The Pittsburgh Steelers, the City of Excuses, leave their town of idiot drivers and lazy construction to face the New Orleans Saints this afternoon in a pivotal contest for both teams. The Steelers come into the game with an 8-5-1 record, a half game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North lead, and fighting for a postseason berth. The 12-2 Saints have already clinched the NFC South, but need just one win in their final two games to clinch home field advantage through the playoffs. This is the 16th meeting between New Orleans and Pittsburgh, with the Saints holding an 8-7 edge in the series. That includes a 5-4 record in games played in New Orleans, and a 3-2 advantage when the games are played in the Superdome, site of today's contest. The first match up between the two, and also the first meeting in New Orleans, took place on October 29th, 1967 at Tulane Stadium, during the Saints first NFL season. Pittsburgh would overcome 4 turnovers and a 10-0 deficit to score two 4th quarter touchdowns and prevail 14-10.
The Saints and Steelers were actually division rivals for one year, 1968, when they were joined with the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals to form the Century Division. New Orleans would win the first showdown between their brief division foes on October 20, 1968 in Pittsburgh. The Saints held Pittsburgh's passing attack to just 8 completions in 20 attempts, totaling only 103 yards, on their way to a 16-12 victory. The rematch would take place in the season finale on December 15, 1968 in Tulane Stadium. New Orleans would again play well defensively, forcing 4 turnovers and sacking Steeler quarterbacks Kent Nix and Dick Shiner four times while holding them to a combined 13 of 35 passing. Offensively, Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer overcame seven sacks from the Pittsburgh defense to throw for two scores and 292 yards, 103 of them to wideout Dave Parks, to pave the way for a 24-14 win. After the '68 season, Pittsburgh fired head coach Bill Austin and replaced him with a little known assistant named Chuck Noll, who would go on to change the course of Pittsburgh sports sports history. New Orleans would again host Pittsburgh in the 1969 season finale of Noll's first season, on December 21st. Saints receiver Danny Abramowicz would account for 129 of the team's 303 passing yards, as the Saints would score ten 4th quarter points to pull out a 27-24 comeback victory.
Noll would build the Steelers into one of the most dominant dynasties in NFL history through the 1970's, while the Saints would toil in mediocrity. New Orleans would host the early stage of this powerhouse at Tulane Stadium on November 25, 1974, in their first appearance on Monday night football. The Pittsburgh "Steel Curtain" defense would dominate the Saints, holding them to 178 yards of total offense while forcing 4 turnovers and six sacks. The Steelers offense would run for 272 yards, including 99 from Hall of Fame quarterback and Louisiana native Terry Bradshaw and 114 from Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. The Steelers would rout the Saints 28-7, and would return to the city of New Orleans less than two months later. On January 12, 1975, Pittsburgh would win their first Super Bowl championship on the Saints home field by defeating the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX.
New Orleans would again square off with the Steeler dynasty during the 1978 season, the most dominant of the Pittsburgh Super Bowl teams. The game was played on November 5, 1978, in the Saints first game at Three Rivers Stadium. New Orleans would get 344 yards passing from quarterback Archie Manning, and would outgain Pittsburgh in total yardage on the day. The Steelers pulled out a late 20-14 victory though, when Bradshaw hit running back Rocky Bleier with a 4th quarter touchdown pass for the difference. The Steelers would play their first ever game on the Superdome turf three years later, on October 4, 1981. The Pittsburgh defense would pummel the Saints offense, holding them to 180 total yards and forcing five turnovers, including 2 interceptions from Hall of Fame cornerback and former Southern University star Mel Blount, and five sacks. Bradshaw would riddle the New Orleans secondary for 276 of the Steelers 406 total yards, and would hit his Hall of Fame wideouts John Stallworth and Lynn Swann for two scores in a 20-6 win.
The Saints would again host the Steelers on November 19, 1984, a Monday night nationally televised affair. The Pittsburgh dynasty began to crumble away in the early 1980's, and by the midway point of the decade many of their Hall of Fame stars had either retired or were well past their prime. The New Orleans defense would stand out on this evening, forcing 3 turnovers, including a 47-yd. touchdown return of an interception by linebacker Dennis Winston of Steelers quarterback Mark Malone that provided the clinching score in a 27-24 Saints victory. The win was the first time New Orleans had won on Monday night, and they would create more franchise history against the Steelers three years later. On November 29, 1987, the Saints would travel to Three Rivers Stadium to play Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving weekend and on the cusp of a historic achievement. New Orleans would dominate the game defensively, causing six turnovers, getting two sacks apiece from linebackers Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling, and would claw their way back from a 14-3 halftime deficit. An epic 4th quarter goal line stand would propel the Saints to a 20-16 victory, and clinch the first winning season in New Orleans Saints history.
