At a time of the year when shopping lists are starting to become significant items in households from Atlanta to Seattle, cornerback William Gay has in mind a different type of list for the Steelers' defense entering the five-game finishing kick of the regular season.
It's a to-do list that's short, sweet, and critical to late-season success, Gay maintained.
"Obey our defense. Obey Coach LeBeau. Obey what Coach Lake teaches on the practice field and just play within that," said Gay in reference to the teachings of coordinator Dick LeBeau and secondary coach Carnell Lake."
The Steelers will be tested along those lines on Sunday by a New Orleans Saints' offense that ranks first in the NFL in first downs (290), first in third-down efficiency (50.7 percent), second in total offense (433.6 yards per game) and third in passing offense (308.8).
Attention to detail and to opponents' tendencies and keys aren't new components to the Steelers' way of doing things on defense. But as the games seemingly take on more significance down the stretch, the stakes are seemingly raised.
And there's seemingly more of a price to pay for mistakes made by compromising the structure of the defense in an effort to "make a play," something Gay said the Steelers can't afford to do down the stretch given their current circumstances.
"That's being undisciplined if you break away," he cautioned.
Gay said he was simply following the plan on Nov. 17 at Tennessee in a game that saw him run into the same end zone on two different occasions – once to finish a first quarter pick-six and once in pursuit of Titans wide receiver Nate Washington on what became an 80-yard touchdown pass.
"That was a great play by the Tennessee Titans," Gay said of the quick-strike touchdown. "Completing the pass and scoring, great catch and great throw."
The interception return produced Gay's second touchdown of the season and the third scored by the Steelers' defense.
"We just wanted to make more plays than they did," Gay said. "We're just glad we have seven wins instead of (a) 4-7 (record)."
The plan down the stretch is to produce more big plays – either takeaways, or timely sacks that help the defense get off the field, or through the combination of pressure and coverage that leads to the incomplete passes that help get the defense off the field – but to accomplish it by playing sound assignment football for as long as it takes.
"Teamwork, team wins, that's what it'll come down to in late-November, December football," Gay said.