Oct 292008
 
 October 29, 2008  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 21 – Pittsburgh Steelers 14

By Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Summary: In the Giants’ stiffest test of the rapidly maturing 2008 season, Eli Manning was again at his late game best rallying the Giants from a 14-9 4th quarter deficit to upend the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and finally put a stake in the ground that declared…this Giants team is for real and ready to defend its title to the bitter end.  Amid constant media wariness over the quality of the Giants first 5 wins, New York’s favorite sons again took an opponent’s best punch, stood tall and delivered the knockout when it mattered most.

Coming into the contest, both the Giants and Steelers stood at 5-1, both behind Super Bowl winning 5th year QBs, with punishing ground games and oppressive defenses.  When all was said and done however, only Big Blue stood astride the wreckage that ensued for 3 hours and 19 minutes with their heads held high with the rest of the NFL realizing that these champs are not going quietly.

An auspicious start that saw the Giants down 7-0 after their own three and out and a 4 play 60 yard jaunt by the Steelers gave way to a long battle that would test both teams.  Racing out to that lead, the Steelers defense was as good as advertised and its ground game was chewing up the defending champions, but once the contest settled down, the Giants were able to turn 4 red zone possessions into only 9 points and a tenuous half time lead that would end on the Steelers second possession as WR Nate Washington blew past the Giants’ cover 2 shell for a 1 play 65 yard score that put the Steelers ahead 14-9 with 10:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

After Washington’s TD, the teams traded miscues and accrued a paltry 34 yards on their next 22 plays combined.  Eli and the Giants, then finally manned up, putting together a 12 play 62 yard drive that cut the Steelers lead to 2, and finished the game with a 7 play 53 yard march that once again saw #10 put the ball in the end zone when the Giants needed it the most.  The Giants pass rush was able to seal the deal, snuffing out two Steeler drives late in the 4th quarter with relentless pressure applied on QB Ben Roethlisberger.  When all the dust finally settled, the Giants poured out of Heinz Field with what is becoming a typical big game win, when few pundits gave them a chance against a “superior” opponent.

Quarterbacks: If you judge Eli Manning by box scores, you might as well judge Stevie Wonder by his handwriting because you won’t appreciate the true talent in either case.  Facing the league’s most prolific defense, Manning was average to the guy ho-humming over his fantasy stats, but to a football fan he was a winner yet again.  Eli finished 19-32 for 199 yards and 1 TD which might not be eye popping, but no INTs, no turnovers at all, no sacks and a game winning TD pass against the Steelers front 7…you won’t hear me complain (about Eli anyway, don’t get me started on ATM fees).  Eli was pressured, but not hit, thanks to his offensive line, and Kevin Gilbride’s play calling, but in large part due to his ability to see the pressure and get the ball away before it got home.  Manning ended the Giants first drive in just 3 plays, coming up about a yard short on 3rd on and 9 to Steve Smith.  Manning attempted two passes on the Giants next drive, both from the 2 yard line but to no avail, as S Troy Polamalu and his idiotic lion’s mane of hair roared up to knock the ball away from an open Amani Toomer.  Manning was solid and in command, but it was clear from his checkdowns inside the Steelers’ 20 yard line (one to Derrick Ward, two to Kevin Boss, two incompletes to Steve Smith, and two to Plaxico Burress, none of which got the ball in the end zone) that the Giants were committed to not turning the ball over in the red zone and picking up points wherever they could.

Manning was as usual, at his level headed best late in the game.  On a 4th and 6, after taking a delay penalty on 4th and 1 because he didn’t like the play call, Manning coolly lofted a perfect strike down the right sideline to Amani Toomer for a 30 yard gain that put the Giants in FG range to creep to within 2 points of the lead.  Eli was again on target on the Giants’ game winning drive, going 3 for 4 for 35 yards, with the final 2 yards coming on a play action TD pass to Kevin Boss that put the Giants up 21-14 and effectively ended the game.

Running Backs: Statistically, the worst day of the year for the Giants RBs, but the ability to run the football kept the Steelers defense honest and gave the Giants a puncher’s chance late in the game.  Despite a paltry 2.4 ypc average, both Giant backs that touched the ball (Ahmad Bradshaw was oddly absent from the game) ran hard and ran often with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward combining for 31 carries out of 67 plays on the day.  Jacobs had little room to operate and despite his speed and size was never really able to get moving against a big fast and physical Steelers front.  Jacobs had a rough go of it running ball, being dropped for a 3 yard loss on his first touch, and fumbling at the Pittsburgh 9 on a 1st and goal on the Giants second possession.  Jacobs did make a nifty grab and bowled over half the Steelers defense en route to a 6 yard gain en route to the Giants 3rd FG drive of the game.  I mention it only because I slam Jacobs for every silly drop he has.  Jacobs also delivered a crushing block

Ward fared better overall as he hauled in 5 catches for 43 yards, including a nifty 17 yard middle screen on 3rd and 5 that kept the Giants marching towards their first FG of the game and a solid catch and run for 9 yards on 3rd and 5 on the 3rd scoring drive of the day for the G-men.

