From the Press Room: Steelers vs. Saints

Plenty of effort: The Steelers came off their bye week a team looking to get back on track and did just that with a 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in front of an energetic crowd at Acrisure Stadium.

"At home in front of our fans, appreciative of the efforts of everyone," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "A lot of positive contributions in three phases. Obviously, things we can do better and things we need to work on. It's good to work on those things with the win. And so, we'll take those lessons and move forward and get ready for our next opportunity. We'll be right back here next week. We've just got to keep digging.

"Appreciative of the win, appreciative of the efforts. A lot of fun in the locker room. It's good to get the job done. We don't take it for granted. We appreciate it. We understand it's not anything mystical. It's good work. It's minimizing negativity, staying on schedule on offense, possessing the ball, running the ball, winning possession, downs on defense."

Tomlin admitted things weren't perfect, including in the kicking game where Matthew Wright missed two field goals, but overall it is something to build off.

"We left some points out there in the kicking game today," said Tomlin. "We'll get back to work with Matt Wright and company. Operationally, it could have been better in some of those things, but we're always going to fall short of perfection. It's good to win, though, in the process."

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett finished the day completing 18 of 30 passes for 199 yards. He also had eight rushes for 51 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run.

"First and foremost, we took care of the ball," said Tomlin. "As a young quarterback in competitive circumstances, that's a difficult thing to do. We don't discount his ability to do that. Take care of the ball, give yourself a chance to win, and make yourself a tough group to beat. So. it started there for us."

The Steelers were strong on the ground, something that eluded them in the first half of the season. As a group they rushed for 217 yards on 43 carries, including a 99-yard performance by Najee Harris on 20 carries to go along with Pickett's 51 yards.

"Quarterback mobility is a component of it," said Tomlin. "I thought Kenny did some good things with his legs. The runners ran hard, and we came off the ball as bigs up front. We ran off the ball, and so we'll just keep building."

Defensively the Steelers got a boost with the return of safety Damontae Kazee and linebacker T.J. Watt, who were both activated from the Reserve/Injured List this week.

And the timing couldn't have been better for Kazee's return, after safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was ruled out on Saturday because of his appendix. Tomlin said they didn't make any changes to the defensive game plan with Fitzpatrick out, it was more about how everyone was used.

"I thought all those guys did a nice job," said Tomlin. "We got multiple packages and so forth, and it was Kazee primarily but, you know Minkah is a versatile chess piece. It was a lot of people. (Tre) Norwood and others too."

Tomlin also sang the praises of linebacker Robert Spillane, who started with Myles Jack cautiously being held out because of a knee injury, even though he was dressed for the game.

"Rob's a starter-like dude," said Tomlin. "We feel like we got a pair and a spare there. We got three starting inside linebackers, and he proved that today. I think he's continually proved that for some time."

More splash: The Steelers wanted more splash plays from quarterback Kenny Pickett and their offense against New Orleans.

Pickett and the offense delivered in a 20-10 victory today at Acrisure Stadium.

"I thought it was a step in the right direction," Pickett assessed from the postgame podium. "We took more shots. Obviously, we want to hit a lot more than we did. The one to (wide receiver) Diontae (Johnson) was big but we need a lot more than that.

"But I thought guys played really hard today and it feels good to be up here after a win."

The "one to Diontae" was a 36-yard completion to the New Orleans 20-yard line on first-and-10 from the Steelers' 44 with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

It was the biggest play in a drive that began at the Steelers' 2 and covered 83 yards on 11 plays in 6:22 and ended with a 33-yard field goal that re-established a lead for the Steelers at 13-10 with 13:43 left in regulation.

It matched the 36-yard scamper reeled off by running back Najee Harris late in the first quarter for the Steelers' long play of the day.

Pickett also had a 26-yard connection to running back Jaylen Warren and a 23-yard scramble.

Wide receiver George Pickens' 22-yard run contributed to the Steelers producing six plays of 21 yards or more.

It was the first game played without wide receiver Chase Claypool, who was traded to Chicago during the bye week.

The effects of Claypool's deletion from the lineup he had appeared on 86 percent of the offensive snaps prior to the trade included Pickens, Johnson and tight end Pat Freiermuth being targeted a combined 16 times on 26 Pickett passing attempts.

