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Week 16 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 28, New Orleans Saints 31
What you need to know
Playing the afternoon game of the week, the Steelers knew what was on the line against the Saints. If the Steelers lost this game, then they would go from being in the playoffs to out of the playoffs looking in. Furthermore, they would no longer control their own destiny to get back into the playoffs. The entire scenario worked out worst case scenario for the Steelers. The Steelers most realistic path to the playoffs now is a win next week against the Cincinnati Bengals and for the Cleveland Browns to win against the Baltimore Ravens.
As for the game, it was everything we could ask for and it ended in dramatic fashion. The Steelers were never down more than one score the entire game and the offense found it's footing late in the second quarter. Ben Roethlisberger
was surgical in his approach and both Antonio Brown
and JuJu Smith-Schuster
were coming up big. With the Saints only down by four points, the Steelers went for a fake punt on fourth down. Even though Roosevelt Nix
erroneously celebrated the big fourth down conversion, the Steelers failed to convert and the Saints took over. Unfortunately, the Saints scored too quickly and the Steelers had a chance to tie the game with a field goal and win with a touchdown. The Steelers began their march down the field. On first down at the Steelers 42-yard line Ben Roethlisberger
threw the ball short to JuJu Smith-Schuster
. Smith-Schuster secured the reception, turned upfield, and FUMBLED the ball. With Smith-Schuster's fumble the Steelers lost their opportunity to tie or win the game in the final seconds.
It was a hard-fought battle against the Steelers this week, but the Saints came out on top and locked up the top spot in the NFC and home field advantage through the playoffs. There were some very questionable pass interference calls that went in favor of the Saints, with Joe Haden of the Steelers getting picked on by the referees. The worst being a call in the end zone against Haden on a 4th down play that set up the first Saints touchdown of the night. Drew Brees
finally broke out of his slump and threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown, and the rushing attack added the other 3 touchdowns. The Steelers defense limited the Saints rushing attack to 19 carries for 57 yards but could not keep them out of the end zone when it mattered. New Orleans finally let Taysom Hill
let the ball loose through the air and it back fired with his first career interception. It was a back and forth affair with Brees making a big play at the end for a go-ahead touchdown and the defense creating a key turnover with the Steelers entering field goal range to potentially tie the game with 30 seconds left. It had the makings of a heavy weight battle and the Saints may have delivered the knockout blow that keeps the Steelers from the playoffs. New Orleans will play host to the Carolina Panthers minus Cam Newton
in the regular season finale.
|QB Ben Roethlisberger, 75 offensive snaps, Pass: 33 - 50 - 380 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 4 - 0|
During the season Ben Roethlisberger
has experienced ups and downs, but his performance against the Saints was similar to his performance against the Panthers in Week 10. Later in the second quarter Roethlisberger had complete control of the offense and was recognizing quick what the Saints were doing with their coverage and pass rush. Before the half and backed up on their 3-yard line, Roethlisberger led the offense on a 15 play 97-yard drive for a touchdown. On Roethlisberger's first dive of the second half he led the offense 9 plays for 75-yards. Roethlisberger's first touchdown of the day may have been the lowest difficulty throw of the night. Jaylen Samuels
was thrown to completely uncovered on a swing pass out of the backfield. Roethlisberger's second touchdown of the game was an increased level of difficulty. Roethlisberger threw a perfectly placed ball in the back corner of the end zone as he was seeing Antonio Brown
come off of a wide receiver pick. Roethlisberger's third touchdown was one of his best throws of the game. Antonio Brown
was streaking down the field between two defenders and Roethlisberger was able to hit Brown in stride as he was able to walk into the end zone. Roethlisberger finished the day strong, but it was obvious both Antonio Brown
and JuJu Smith Schuster were the focal point of the offense. Both receivers finished the day with 68% of Roethlisberger's targets and 79% of Roethlisberger's total passing yards.