No more throwing to Madison Hedgecock, seriously.

Wide Receivers:  Domenik Hixon started in place of Plaxico “IDWTFIW” Burress and made a nice grab on the Giants first scoring drive of the game for 17 yards but was not heard from the rest of the night on offense, in a good way anyway.  Hixon took a page out of Hines Ward’s book on blocking by laying a shot on Steelers’ LB James Farrior, but Hixon did come in a tad late and deserved the flag.  I can’t kill Hixon for it though, anytime the Giants need a play he’s been there this year and last, and every game, he seems to light someone up blocking.  Speaking of Burress, he managed a whopping 3 grabs and 15 yards, way to earn your paycheck.  I will give effort to analyzing your play when you start acting like a professional.  Don’t hold your breath loyal readers.  Steve Smith is a blue blanket.  Eli Manning is Linus.  Take one away from the other and you’d have a problem.  In only his second year out of USC, Smith has become the most sought after 3rd down target on the team, and the guy Eli looks for when he NEEDS yardage in a tight spot.  Smith, similar to Manning won’t wow you on the stat sheet, as he finished with 45 yards on catches, but when Eli and the Giants needed him most, #12 was there.  Witness all of Smith’s catches to see his importance to this offense: 8 yard catch on 3rd and 9 on the Giants first drive that fell JUST shy of a first down, a 12 yard grab on 3rd and 5 at the Steeler 21 yard line on the Giants first scoring drive, and a 25 yard grab on the Giants game winning drive on a 3rd and 7 at midfield.  Smith did have an uncharacteristic drop on a sure first down pass from Manning on a 2nd and 8 from the Steelers 17 yard line.  Amani Toomer made the catch of the day, hauling in a 30 yard Willie Mays type over the shoulder catch on 4th and 6 when the Giants were driving for the game winner.  I have called for Hixon to take his starting job in recent weeks, but Toomer is time and time again a key cog late in games because more than anything, Eli trusts him to be where he should be and Toomer always makes the big grab.  If only he didn’t spend so much time in hobby shops, he could be really good! (Author’s note: That’s a BBI Corner Forum inside joke!  For all of you non message board types, it’s worth your time to hang out there a bit and get involved in some great discussion about your Giants.)

Tight Ends: Kevin Boss had his busiest day of the year, coming down with 4 catches for 34 yards and the game winning TD catch from Manning late in the 4th quarter.  Boss had a fantastic grab on the Giants first scoring drive that only picked up one yard, but was able to make a juggling grab as FS Ryan Clark was bearing down on him.  Boss had a nice 15 yard run and catch on the Giants’ second scoring drive of the game.  Some people insist that Kevin Boss has a long way to go before he’s a good or even solid blocker, but I beg each and every one of you who doubts him to watch every running play we run and chart how he does.  Everyone nitpicks on the few bad plays that may jump out, but Boss has come a long way since his rookie year and even the preseason of this year.  On a Jacobs 13 yard run down the Steeler 2, Boss had a perfect seal on DE Aaron Smith…again DEFENSIVE END Aaron Smith, not LB, not DB, not 3rd string special teamer.  Michael Matthews was shut out on the stat sheet and did miss a block badly on Jacobs’ first run of the game, but once again, the blocking TE from Georgia Tech proved his value with another solid blocking performance when Eli and his offensive mates needed it most versus a talented and aggressive Steelers defense.

O-Line: It was a love hate relationship against the Steelers for the Giants’ move ‘em out gang this week.  I love how they pass blocked, hated the run blocking, but just like the entire team this group fought and scrapped from whistle to whistle and most importantly kept their best player off the grass all game long.  I do have to take issue with the Giants’ 3rd drive of the game.  2nd and goal from the 1 yard line after an offside penalty on LB Lamar Woodley and the OL fails to punch it in 3 straight times with a 265 hammer at their backs.  OC Shaun O’Hara got absolutely flattened on Jacobs’ called back TD run by DT Casey Hampton on 3rd down.  But the boys up front had a chance to redeem themselves on the next play but according the officials they failed to do so with Jacobs coming up inches short, but from overhead shots it really looked like Jacobs broke the plane.

