Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.


–WR Ted Ginn Jr. participated in the Saints’ light workout Wednesday for the first time since going on injured reserve Oct. 18 with a sore knee. The Saints have 21 days in which to make a decision on whether to activate Ginn, who said he had arthroscopic surgery on the knee. It’s expected that Ginn will be activated at some point during that window.

–T Jermon Bushrod, who has been filling in for Terron Armstead before suffering a hamstring injury against the Panthers on Monday night, did not practice Wednesday.

–C Max Unger, who left the game against the Panthers because of a concussion and did not return, did not practice.

–T Terron Armstead, who has missed the last six games because of a pectoral injury, practiced on a limited basis.

–T Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) was limited Wednesday.

–G Andrus Peat (shoulder) was limited Wednesday.

–P Thomas Morstead (ankle), who kept kicking against Carolina even after being injured, was limited Wednesday.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: QB Drew Brees has not looked like the same player in the last three games that he looked like in the first 11. Is he starting to show his age (39)? Is there some sort of injury that hasn’t been revealed? Is it just an inevitable slump for the entire offense after such a remarkable stretch? Some combination of the preceding? It’s unclear, but until Brees has an efficient and productive game, especially throwing the ball down the field, there are going to be questions about what’s wrong with him and the offense. A big day against the Pittsburgh defense likely would put the questions to rest. But if Brees has another sub-par game, the scrutiny will intensify, especially if New Orleans clinches the No. 1 seed and sits Brees in the regular-season finale. That would mean the questions would persist until the divisional round of the playoffs.

GAME PLAN: Protect quarterback Drew Brees and pressure Ben Roethlisberger. Both of these teams are among the best in the NFL at passing the football and a big part of that is their ability to protect their quarterbacks. If the Saints can make Roethlisberger less comfortable than Brees, they should come out ahead in that critical comparison. New Orleans has a more balanced offense with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II, so if it has an advantage in the passing game it will be unlikely that Pittsburgh can keep it in what could become a shootout. Though the Steelers figure to have trouble running the ball with much success, ranking 30th in rushing while the Saints rank No. 1 in rush defense, it’s no guarantee New Orleans will be able to run well either. The Steelers rank sixth in rush defense and the Saints have the No. 7 rushing offense. Though the Saints offense has struggled the last three weeks, each of those games was on the road and New Orleans is averaging 38 points per game at home.

–Saints CBs vs. Steelers WRs. Pittsburgh is third in the NFL in passing offense and has two 1,000-yard receivers in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, so one of the keys to the Saints slowing down the Steelers is how well their cornerbacks – primarily Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple – are able to cover the wideouts. Apple had an interception and played very well overall against Carolina last week. His development since being acquired in trade with the Giants early in the season has given New Orleans a solid complement to Lattimore, who has played well but has just one interception this season after having five in being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. Of course, the Saints’ pass rush will also be a factor in slowing down the Pittsburgh passing game, but the cornerbacks will be front and center.

–Saints OL vs. Steelers pass rush. Whoever starts on the offensive line will have their hands full with a pass rush that is tied for second in the NFL in sacks. LT Terron Armstead is close to returning from a pectoral injury that has sidelined him since last month. His replacement, Jermon Bushrod, was sidelined during the game at Carolina as was C Max Unger (concussion). The Saints hope to be at full strength on the line, but there’s a good chance they won’t be. In any event it will be important that the line slow down the pass rush enough to create a comfort zone for Drew Brees, whose passing efficiency has dropped off significantly during the last three games.