When was the last time the Steelers had a complete victory?
I’m talking about a thorough beatdown of an opponent where all three phases of the team stood out.
It’s really hard to say, but the Steelers failed to achieve that again on Sunday in their 20-10 victory over the Saints at Acrisure Stadium.
The special teams certainly didn’t stand out, specifically replacement kicker Matthew Wright, filling in for an injured Chris Boswell. Wright failed on two of his four field goal attempts, including a 48-yard try that was shanked so far to the left, one had to wonder if he ever took lessons from Mike Vanderjagt.
But you have to say the other two units did their part on Sunday, especially a defense that appeared to be reborn under the leadership of a returning T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh’s defense was simply stifling, holding the Saints' offense to a grand total of 186 yards—including 157 through the air and 29 on the ground.
The Steelers' pass rush made a return on Sunday, maybe not with a vengeance, but Watt’s presence likely drew attention away from Alex Highsmith, who recorded Pittsburgh’s only two sacks on the day.
Pittsburgh’s defense even managed to end that pesky no-takeaways streak that had reached three-plus games when a returning from IR Damontae Kazee, a safety who once led the NFL in interceptions, picked off a pass from Andy Dalton early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers clinging to a 13-10 lead.
Late in the fourth quarter, after the Steelers parlayed Kazee’s interception into a Kenny Pickett keeper to take a 20-10 lead, cornerback Levi Wallace pulled an anti-Witherspoon by out-muscling Saints receiver Kevin White to intercept a second Dalton pass and all-but-end the competitive phase of Sunday’s affair.
We also have to give credit to the Steelers' offense on Sunday. Was it dominant? No. Was it all that efficient? No. Was it explosive? Certainly not. Did the offensive line hold up well vs. the Saints' front seven? Heck no! (New Orleans recorded six sacks.)
But Matt Canada’s unit was more effective than we’ve seen in a while, especially on the ground where Pittsburgh rumbled for 217 yards. Najee Harris had his best game of the season by far, rushing for 99 yards on 20 carries and looking as decisive as he ever has as a professional running back.
Pickett wasn’t magnificent against New Orleans's stout defense, completing 18 of 30 passes for 199 yards and zero touchdowns. Pickett missed some throws he’d like to have back, but he also made some throws he probably wished his receivers would have been able to pull in.
While the Steelers offense wasn’t a juggernaut, it did possess the football for a dominant amount of time (38:56) while running a whopping 79 plays. Pittsburgh also converted nine of 17 third-down attempts and played a mostly mistake-free game, complete with zero turnovers; the Steelers were called for just three penalties on the day, two of which were against the defense near the end of the first half, as the Saints were driving for their only touchdown of the day.
Mistake free. Efficient on offense. Dominant on the ground. Dominance by the defense.
Sunday’s game was likely the formula many had envisioned would lead to success prior to the 2022 campaign.
It hasn’t worked out that way all too often through nine games, but maybe Sunday was the start of a trend that can lead to a lot more success for the Steelers down the stretch.