Mike Tomlin on the Saints

Coach Mike Tomlin takes a look at this week's opponent – the New Orleans Saints

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Q. How will Aaron Smith's absence limit Dick LeBeau's defensive scheme against the New Orleans Saints.

A. It doesn't limit us schematically in any way, but we acknowledge the quality player that Aaron is and what he's capable of doing. The job will get done in a different manner, not as dominant as Aaron is and not as consistent as he is, but it won't change us schematically.

Q. Ziggy Hood takes Smith's spot in the starting lineup. Is he ahead of the learning curve, or will that be determined by his performance vs. the Saints?

A. You know me. The proof is in the pudding. The tape he puts out based on how he plays vs. the Saints will give a solid assessment of where he is.

Q. The Steelers defense has limited opponents to 36.6 percent conversion rate on third downs. Is that a key to this game since the Saints lead the NFL in third-down efficiency?

A. It's a key, and it's a key because you don't want to give the Saints offense three more snaps. We got to get off the field when we get the opportunity, because when you give an offense like that an opportunity with a new set of downs chances are they're going to ring the scoreboard up on you.

Q. Trai Essex has returned from his ankle injury. How does that change the rotation along the offensive line?

A. We're not opposed to rotating offensive linemen. We've rotated a bunch this year. We're going to try to keep those men fresh, and we believe fresh bodies are the best bodies.

Q. How has Ben Roethlisberger been able to hit what seems to be midseason form after only two regular season games?

A. He's in great physical condition, and he was in training camp and the preseason. He continued that in his absence. He's thrown the ball, and he's really sharp from that standpoint. Quite frankly, Ben is a veteran player and he quickly re-acclimates himself to the game of football and what it is that we're doing. It's a big part of his life, and it's similar to getting back on a bicycle and riding it again.

Q. Drew Brees' passer rating on third downs is 109.8, which is 19 points higher than his overall passer rating. Why is that?

A. The Saints are very good schematically on third downs, and they put guys in their proper places to take advantage of coverage. He's inclusive in terms of throwing the ball to all of his eligible receivers. All the guys are viable guys, and he's keeps defenses off-balance because of that. He also changes the launch point. There are some misdirection passes, some pocket movement, some quick game, some screens. They really do a nice job – him and Sean Payton – of keeping defenses off balance.

Q. The Steelers have three players with double-digit receptions so far this season. The Saints have eight. What's the difference?

A. Again it's because Brees is spreading the ball around, and he has 2,000 yards passing. Their game is predicated on what they do in the passing game, no question. A lot of that has to do with their personality, but a lot of it also is due to Reggie Bush being injured as well as Pierre Thomas. They're utilizing their eligibles and spreading the ball around and playing to their strengths. And no question the passing game is one of their strengths.

Q. Is defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis their best defensive player?

A. I think they have several guys. Jonathan Vilma is a very savvy, veteran linebacker in the middle and he's very rarely out of place. Defensive end Will Smith is a Pro Bowl caliber player, and they also have the wily veteran Darren Sharper coming back into the secondary. They have a number of good players, but Sedrick Ellis is definitely a talented young man up front for them.

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