|RB Jaylen Samuels, 53 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 53 - 0, Rec: 3 - 11 - 1 (3 targets)|
Samuels is giving the Steelers offense just enough of a rushing presence to remain respectable. It isn't being done with high volume, but rather efficiency, timeliness, and Samuels' ability to be multiple in their formations. With Samuels on the field, the Steelers showed more five receiver sets and Roethlisberger would be able to manipulate the coverage better with Samuels' ability to play receiver. Samuels' reliable hands were also on display. In the second quarter, Samuels capped a 15 play 97-yard touchdown drive, with an uncovered reception out of the backfield for the Steelers' first touchdown of the game. In the fourth quarter the Saints offense was trying to slow down the Steelers passing offense and were bringing a blitz. Before the ball was snapped Roethlisberger recognized the blitz and called an audible to a run play. Samuels ran hard up the middle of the Saints defense.
|WR Antonio Brown, 72 offensive snaps, Rec: 14 - 185 - 2 (19 targets)|
This was vintage Antonio Brown
who could not be covered and was displaying a symbiotic connection with Ben Roethlisberger
. Early on, the connection took a couple of throws to get starter. On the second possession of the game Brown had a step on his defender streaking down the field. Roethlisberger underthrew Brown and missed an easy touchdown. Again, in the The fun for Brown really came on the two long drives for the Steelers. Brown totaled 8-93-1 on the Steeler's two longest drives of the game. Brown's best catch of the day came on a non-catch. In the corner of the end zone Ben Roethlisberger
threw a perfect pass to allow Brown to make a play on the ball. Brown caught the ball with one hand but couldn't get his second foot inbounds and missed a touchdown by a couple of inches. In the end the coverage didn't matter. Roethlisberger came right back to Brown, who was streaking down the field, for a touchdown. Brown was being double covered with bracket coverage and not high low coverage. Brown was able to simply outrun the coverage. Even with Brown's impressive day, he could have ended the day with an even bigger stat line.
This was a workman like performance for JuJu Smith-Schuster
and no one knew if he was even going to be able to play after injuring his groin in practice earlier in the week. Completing the day with over 100 yards and only two plays of over 20 yards and none longer than 25 yards. Going beyond the box score, Smith-Schuster had a defensive pass interference penalty called at the two-yard line with led to the Steelers first touchdown of the game. The stat line was pretty, but the end of the game wasn't kind to Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and delivered the ball accurately and on time to Smith-Schuster. As he was being taken to the ground, Smith-Schuster lost control and fumbled the ball costing the Steelers an opportunity to at least tie the game. This would be a devastating way for the season to end after such a breakout performance. This loss cannot be fully placed on JuJu Smith-Schuster
McDonald ended Week 16 with a rather undescriptive game. His lone reception came when the defender covering him fell in coverage and McDonald was able to take advantage for a long catch and run.
New Orleans Saints
|QB Drew Brees, 66 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 39 - 326 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0|
It had been a very disappointing stretch of games for Brees in the past few weeks. He had thrown an interception in 4 straight games and failed to reach 300 yards in the previous 3. Brees got a big boost this week with the return of Ginn and it really showed in the offense. There was finally someone playing opposite of Thomas that Brees could rely on. The Saints rushing attack was bottled up by the Steelers and that allowed Brees to fire the ball down the field and pick up yardage in big chunks. He had completions of 23, 25, 28, and 42 yards this week and threw the all-important go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter to Thomas. Brees was flushed in the pocket and rolled to his right. He found Thomas on a comeback route right at the pylon. The play was originally ruled down at the 1-yard line before being reviewed and ruled a touchdown. It was a perfect throw and catch by one of the best duos in the league and proved to be the game winner. Brees also led a field goal drive to answer a Steelers touchdown right before half time. The Saints drove the ball 50 yards in 38 seconds to get Will Lutz
in range. The drive was aided by a 42-yard reception by Kamara as he tip toed down the side line. Brees has put up an MVP type season and will have one more game to add to his stats next week against the Panthers.
