The New Orleans Saints have, to put it lightly, had a tough season in 2022. After winning in week 1 in a game that came down to the wire against the Atlanta Falcons, they have gone 2-6 since then, and sit in 3rd place in a weakening division by the week. With that said, they only play 1 team with an above .500 record this season in their remaining schedule (that being the 8-0 Philadelphia Eagles). This week the Saints travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who currently sit at 2-6 and at the bottom of their division. In this article, I will cover how the Saints’ rushing offense and Steelers’ rushing defense have performed so far this season, and then delve into how we should expect them to perform against one another this Sunday. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it.
How have these two units performed this season?
Starting off with Pittsburgh, their run defense has been one of the best in the NFL so far statistically. They have allowed the 9th lowest number of rushing yards (943), are tied for the 6th lowest allowed yards per carry (4.2), are tied for the 6th lowest rushing touchdowns allowed (5), have allowed the 7th least number of rushing first downs (50), and the 6th lowest rushing first down percentage allowed (22.4%). Overall, a very strong unit, especially considering this has mostly been done without star edge T.J. Watt.
On the other side, the Saints’ run offense has been very up and down, primarily due to usage rate. We saw this last week, as Alvin Kamara only rushed 9 times, and Taysom Hill only once. They currently rank 9th in rushing yards (1,178), T-9th in yards per carry (4.9), T-13 in rushing touchdowns (9), T-8th in rushing first downs (64), and 12th in rushing first down percentage (26.8%). They also are tied for the 6th most rushing fumbles this season with 4, however many of which came in the first 3 weeks of the season. Overall, a great unit when utilized, but also one that seems to have off days.
How will these two match up against each other?
To put this blatantly, if the Saints don’t use Kamara and Taysom enough, which we saw this past week, the Steelers are going to crush New Orleans in the rushing department. The coaching staff needs to give both of them quite a few touches for this unit to be effective, and for some reason they randomly decide to abandon the run after it doesn’t work once or twice, which is not the right idea. Running the ball paces your offense and keeps the defense from just dropping more and more players into coverage. In the games the Saints have really struggled in, they failed to get the run game going.
With that said, it will be difficult with injuries to Ryan Ramczyk and Erik McCoy this past Monday, so watch for their injury designations entering the week. According to the projected injury report (the Saints did not practice Wednesday), Ramczyk would have been limited (this is a good sign), and McCoy would have not practiced. Having at least one of them will be huge in protecting against Pittsburgh. Another injury to monitor on the other side is T.J. Watt, who has been flirting with the idea of returning depending on if the Steelers pull him off IR this week, which would hugely impact the Saints’ chances on offense. With how it stands now, Pittsburgh has the advantage in this matchup of run offense vs run defense, however, we will see how it pans out down the stretch of this week entering Sunday.