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Old 10-31-2010, 07:45 AM   #1
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Default Steelers: Breaking down tonight's game

Steelers: Breaking down tonight's game
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By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Saturday October 30, 2010 10:48 PM


How have the Steelers fared against defending Super Bowl champs? Not very well. Since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970, the Steelers are 6-16 when facing the reigning champions. The last time the Steelers played a defending Super Bowl champ was on Oct. 26, 2008 when they lost to the Giants, 21-14 at Heinz Field.

What's been the key to the Steelers leading the NFL in fewest points allowed (13.7 ppg)? Last year when the Steelers tied for 12th in scoring defense at 20.2 points per game, they only had 22 takeaways (12 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries). But this year the Steelers already have 16 takeaways (eight interceptions, eight fumble recoveries). Also, the Steelers allowed four touchdowns on kickoff returns, two TDs on interception returns and two TDs on fumble recoveries last year. So far this year, they have yet to allow a TD on a kick return and they have yet to have an opponent score on an interception or fumble.

How did Mike Ditka fare in New Orleans when he coached the Saints? Ditka, the Aliquippa native who's now an NFL analyst for ESPN, was the 12th coach in Saints history and suffered through a tough three-year stretch from 1997-99. His teams went 6-10, 6-10 and 3-13. Ditka once said, "Those were the worst three years of my life." Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end, obviously had much better success when he coached the Bears from 1982-92, going 106-62 with a Super Bowl championship in '85.

Why do the folks in New Orleans like to say the Superdome is the most famous sports venue in the country? The Superdome has already hosted the Super Bowl six times. That's more than any other stadium. And the Super Bowl returns to the Superdome in 2013. The Sugar Bowl has been played there since 1975, and four times that game has served as the site for the national championship. Also, the Superdome has already hosted men's college basketball's Final Four four times and will do so again in 2012.

What world record should be broken tonight in the Superdome? A representative from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to see if the game will turn out to be the world's largest-ever Halloween gathering. The Saints' promotions department has gone as far as staging a Halloween costume contest for fans before the game and asking their fans to "Wear your costume and be counted!" One of the rules of the contest is that the costume must be Saints-related. The Guinness record for most people at one Halloween costume event is 508. With a capacity of 68,000 at the Superdome, there are estimates that as many as 10,000 fans attending the game will be in costume.


Roethlisberger vs. Brees

For the first time this season, the Steelers play a game featuring two elite quarterbacks. Last year, Drew Brees earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XLIV after leading the Saints to their first championship in the franchise's 43-year history. Two years ago, Ben Roethlisberger threw the game-winning touchdown pass in SB 43 with 35 seconds left to play.
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As he's done in the past, Brees is putting up prolific numbers this season. He leads the league with 287 attempts and is tied for first with 14 TD passes. But he's also thrown 10 interceptions, including four last week in an upset loss to Cleveland. Last year, Brees only threw 11 picks.

After missing the first four games while on suspension, Roethlisberger is playing well. He has a 122.4 passer rating, highest among starters. He's throw five TD passes and only one interception - and that came on his first possession in the Oct. 17 win over the Browns.

Hood vs. Stinchcomb

Ziggy Hood will never forget tonight's game. The Steelers' first-round pick in last year's draft will make his first pro start in the Superdome, on Halloween night, on national primetime TV. And he'll never forget that the man lined up across him was Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb.

Hood starts at left defensive end due to the injury to veteran Aaron Smith (partially torn triceps).

"I won't be able to do the same job as Aaron Smith because he's a great player," Hood said. "But if I can do at least half of what he does, I'll feel I did my job."

It's noble of Hood to heap such praise on Smith. But in reality, playing half as well as Smith won't be acceptable. Coach Mike Tomin expects the standard to remain high for whomever replaces an injured starter.

Tonight, Hood will try to do that against a solid veteran tackle who's started every game since the 2006 season. An eighth-year pro, Stinchcomb is coming off his best season that ended with his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Pouncey vs. Vilma

For a team hoping for offensive balance, the Steelers didn't get it last week in their 23-22 win at Miami. While Ben Roethlisberger threw for 302 yards, the Steelers rushed for only 58. For the running game to get untracked tonight, it will take a better collective effort by the offensive line.

Specifically, the Steelers need center Maurkice Pouncey to block Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

A former star at Miami (Fla.), Vilma is a former first-round draft pick (12th overall in 2004 by the Jets). He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and played in his first Pro Bowl in '05. He's been the heart and soul of the Saints defense the past two seasons and went to his second Pro Bowl last year.

Pouncey, the Steelers' first-round pick this year, is off to a solid start. He's really been impressive handling huge nose tackles when the Steelers face 3-4 defenses. The Saints run a 4-3, so Pouncey must find way to slow Vilma and thus allow running back Rashard Mendenhall to be more productive than he was last week.
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