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Saints vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh starts five-game season at home against beatable opponent

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The Steelers face a strong passing offense but a sagging defense when the Saints come to town in Week 12.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are reasons to fear the New Orleans Saints - the Steelers' Week 12 opponents.

They can pass the ball. Quarterback Drew Brees doesn't need another narrative about his talent and his accuracy in particular. Even without rookie Brandin Cooks, he has a talented group of receivers around him and he has the keys to his offense. That combination is dangerous to any opponent.

They just can't stop the run.

Based on the Saints' past few games, particularly their 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12, it would seem the Steelers' game plan for their Week 13 game should be heavy doses of Le'Veon Bell and inside zone running. The Saints lost run-stopping defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley with a knee injury that looked serious in the loss to the Ravens. Their run-defense couldn't really afford many more injuries than they've already suffered.

Looking ahead, it'll be a chilly and blustery early afternoon in Pittsburgh when these teams meet and, while the Steelers have an outstanding  passing offense of their own, the advantages they have in the ground game should, on paper, be what they're looking to exploit.

The Saints' defense failed to capitalize on a few turnovers by committing turnovers of their own, perhaps none as painful as the 44-yard interception return from safety Will Hill - the guy Brees was picking on substantially until his pick-six.

Bell can be a force in this game, much like the excellent ground game featuring Justin Forsett was for the Ravens.

The question is whether the Steelers will aim for such a plan. It appeared Baltimore wanted something more of a short passing attack early in the game, but with Forsett going off for eight yards a pop, they let him grind the game down and keep Brees off of the field.

It remains to be seen whether the Steelers will employ a ground-and-pound philosophy, but it would appear that's where the Saints are the most vulnerable.

And whatever they do, don't turn the ball over.

This is a critical game for the Steelers, who are currently on the outside looking in relative to the divisional race. Cincinnati leads at 7-3-1 and Baltimore has the temporary edge over the Steelers due to a better win/loss record in three games against Pittsburgh (1-1) and Cleveland (1-0). The Steelers are 2-2 in those games. The Browns sit in last place, but all three teams are 7-4 and all three have at least one divisional game remaining.

The Steelers need to take care of business at Heinz Field, where they are 4-1 this season. Their only loss came at the hands of the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a loss that may come back to haunt them. The Steelers are coming off of a bye and, in Mike Tomlin's head coaching career, he's 6-1 coming off bye-weeks.