If any coach in the NFL has shown an ability to produce high-powered offenses, it's Saints coach Sean Payton. The Saints have been around the top of the league in scoring and offensive yardage during the last five years, and Payton has a Super Bowl championship to his credit.
He spoke to New Orleans reporters earlier this week, not about his offense (currently ranked eighth in scoring and third in passing yards), but about the one in Pittsburgh, and specifically how it's being run by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"I think the first thing, the balance they possess right now has really helped them as an offense," Payton said this week. "You look at some of the skill players that have emerged and you look at the running game and their ability to throw it outside and down the field."
The balance of the Steelers' offense puts them in the top-5 in the league in passing yards (286.9) and 11th in rushing yards (119.5). They're eighth in scoring with 26.2 points a game.
They're tied with the Saints. The Saints are also a top-5 team in passing (308.8) and are top-10 in rushing (124.8).
Payton praised his opponent, likely aware of the Saints' slight advantage in most categories.
"Third down (efficiency), they’re near the top of the league. So, he’s certainly capable of doing the things we’ve seen for years, tough throws across the body, avoid sacks, but I think all of a sudden now with their ability to run it and throw it you see the efficiency of the offense and of a great quarterback."
Payton's Saints are at the top of the league in third-down efficiency at 51 percent. The Steelers are seventh at 44 percent. Neither number is one to scoff at, and both quarterbacks - Roethlisberger and Drew Brees - are playing at a high level this season.
Signs would point to a shoot-out and, given the gaps both teams' defenses have, it wouldn't be surprising to see one quarterback needing to out-duel the other to win this game. The Steelers may have an advantage in the sense they're getting back Troy Polamalu, a key to the Steelers' run defense. Limiting the Saints on the ground will create a pass-first mentality. Given the Saints' struggles in pass-protection this year, the Steelers may be able to force a bad throw and create a few takeaways.
Brees was pressured often by the Baltimore Ravens in a Week 12 loss, and a key second-half interception was returned for a touchdown by safety Will Hill. That ended up being the difference in the game.