|QB Taysom Hill, 10 offensive snaps, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 1 INT|
The Saints have been using Hill in several different spots all season. He had completed 3 of 6 pass attempts for yards to this point with no touchdowns. They looked to change that with Hill taking a shot down the field to Ginn. Unfortunately, the route was well covered and the ball under thrown. The play resulted in an interception and showed that the defense does not automatically assume a running play with Hill under center.
|RB Mark Ingram, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 35 - 1, Rec: 1 - 8 - 0 (2 targets)|
The rushing attack was shut down for the most part this week outside of from the 1-yard line. Ingram got his number called twice from that spot and only cashed in once. Ingram scored the first touchdown of the game for the Saints after a very questionable pass interference call in the end zone. He powered the ball right up the middle for the score and lost his helmet in the scrum. He got his number called again in the second half from the 1, but could not punch it in. Kamara came in the next play and vulture the touchdown. Ingram had 4 more carries than Kamara this week but did not do nearly as much damage through the air. He caught 1 of his 2 targets for an 8-yard screen play. Ingram will get one more game against the Panthers next week and then a full bye week to be ready for the playoffs.
|RB Alvin Kamara, 40 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 23 - 2, Rec: 4 - 82 - 0 (6 targets)|
There was not much room to run this week for Kamara. He only had 7 carries and rushed for less than 25 yards. However, he did get his number called twice at the goal line. His first score also came on his longest carry of the game. Kamara took the ball 8 yards off tackle and won the foot race to the corner of the end zone. His second score was a pure power run right up the middle. Ingram had done the work to get the Saints to the 1-yard line but failed to punch it in on the play prior. Kamara cleaned up the mess and punched it in for the score. It was also another productive day through the air. Kamara caught 4 of his 6 targets and was second on the team in receiving yards. He had an important 42-yard reception just before half time to setup a Lutz field goal. Kamara caught the ball across the middle and then cut down the sideline for extra yards before finally stepping out. It proved to be very important as the final difference in the game was a single field goal.
It has been 4 games since Thomas found the end zone and 6 since he had more than 100 yards through the air. He managed to change both of this this week by catching 11 of his 13 targets and making a great adjustment on a broken play in the 4th quarter. Thomas' longest catch of the night was a 28-yard catch and run. His most important catch came on a 2-yard reception late in the 4th. The pocket collapses around Brees and he rolled to his right. Thomas saw his quarterback in trouble and worked his way back towards the line of scrimmage. Brees threw a dart to Thomas who was still standing in the end zone. He caught the ball and fell out of bounds at the 1. The play was originally ruled down at the 1, but upon review it was reversed to a touchdown when the replay showed the nose of the ball breaking the plane. Thomas has been the whole offense through the air this season, and now he gets Ginn back on the opposite side. This should open things up underneath even more for Thomas and will make the defense think twice about doubling him in the playoffs.
|WR Ted Ginn, 27 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 74 - 0 (8 targets)|
The receiving core has struggled outside of Thomas this season, but it got a boost with Ginn back from injury. He went down in September with a knee injury and was reactivated this week and put right back into his old spot and workload. Ginn has always been the receiver to stretch the field and that is exactly how the Saints tried to use him. He was the target of the Taysom Hill
interception deep down the field. Ginn ran a deep drag route and Hill simply under threw him and put too much air under the ball. His longest completion with Brees was a 25-yard catch and run play across the middle. The most important stat would be the 8 targets for Ginn this week. He was only behind Thomas in targets this week and caught 5 of 8. It was a welcomed addition to the Saints offense that seemed to be firing on all cylinders against the Steelers. Ginn has one more regular season game against the Panthers to get back in sync for the playoffs.
|WR TreQuan Smith, 26 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 11 - 0 (1 targets)|
The return of Ginn may have all but spelled doom for Smith targets. He managed to catch his lone target for 11 yards, but he does not appear to be a big part of the game plan going forward now that Ginn is back from injury. Even rookie Keith Kirkwood
outplayed him this week and 7 other receivers had more targets than him. The offense is still very thin at the receiver position, but if this game was any indication, Smith is going to be irrelevant in the coming weeks. The Saints are committed to Ginn barring any other sort of late injury.