As of this writing, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants is slated to kick-off in MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon as scheduled. Not to get all soap boxy on yinz but that’s kind of insane. While MetLife has a generator, word is the surrounding area is still without public transportation. The New York/New Jersey area is only now beginning to dig their way out of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. To play a football game amongst such chaos is nuts.
To further the craziness, word out of NY is many Giants players have been living at the Giant’s training complex because their homes have been amongst those without power. From our side, the Steelers’ team hotel is also powerless so the team has made the call to forgo flying in the night before and will instead fly in on Sunday morning, go directly to the stadium, play the game and head home. Craziness.
Okay, hopping off the box now. So what might we see when this game kicks off?
STEELERS DEFENSE vs GIANTS OFFENSE
In my piece about Eli Manning this morning, I called him Elite Eli. The joke is in reference to the always obnoxious NY media who asked Eli before last season if he considered himself an elite QB and he said yes. They snickered at the answer but the laughing stopped when he led the team to a second Super Bowl victory with a second epic last second comeback victory of the Patriots. Eli had his ups and downs his first few seasons in the league but he has definitely blossomed in to a truly elite QB.
For proof, you need not look any further than the focus of the Giants offense. Much like here in Pittsburgh, in Eli’s early years the offense relied on a strong running game and a conservative passing game. The past couple years, the running attack has dropped off considerably while the Giants put the game in Eli’s hands. And he’s responded. Last year was Manning’s third straight 4,000+ yard game (in fact, he was less than a 100 yards short of 5,000) season.
Manning is on pace to surpass that mark yet again this year. What’s more, he’s doing it with a constantly rotating cast of receivers. He isn’t much like his brother Peyton except in one regard. They both have the knack of making any receiver look like a superstar. The 2007 Champion Giants featured Plaxico Burress and Amani Toome. The 2011 G-Men starred Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. Manningham is gone but the passing game keeps on rolling with Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Domenik Hixon has more than replaced Manningham while Cowboys castoff TE Martellus Bennent has emerged as a red zone threat.
The Giants are a passing team. As such, they feature a duo of backs toting the rock. Ahmed Bradshaw is the nominal starter but he’s battled injury this season. Back-up Andre Brown has notched a 100 yard game in his absence. David Wilson is the change of pace back. All three are capable of catching balls out of the backfield, as is perhaps the best fullback in the league, former Pitt star Henry Hynoski.
The Steelers must must must control Eli Manning if they have any hopes of winning this game. The good news is Ryan Clark has practiced normally and would seem clear to play on Sunday after leaving the Washington game with a concussion. Clark has been a dominant force for a secondary that is statistically ranked first in the NFL. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis have quietly strung together a couple strong games and it’ll be imperative they bring their A game to New Jersey.
The Giants boast perhaps the best O line in football. The passing game is so effective because Eli is seldom touched. LaMarr Woodley‘s hammy has been acting up and even if he plays, his effectiveness will be limited. No matter, the Steelers haven’t been getting the to QB much even with him and James Harrison finally on the field together anyway. The team doesn’t need to sack Eli or pick off his passes (although that would be nice) but they can’t let him set up a hammock and take a nap in the pocket either. If they can at least rush him a little, it would go a long way to disrupting their offense.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs GIANTS DEFENSE
This is a bad match-up for the Steelers. Our offensive line struggles against teams with good defensive lines and the Giants have perhaps the best D-line in football. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul are arguably the most dangerous front four since the glory days of the Steel Curtain. Yes, they’re that good. They’re so good, I didn’t even mention a guy like Linval Joseph, who rotates at DT and has more sacks than anybody on the Steelers.
Our o-line has done fantastic work the past few weeks. Marcus Gilbert is likely out another week which I wouldn’t ordinarily care about because Mike Adams has done a fantastic job in his absence. I would rather have an experienced guy in there against that d-line but it’s not like Gilbert is a 10 year vet. The o-line, who are always a little fired up thanks to hotheads like Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey, have extra motivation this week after Justin Tuck told ESPN that they’ve only played well because they’ve gotten away with a ton of holding. Hey, as Jesse Ventura once wisely said, “it’s only cheating if you get caught.”
Ben Roethlisberger may be thanking the stars for the dink and dunk offense come game time. The best way to combat a hellacious pass rush is to get the ball out quick. Todd Haley’s offense is nothing if not quick. Mike Wallace has been chirping to the media about the lack of long bombs but those of us who remember Bruce Arians insanely dialing up deep ball after deep ball while Ben takes hit after hit prefer this method. Besides, the best defense is a ball control offense.
The Giants don’t have a great secondary. Some point to their 11 interceptions but when you play turnover machines like Michael Vick and Tony Romo (who’s gifted them 6 of the 11), the numbers will be skewed. There will be plays to be made against a secondary that’s in the bottom half of the league in yards given up.
Who will run the ball for the Steelers is a little murky. Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall have been limited at practice. I suspect the starter will be a game time decision. Either way, Mike Tomlin will likely deactivate one or the other and then blame their injury. Isaac Redman seems good to go so he’ll likely back-up whomever starts.
This game isn’t a make or break week for the Steelers. At the same time, this team really needs a signature win over a quality opponent. The past couple weeks we’ve seen an upswing in their play as they’ve done a good job against some capable opposition. But this week we face not only a playoff caliber team but a championship level club. A win this week will firmly establish the Steelers belong in that conversation as well.