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Pittsburgh Steelers ride stifling D to 20-10 win over New Orleans Saints

Pittsburgh Steelers
(© dean bertoncelj – Shutterstock)

After a two-week layoff, Pittsburgh got back in the win column Sunday, shutting out New Orleans in the second half en route to a 20-10 victory at Acrisure Stadium. The Steeler defense came away with two interceptions and a fourth-down stop on the Saints’ final three possessions of the game to secure the victory.

Pittsburgh (3-6), which had dropped six of its last seven contests, had a season-high 217 yards on the ground, led by Najee Harris’ 99 rushing yards, also a season-best total. It was the first time the Steelers rushed for more than 200 yards in a game since Dec. 11, 2016 (240 vs. Buffalo).

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 199 yards and rushed for 51 more, including the game-sealing touchdown from a yard out, which put his team up by 10 with 8:38 remaining.

“The O-line was unbelievable, and those guys stuck with it,” said Pickett. “They worked hard on the bye week and obviously this week getting prepared for it, and then Najee and Jaylen (Warren) did what they do best.

“We have two really talented backs, and we kind of lean on those guys, and I thought we had really good balance today, they did a great job in the pass game as well. So in all phases I thought we took a step in the right direction today.”

Added head coach Mike Tomlin of the success in the run game: “Quarterback mobility is a component of it. I thought Kenny did some good things with his legs, I thought the runners ran hard, and I thought we came off the ball as some bigs up front, we ran off the ball, and so we’ll just keep building.”

That Pickett score was set up by an interception (off of a Levi Wallace deflection) hauled in by Steelers safety Demontae Kazee, who was making his Pittsburgh debut after coming off the injured-reserve list.

When New Orleans (3-7) got the ball back, Pittsburgh linebacker Robert Spillane led the charge on a Saints fourth-and-1 conversion from their own 34-yard line, stuffing quarterback Andy Dalton as he tried to sneak it on a quick snap.

Pittsburgh’s Matthew Wright, who was filling in for starting kicker Chris Boswell for a second-straight week, missed a 48-yard field-goal try to the left — his second of the day — on the Steelers’ ensuing possession, but Wallace put on the finishing touches, picking Dalton off with 4:23 to play, as the Steelers were then able to run out the clock.

The Pittsburgh defense, which also got Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt back from the IR on Sunday, held New Orleans to 186 total yards of offense and just 29 yards on the ground.

Rookie receiver George Pickens got the Steelers on the board on their second possession of the game, scoring on a short run with 5:06 left in the opening quarter. It was just the Steelers’ fifth rushing touchdown of the season, and the first since the fourth quarter of Week 4 against the Jets.

Harris registered the team’s longest carry of the season late in the first, hustling 36 yards to the Saints’ 20-yard line, setting up a Wright 33-yarder that made it 10-0 early in the second.

In fact, the Steelers backfield produced four running plays that went for 20-plus yards Sunday after failing to do so at all through the first eight games. The team’s season-long carry going into Week 10 was 19 yards.

New Orleans punted on its first three drives, but finally got on the board on a Will Lutz 44-yard field goal with 6:40 until halftime. After a Pittsburgh punt, Dalton hooked up with Juwan Johnson to tie the contest at 10-all on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in the half.

The Steelers blanked the Saints from that point on, holding them to just 43 yards in the second half. New Orleans was 3-for-12 on third-down conversions.

The deadly Alvin Kamara was held to 45 total yards on 11 touches, while do-it-all Taysom Hill was a non-factor with just one yard on three carries.

“We were more concerned about minimizing Kamara and some of the things that they did with Hill, some of the wildcat-like things,” said Tomlin. “I thought we did a great job of minimizing those things, and it cleared out the clutter for us to deal with the other things.”

Watt — who was in on the first two tackles on the first two defensive snaps of the day Sunday — hadn’t seen the field since Week 1 against Cincinnati after injuring a pectoral muscle late in the game.

“It’s fun, man,” Watt said of being back out on the home turf. “When you feel like you can control the crowd and get them involved, I’m always going to try my best because it is a competitive advantage, especially playing at home here. When they get loud, it makes it very tough for offenses, but I’m here to make plays and help make a difference in the game, and that’s just what I’m going to continue to try to do.

“To be able to create an awesome atmosphere and be able to fly around as a defense, being able to really pin our ears back at the end there, that’s all you can ask for as a defensive rush, man, so I had a lot of fun today.”

Kazee, who was acquired in the offseason from Dallas, was filling in for injured starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. He and Watt combined for 8 tackles (5 solo) on the afternoon, as the Steelers were also without starting DB Ahkello Witherspoon and leading tackler Myles Jack (knee), who was held out as a precaution.

Alex Highsmith added five stops, a forced fumble and a pair of sacks, bringing his season total to 8.5. Pittsburgh will look for a season sweep of the 5-4 Bengals next Sunday (4:25 p.m., CBS), after winning 23-20 (OT) in Cincinnati in the season opener.

Extra Points

  • Former UVA and Steelers legendary tight end Heath Miller was inducted into the Pittsburgh “Hall of Honor,” during a halftime ceremony on Sunday. Retired quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and other former Steelers were in attendance to cheer on their old teammate. The late longtime Steelers announcer Myron Cope, who was the originator of “The Terrible Towel,” was also honored.
  • With the win over the Saints Sunday, Tomlin has now defeated all of the other 31 opponents in the league across his career. He had dropped the three previous meetings against New Orleans as Steelers coach.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.