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Battle of the Black and Gold

By Lou Bouris
October 28, 2010
A Black and Gold Battle
This Sunday the Steelers travel down to the Big Easy to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. The Battle of the last two Super Bowl Champions has been dampened just a bit due to the up and down nature of the Saintís season. While the Steelers are coming in at 5-1, sitting atop the AFC North, the Saints come in after a shocking and demoralizing loss to Cleveland dropped them to 4-3 on the season. Pittsburgh knows what itís like, however, being a defending champ and losing to the lowly Browns. The same thing happened to them last season, so I am sure they know what type of mindset the Saints will have coming into this game. This battle of Black and Gold Heavyweights is filled with great players; however, it might be decided by the players not on the field.
The Saints still have the same high powered offense that led the NFL in scoring last year in route to their Super Bowl victory. What they are missing this season are two of their flashier weapons. Running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are both nursing injuries and neither appear to be ready for this game. Bush might not have the big numbers from the RB position, but what he does bring to the table is a severe matchup problem. They line him up, put him in motion, and next thing you know the defense has a Linebacker trying to cover the elusive back. I donít care how great the Pittsburgh LBs are, thatís a huge task for any LB to try and cover somebody like that. The Saints will also miss Bush in the return game. The Steelersí special teams have played exceedingly well this season so far, but not having to kick to Bush is definitely a plus for the Steelers. Thomas is also a solid, and more traditional RB, but his backup (Chris Ivory) has stepped in admirably. These injuries to the Saintís running game are offset by the Steelersí loss of their best run defender. With Aaron Smith on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, Ziggy Hood is going to have to step up to fill Smithís void in the run defense. The Saints are averaging 92.6 rushing yards per game, so when you factor in that the Steeler D only gives up around 65 yards a game on the ground; it looks as though the Steeler D shouldnít have any trouble slowing down the Saints running game. I would set the over/under for Saints rushing yards at 70 for this game.
A bigger matchup to watch will be the Drew Brees, averaging 279 passing yards per game, against a Steeler pass defense that has been known to give up a lot of yardage. The DBs will have their hands full with the wideout tandem of Marques Colston and Lance Moore. However, with a minimal running threat to account for, I think that the front seven wonít give Brees much time to throw. If he has time, he could easily pick apart any secondary. However, most secondaries donít have a player like Polomalu patrolling the middle of the field. Brees had 4 interceptions last week against the Browns, so he will try to be more careful this week, but I still expect to see at least a few turnovers created by Troy and his secondary buddies. Brees might get his yards, probably close to 300, but the big plays wonít be there like they were last season. This should be a ďquietĒ 300 yard day for Brees.
On offense the Steelers are coming into this game on a roll. Ben is starting to really gel with second year wideout Mike Wallace, who is averaging an amazing 25.3 yards per catch so far this season. I expect them to take their shots deep early and often in this game, and see if the aging Darren Sharper can keep up. I donít think he can, so look for Wallace to have a big impact on this game. With Wallace going deep, and Hines being his normal great self in the intermediate passing game, that will open up some big gaps for RB Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers are averaging close to 120 yards per game on the ground, and with the offensive line starting to become a more cohesive unit, Mendenhall should be able to come close to that 120 on his own. Rooking Markice Pouncey is starting play like a Steeler center is expected to play, and even Flozell Adams has fought off the penalty bug and is playing better. With them opening up holes in Saintís defense that usually relies on trying to create turnovers, the Steelers running game should be able to control the clock and therefore control the game. As long as the Steelers stay away from stupid turnovers (Hey Ben, take a sack and just hold onto the ball!), they should be able to roll up some good yardage on the Saintís defense. Ben should have yet another good game with a passer rating over 100, and I would say three more TDs this game. Wallace, Ward, Heath Miller, even Mendenhall out of the backfield, that is just too many weapons for the Saints defense to account for.
This Battle for the Black and Gold should be a great game, and I know Steeler Nation and the SCM will be well represented in the Superdome. Itís never easy going on the road to the defending champs house and come out with a victory, but I think OUR Black and Gold will show that OTHER Black and Gold who the true champs really are.
Final score Steelers 27 Ė Saints 17.

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