Notebook: Pass defense a positive

Dale Lolley's notebook following the Steelers' 20-10 loss to the Saints:

NEW ORLEANS – There's sure to be some disappointment that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost, 20-10, here against the New Orleans Saints Sunday night.

But the Steelers also showed something very important – at least on defense:

The Saints attempted to spread the Steelers out and go pass-happy on them, and didn't have a great deal of success doing so.

Unlike previous Steelers teams, which were very susceptible to that kind of attack, this one has the overall team speed and tackling ability to deal with the issue.

Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu are the wild cards, two players capable of covering not just tight ends and running backs, but receivers as well - at least in short space.

The Steelers continually forced Saints quarterback Drew Brees to check down, and then they came up and made the tackle.

When Brees finally did throw downfield, he had some success. But he also took some big hits and threw an interception.

At the end of the day, Brees' 44 pass attempts netted the Saints 20 points -- at home.

That's something the Steelers can live with.

© Had the offense been more effective running the ball, the outcome of this game would have been far different.

But when you've got three shots to score from the 1 and can't get in on three consecutive runs, it speaks to a bigger overall problem.

I probably would have run a QB sneak on first down, needing six inches to score, but other than that, I didn't have a problem with Bruce Arians' play calling in that situation.

However, prior to his 38-yard touchdown run, Rashard Mendenhall had 13 carries for 31 yards. this is not a new trend.

After carrying the offense on his back while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended, Mendenhall's production has tailed off. That's not what was supposed to happen. Teams were supposed to start respecting the Steelers passing attack, which was supposed to open things up for the rushing game.

But that hasn't occurred.

I asked Mendenhall after the game why this has been the case and he told me that they've been missing some assignments.

If that's true, maybe the offensive line and running backs haven't been as focused as they were earlier in the season when they ran the ball effectively despite the fact that everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball.

Perhaps the Steelers need to go back to their game plans from 2004 and 2005, when Roethlisberger would throw early to open things up, then pound away with the running game.

There's a difference between running the ball more and running the ball effectively. Right now, the Steelers are just running it more.

© Mike Tomlin said after the game that his team has to learn how to deal with crowd noise better if it's going to become a championship team. He's right.

This team can't always rely on its fans filling up opposing stadiums and quieting the home crowd.

That won't happen in Baltimore, Indianapolis or New York in the playoffs.

© This wasn't one of Jeff Reed's better games, and not just because he badly missed a 51-yard field goal.

Reed's kickoffs weren't deep at all, giving New Orleans return man Courtney Roby a running start before catching the ball. That resulted in Roby popping one long return and coming close on a couple of others.

© You know it was a bad game for the offense when Matt Spaeth and David Johnson have as many combined catches as Hines Ward (3) and for more yards (30-15).

That's especially true considering both Spaeth and Johnson entered Sunday's game without a catch this season.

© The nice thing about the Steelers' schedule this season is that they get to face all three teams who are currently ahead of them in the AFC hierarchy - New England, Baltimore and the Jets. And two of those games are at home.

So despite Sunday's loss, the Steelers still control their own destiny in terms of getting the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)

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