You can read the Canal Street Chronicles recap of that historic game here:
Pittsburgh and New Orleans would play just three times between 1988-2005, with the Steelers winning two of those meetings, including a 37-14 embarrassment in 1993. The Saints would defeat the Steelers during the 2002 season at home, 32-29, behind 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Deuce McAllister. Clashes between dominant defenses would usually be the storyline when the Saints and Steelers would face off, but that began to change when New Orleans hired coach Sean Payton in 2006. Payton immediately signed free agent quarterback Drew Brees to lead his franchise, transforming them into one of the NFL's most prolific offenses. Pittsburgh meanwhile, had drafted a franchise quarterback of their own in 2004, when selecting Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall draft pick.
Payton and Brees are 2-1 against Roethlisberger and the Steelers, including a 1-0 record at home. The first time they would meet would be in their first year together, on November 12, 2006 in Pittsburgh. Despite 513 yards of offense, including 398 yards passing from Brees and 169 yards on 10 catches from receiver Marques Colston, New Orleans fell to Pittsburgh on their first trip to Heinz Field, 38-31. The Steelers were powered by 213 yards and two fourth quarter scores from running back Willie Parker to break a 24-24 deadlock in the final period.
The last time these two teams met in New Orleans was on Halloween night of the 2010 season. Brees would throw for 305 yards and two second half touchdowns to pull away after a low scoring first half to a 20-10 win. November 30, 2014 was the last time New Orleans and Pittsburgh faced off. The game was in Pittsburgh, and Brees once again tore apart the Steel Curtain defense, throwing for 257 yards and five touchdown passes. The Saints also got standout games from Mark Ingram, who rushed for 122 yards, and Kenny Stills, who had 162 yards receiving and a touchdown, in a 35-32 road win.
Brees, who is having a historically efficient season, has completed 71% of his passes and averaged 321 yards in three games against Pittsburgh while with New Orleans, throwing eight touchdowns and one interception. The Saints look to get Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and deep threat receiver Ted Ginn Jr. back in the lineup from injury. Their return should be a big boost to an offense that has struggled in recent weeks, averaging just 17 points in the last three games. New Orleans still has two of the league's best offensive threats in receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, along with the bruising Ingram and a powerful offensive line that have helped them to average nearly 33 points per game. They will attack a Steeler defense that has a formidable pass rush, but has been inconsistent against the pass and have struggled against power rushing attacks.
Roethlisberger leads a proficient Pittsburgh passing game that has two explosive weapons in wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster may miss this game however, after sustaining a groin injury in practice, and Roethlisberger has shown a tendency to force the ball into coverage this year, leading to crippling interceptions. The Steelers 30th ranked running game is further limited by the continued absence of back James Conner, who remains out with an ankle injury. Pittsburgh has a dominant offensive line of their own, but will face a fierce battle against a New Orleans defensive line that is among the deepest and most talented in the league.
New Orleans has been on a roll defensively, holding their last six opponents to less than 20 points and the last three foes to scoreless second halves, while forcing 17 turnovers in the last eight contests. The Saints top ranked run defense should be able to contain the Pittsburgh ground game, while talented defenders Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins should pressure Roethlisberger enough to force a few momentum turning mistakes. The New Orleans secondary, led by cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple, are playing far better than early in the season, and will contain the talented Steeler wideouts well enough for their front seven to turn the tide. The Saints offense is often more explosive at home. Brees should be able to pepper the Pittsburgh zone with intermediate passes, allowing for some deeper opportunities throughout the game, while the offensive line will be able to open just enough creases for Ingram and Kamara to maintain an effective balance. A win here would clinch the NFC's top seed and secure home field advantage through the playoffs for a Saints team that is just now beginning to get deserved credit throughout the national media. They'll get it by making a statement against a traditional AFC power, and give their home fans an early Christmas gift.