PFF Preview: Saints @ Steelers, Week 13
With division titles in sight for both clubs, Sunday’s inter-conference matchup will help shape the overall playoff picture in the NFL. Both teams are at or near the top of their respective divisions, and while the quality levels of the AFC North and NFC South aren’t exactly comparable, the importance of a win here certainly is.
There is plenty of offensive talent on either team, but it’s been shaky defensive performances that have let these two teams down. For all the talk of Drew Brees’ dominance in the Superdome, New Orleans has dropped three straight at home, allowing nearly 30 points per game during their recent skid. The secondary has been underwhelming, with Kenny Vaccaro fully enveloped in a sophomore slump and Jairus Byrd was a mild disappointment before finding his way to injured reserve.
The Saints’ offense can hang points on any team, though, and the Steelers are a few years removed from having a dominant defense. They’ve seen solid production from recent additions at outside linebacker, and the benching of Cortez Allen is a classic case of addition by subtraction, but the secondary is still a bit suspect, as Troy Polamalu is no longer an elite playmaker and Michael Mitchell, a reasonable replacement for Ryan Clark, hasn’t quite lived up to his contract. Safety play is important with Jimmy Graham coming to town, and if Polamalu can roll back the years, Pittsburgh stands a good chance at keeping pace in the AFC.
New Orleans Saints
Junior Galette – Improving on his solid 2013 season, Galette has earned a +19.5 pass rushing grade (49 total pressures) so far this year. He’ll see a lot of Kelvin Beachum, and while the Steelers’ left tackle has allowed seven sacks this year, he’s only surrendered 14 total pressures.
Drew Brees – One of the best in the game, Brees has the unusual distinction of having attempted far more passes to the deep middle than deep outside the numbers. He’s thrown 26 passes to the deep middle (compared to 16 outside) completing 11 for 406 yards, four touchdowns, and a +7.0 grade on those throws.
Terron Armstead – Drawing the unenviable chore of blocking the ageless James Harrison, the second-year tackle has a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 95.6 (21st of 58 tackles), though he is coming off his worst game of the year last Monday night against Baltimore.
Le’Veon Bell – One of the most complete backs in the league right now, Bell is fourth in missed tackles forced on rushes (35) and second on missed tackles forced on receptions (17).
Lawrence Timmons – The mainstay in the middle, Timmons’ 41 defensive stops are nearly double that of any of his teammates. While his Run Stop Percentage of 12.2 is fifth best among his peers, 15 missed tackles (nine against the run) are more than you’d prefer from an inside linebacker.
William Gay – The secondary will always be tested against Brees, and Gay has quietly played well this year. He’s allowed fewer than 40 yards in seven games this season, and opposing quarterbacks have completed just 51.5% of their passes against the seventh-year cornerback.
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