The threesome caught a combined 11 passes for 131 of Pickett's 199 passing yards.

"Just by him not being there obviously the ball was going to go to our play-makers," Pickett said. "Those guys stepped up and Pat's awesome.

"And huge shout out to (wide receivers) Stevie (Sims) and Gunner (Olszewski) and Miles (Boykin). Those guys come in, really unselfish, do whatever the team asks them to do and they're just all-around great teammates. Love playing with those guys."

Pickett's 23-yard burst was part of an eight-carry, 51-yard effort on the ground.

That's an aspect of his game he intends to continue to cultivate, along with finding more yards after the catch and splash in the passing game.

"If I see a seam I feel like I can really utilize my legs to move the chains and get positive yardage," he said. "It's something that I can continue to do and build on top of today."

Happy to be back: There might not have been anyone happier after the Steelers 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints than linebacker T.J. Watt.

Watt returned to the lineup after being out since Week 1 of the season when he suffered a pectoral injury.

"It felt good. It felt really good," said Watt. "It probably won't feel good tomorrow. It felt good today."

Watt said he wasn't limited but joked that his legs were feeling it.

"Besides my legs feeling like wet noodles, that was about it," said Watt.

Watt's return had the crowd fired up from the moment he was introduced pre-game, and that energy never faltered.

"It's hard when you are in the actual moment. It's full body chills," said Watt of the reaction during his introduction. "You wish you could freeze time for just one second while you're looking around and people are going crazy. Just super happy more than anything to get the win today."

What made Watt smile even more was the way the crowd kept the energy going the entire game, something the defense fed off.

"They were wild, going crazy. I hope we can keep that up. I want them to know how big of an advantage it is for us as a defense. It makes life hell for offenses. We are going to continue to try and make plays to feed off of them.

"It was great to play in front of the fans today. To be able to create an awesome atmosphere as a defense. To be able to fly around, pin our ears back at the end there. That's all you ask for as a defensive rush man, so I had a lot of fun today."

Watt finished the game with four tackles, but his presence alone was a major factor.

"It was fun," said Watt. "When you feel like you can control the crowd and get them involved, I'm always going to try my best. It is a competitive advantage, especially playing at home here when they get loud. It makes it very tough for offenses. I am here to make plays and help make a difference in the game and that is what I am going to continue to try and do."

On Friday Watt talked about what a good week of practice the team had this week, and that showed on the field against the Saints. The defense came up with the splash plays they have been craving with two interceptions and two sacks.

"You don't win the game on Sunday," said Watt. "You win it through all the preparation you put in throughout the week. That's from 8 am extra meetings, to having clean, crisp practices and communication. That's why it's so important at home to have that communication on defense.

"We always talk about wanting to create splash here. We need splash. We need to continue to do it and it's something we are always hunting. It comes with creating an incredible atmosphere and that is what we had today."

A good feeling: It's been a long two weeks for Cameron Heyward waiting to get back on the field following the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles before the team's bye week.

But it was worth the wait after the Steelers defeated the New Orleans Saints, 20-10, at Acrisure Stadium.

"We've had a long time to think about our last loss, especially with the bye week," said Heyward. "But I think it was just important to go out there and play football. That sick taste after that last loss, and then just having to deal with that for the past two weeks is, you're raring to go and ready to get out there."

Heyward liked what he saw overall from the defense on Sunday, including the run defense which held Alvin Kamara to just 26 yards on eight carries. 

"I thought the run defense was really good," said Heyward. "I think just everybody playing assignment football. Even there was one play, T.J. (Watt) took the assignment of taking Taysom Hill out of the play. With that, getting the ball out of his hands, I think we gave up a 10-yard run, but you could see the execution there. The execution I just thought picked up in the run defense, and then that led to the sacks, a couple of sacks and the turnovers as well."

Heyward also said the return of Watt and Damontae Kazee was a factor in what the defense was able to do on Sunday.

"I think T.J., Kazee, they both play with great energy," said Heyward. "I think just having more of our defenders back. I know we lost Minkah (Fitzpatrick) right before the game, but it's a breath of fresh air to have him back. Getting guys like Larry (Ogunjobi) and Myles (Jack) healthy were huge and the more guys we can have to the party, the more we're going to be successful going forward."

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