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Run offense and defense, penalties plague New Orleans Saints in loss to Pittsburgh

Saints committed 10 penalties; six led to first downs


The times have been fleeting this season when the New Orleans Saints haven't been their own worst enemy. On Sunday, in a 20-10 loss to the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, New Orleans (3-7) again did a plethora of things that, when accumulated, make it really hard for a team to win an NFL game. And while the Saints still remain very much in play in the NFC South Division with seven regular-season games remaining, they still are seeking the consistency that would allow them to make a run.

OFFENSE: The Saints haven't been able to run the ball in their last two games, both losses. After totaling just 48 rushing yards on 15 carries against the Ravens, New Orleans followed up with 29 yards on 15 carries against the Steelers, who entered the game allowing 118 rushing yards per game. Part of that was the inability to possess the football – the Saints were 3 for 12 on third down, and the lack of offensive snaps (45, compared to 79 for Pittsburgh) directly reflected New Orleans' time of possession (21:04). The Saints consistently weren't able to work themselves into favorable down-and-distance situations, and the byproduct of that is having to turn to the passing game. However, with opposing defenses knowing you have to pass, that makes the task much more difficult; one-dimensional offenses are what defenses want. New Orleans completed 17 of 28 passes for 174 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. If New Orleans can't balance out the offense, and get some third-down conversions, it'll continue to see the kinds of numbers it has the last two games.

DEFENSE: On the other hand, the Saints' defense hasn't been able to stop the run. And if you can't stop the run, you're at an opponents' mercy. The Steelers – who entered the game averaging 95 rushing yards per game – ran for 217 yards and couple of touchdowns. That came after New Orleans allowed 188 rushing yards to Baltimore. The Saints once prided themselves on being one of the league's top run defenses, consistently ranking first or second for the five-year stretch preceding this year. But New Orleans hasn't had nearly as much success against the run this season, and a look at Pittsburgh's time of possession (38:56) was an accurate barometer of that Sunday. Then, there was the penalties – 10 overall, and at least six defensively that gave the Steelers first downs. Several occurred on third down, which prevented the defense from getting off the field. The Saints' six sacks were a season high, but the impact was negated by the inability to stop the run or to produce on third down (Pittsburgh was 9 for 17).

SPECIAL TEAMS: A nice kickoff return was erased by a holding penalty. But punter Blake Gillikin had a solid day, with five punts for a 51.8-yard average, including a 58-yarder that kicked out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 2-yard line. But the Saints could use a "splash" from the unit, to kick start the offense or defense, and it simply hasn't happened much this season.

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