suggest he's going to be uber-prepared this week, against the league's top scoring defense. But doubt Brees at your own risk.

They rally around Brees, though, and an amped up crowd in a national spotlight game could change that. It's hard to avoid PZB's inner-Bill Parcells, though; You are who your record says you are.

The Saints are 4-3, despite missing a field goal in overtime against Atlanta. The Steelers are 5-1 despite an overturned would-be fumble in the end zone against Miami. Brees is still as dangerous a player as the Steelers have seen this season, and his 69 percent completion rate has to be ringing clearly in the ears of Pittsburgh's secondary - which has given up an eerily balanced passing performance from each of its last three opposing passers. Week 7 saw Miami's Chad Henne go 23-for-36 with 257 yards. Cleveland's Colt McCoy went 23-for-33 with 281 yards in Week 6. Baltimore's Joe Flacco was 24-for-37 with 256 yards in Week 4.

That's a solid 70-for-106 (66 percent) for 794 yards, but the Steelers have notched four interceptions against these otherwise effective passers. And we saw Flacco, McCoy and Henne, and none of them are anywhere near comparison to Brees.

It just depends on which Brees shows up to the Superdome Sunday.

Steelers Spotlight:  RB Rashard Mendenhall

The theme of PZB this week is the Steelers limiting big plays. No one limits big plays better than a running back with 25+ carries. Picking up his second Spotlight call this season, Mendenhall will act as the benefactor of an offensive line that will see all of its original starters for the first time in a while. With the return of RG Trai Essex (more importantly, the removal of replacement RB Doug Legurski), the Steelers will hope to isoloate the New Orleans crowd with some good ol' fashioned power running.

Keep Brees off the field, don't let their playmaking defense (used to be anyway) make plays. The more success Mendenhall, and the offensive line, can have, the more this game tilts in Pittsburgh's favor. New Orleans is smack dab in the middle of the league, allowing 108 rushing yards per game, and 4.0 yards per carry. Seems like a good game to strap on the pads and rush right at them.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh's turnover differential: +8. New Orleans is -5
  • Steelers opponents have run 27 total plays with a lead this year
  • New Orleans has a 48 percent conversion rate on third down
  • Saints QB Drew Brees has eight interceptions in his last three games (1-2)