Another week of football, and another week of our Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain answers 5 quick questions about the Week 16 match-up of two Super Bowl hopefuls: the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have lost their last two road games. Is there anything to that narrative?
To be completely honest, there isn’t a strong correlation which can be drawn from those back-to-back road losses. In the past the team has struggled on the road, mainly due to the play of Ben Roethlisberger away from Heinz Field, but this year the trend has been more even. For instance, the team’s record away from home is almost identical to that on the road, and Roethlisberger’s performances have evened out as well. This upcoming game will be a test because of the opponent and venue, not necessarily because it is played away from Heinz Field.
How healthy are the Steelers heading into this game? Any key injuries?
Compared to other teams, the Steelers are a fairly health group heading into Week 16. The health of James Conner’s ankle will headline the injuries, but some nagging injuries to Bud Dupree, Cam Heyward and rookie Terrell Edmunds being in the concussion protocol are worth noting. While it isn’t likely Conner plays this week, the others on the injury report should all be available.
*EDITOR NOTE: This answer was before news of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury.
If you were Sean Payton, how would you game plan to attack the Pittsburgh defense?
The Steelers’ defense thrives on sacks, currently tied for second in the league with 46 sacks, and being able to utilize pressure to cover up some lapses in the secondary. The Steelers’ main defensive weakness has been when tight ends shred them down the seam. The Steelers have been okay, not great, on the outside, but exploiting their inside linebackers has been the name of the game. The Steelers will let you dink and dunk your way down field, and can’t take the ball away to save their lives.
Who is one player on the Steelers who Saints fans might not be familiar with that you expect to make an impact on this game?
Although after Week 15 I’m sure many know his name now, but rookie RB Jaylen Samuels. The 5th round pick tallied over 170 yards total vs. the Patriots last Sunday, and has stepped in and filled James Conner’s shoes thus far. He will be a big part of the game plan both as a runner, but also a receiver...something he did often when at NC State.
What’s your prediction for the game? Final score?
There is something about this game where I don’t think it will be the high scoring affair many are predicting. I could see the first half being very low scoring before things open up in the second half. Not to take anything away from the Saints, and their ability to protect their home turf, but I feel the Steelers started a memorable run last week by beating the Patriots. I’ll take the Steelers in a close one - 28-27.
A big thanks to Jeff for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you check out his work and the rest of the good folks at Behind the Steel Curtain for tons of Steelers content. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @BnGBlitz, Behind the Steel Curtain @btsteelcurtain, and of course you can always follow me @dunnellz.