That sinking feeling in your stomach...yeah. The anxiety, the sprouting seed of doubt inside you. It's not the fear of having to hang out with your drunken uncle over Thanksgiving. It's the pang of worry welling up within your being of the Steelers taking on yet another team on the ropes and with little success on which to hang their helmets this year.
The Saints are the third consecutive sub-.500 team the Steelers will face this season. Sitting at 4-7, even the local fish wraps are down on them. This from New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Jeff Duncan, who sounds eerily familiar to beat reports on the Jets and the Titans before their games against the Steelers the last two weeks:
The Saints aren't good enough. They have now played 11 games and lost seven of them. They have lost games in just about every way possible now. They've lost at home and on the road, dropped nail-biters and been blown out of the building, succumbed in high-scoring shootouts and low-scoring tussles.
Allow that doubt to creep in because, lost in the bitterness of Duncan's words, is an offense ranked in the top-10 in passing (308.8 yards a game), rushing (124.8 yards per game) and scoring (26.2 points a game). They're one-fifth of a yard per game behind Indianapolis for the league's top yardage offense with 433.6.
The Steelers' offense isn't too far behind them at 406.4 yards per game, fifth in the NFL, and they're dead even in scoring. Needless to say, neither the Jets nor the Titans, and certainly not the Buccaneers and Jaguars, were anywhere close to those marks.
The Saints may be 4-7 on the season but they don't go down easily. Baltimore sealed their win over New Orleans on Justin Forsett's second touchdown of the night, perhaps the finest game of his career. But the Saints marched down the field to score a touchdown with little time left on the clock. One fortuitous bounce on an ensuing onside kick and they've got the ball around midfield with 39 seconds left. That's plenty of time for a passing game as advanced as the Saints.
James Harrison destroyed the Baltimore Ravens.
The reason they failed to recover the onside kick is perhaps not exactly the same as the reasons they're 4-7, but the spirit is the same. They're a play or two behind their opponents. One bad interception marred an otherwise excellent game from Brees. Will Hill had been dogged by Brees throughout the first half of the game, and perhaps Brees dipped into that well once too often. Hill picked him off and took it back 44 yards for a touchdown. It all went downhill after that for the Saints.
It was tied at 17 in the third quarter before the Ravens made the crucial play of the game.
Making that play is the key to winning games against dangerous teams like the Saints. The Steelers, oddly, are just a shade below average in terms of interceptions. But during the last few years, they've sat right around the bottom of the league. While Brees has thrown an uncharacteristically high amount of picks this year - 11 in 462 attempts - the Saints stayed well within the game against Baltimore.
A team can't give Brees or the Saints too many opportunities. While no quarterback has been hotter at home than Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers get the benefit of a home game coming out of their bye, an offensive game plan featuring too many passes - i.e. too many opportunities for a road opponent to steal a big play - might be a mark against Pittsburgh.
Playing it closer to the vest than they have in recent home games may be the best option. A run-heavy plan focused on keeping Brees off the field and playing to a lead, may be the best option.
At the same time, if you had the hot, home-passing Roethlisberger at your disposal, would you keep him under wraps?
There's that feeling of anxiety again.