Overall the OL was not able to keep the Steelers big down lineman at bay and create the type of space they usually do to get themselves and their backs to the 2nd level.  Give credit where its due though, this group also kept a frenzied blitz at bay long enough to give its QB time to orchestrate 5 scoring drives, and most importantly the game winning TD pass.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

Right off the bat the Steelers did what good teams do; they attacked the Giants’ weak spots on defense.  That would be, covering the TE down the field and defending the run on the edges.  On the first play of the game though, a Ben Roethlisberger incompletion, was caused by pressure DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Fred Robbins, on what turned out to be a preview of what was to come.  Heath Miller was able to nab a 22 yard pass and 2 plays later RB Mewelde Moore popped outside right for a 32 yard TD run which I’m sure initially had many Giant fans worrying.  According to Troy Aikman they key “Block” was by TE Heath Miller, though the 10 times I re-watched it told me, Heath Miller had his hands hooked under DE Justin Tuck’s pads which against most teams would be a hold, but I won’t pull a Ben Roethlisberger and blame the zebras.  Not to worry though, as the Giants stuffed the Steelers on their 3rd possession inside their own 1 yard line to get the Giants the ball back with great field possession.  Tuck was able to shove TE Heath Miller aside, slant inside and stuff Mewelde Moore on a text book stop in the running game.  Tuck made 5 stops and 1 sack, and just like his DL counterparts, was pushing the Steelers’ OL back into Roethlisberger’s face all day long.  DE Dave Tollefson gives, dare I say, maximum effort which usually means “untalented” but Tollefson has improved greatly from week one and was able to chip in with solid pressure and one sack.

Kiwanuka has his best game as a pro, racking up 3 sacks, 5 total tackles and forcing one fumble.  My man Mike Garafolo at The Star Ledger predicted big things for Kiwi once his ankle healed and indeed he was right, as Kiwanuka was clearly the star of the defense against Pittsburgh, racing around RT Max Starks, and playing the run as well as he’s played it in his Giants career.  Danny Clark showed up with 5 stops, MLB Antonio Pierce rebounded from an uneven performance in his last game to collect 7 stops and force a fumble.  Pierce might be on the downside of his career, but he can still spearhead this run defense when he needs to as evidenced by his masterful orchestration of the Giants on the field defense on Sunday.  Rookie LB Bryan Kehl, the player with the most athletic ability of any LB on this roster, showcased his talent with a solid 4 tackle performance, no glaring mistakes (big for a rookie) and a heady interception off a James Butler hit.  Kehl is coming folks, I’ve been telling you that for weeks, and he is coming…just wait.

Defensive Backs: Kevin Dockery got the game started off on the wrong foot, by failing to seal the edge on Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard TD scamper on the Steelers’ 4th play from scrimmage.  Dockery simply overcommitted and took himself out of the play before the defense knew what hit them.  S James Butler was reportedly upset over surrendering Nate Washington’s 65 yard TD catch, but Butler should take heart, his play over a majority of the game was outstanding.  Butler ended the Steelers 2nd possession after 3 plays, by making a leaping grab on an ill advised out route thrown by Roethlisberger.  Corey Webster had another good football game, coming up with an INT and being all over the field again anytime his man came near the football.  A Pro Bowl bid has to be seriously considered for Webster for anyone paying attention in the NFC.  Webster did get bailed out by a holding call in which Nate Washington FLEW by him for a negated TD.

Kenny Phillips, you have now officially re-earned your nickname, but it won’t be “Bud” anymore.  I loved “The Cosby Show” and your pre-season nickname was fun for a few weeks, but it’s time for you to move into the big time with your teeth rattling shot on RB Mewelde Moore.  Chances are you’ll have 29 nicknames before I decide on one I like, and hell I may go back to “Bud” but this week your Delta Tau Chi name is…Thumper.  Yes the cute little bunny from Bambi who was too rambunctious for his own good, but the one you never really wanted to kick you.  By you I mean any cartoon character in the vicinity, which none of us are, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities.  Phillips, much like rookie counterpart Bryan Kehl, is starting to round into form as the rookie class of 2007 did.  The best is yet to come, but this Sunday sure was a fun preview.  Phillips made two outstanding open field tackles, first on a 2nd and 4 at the Giants 38 as the Steelers were driving toward the end of the first half and again on WR Limas Sweed, who was initially covered by the blitzing Corey Webster.  Phillips slammed into Moore on a 3rd and 5 play that was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but why bring the referees into this?  This was a good game played by two proud teams, there is no point in ruining it by talking about the horrid, inexcusable, lackluster, “are you fooking blind?” officiating.  I was ok with it really; if it was the aforementioned Stevie Wonder calling the game.

Special Teams: Domenik Hixon made what appeared to be a big special teams play, returning a Steeler punt 28 yards to the Pittsburgh 19 after the Giants turned it over on downs on their previous possession.  As was the theme for 3 quarters though, the offense tripped over itself in the red zone and was forced to rely on the 44 year old legs of K John Carney.  Enough cannot be said about Carney, whose only miss this season has been a blocked FG.  Carney was a perfect 4/4 on the day, and got the Giants their only first half points despite numerous attempts inside the 20 for the G-men.  Given the woeful ability to score TDs from deep inside opponent’s territory, Carney just might be the most valuable Giant thus far this season.  Ok weekly review fans (Daniel in MI this means you), P Jeff Feagles is really good.  I mean super duper terrific happy fun time good.  Feagles averaged 41 yards on 5 punts and when the defense needed to back the Steelers up the most, the old man responded with a 24 yard beauty that pinned Roethlisberger and his mates at their own 10 yard line with almost no chance to march the 90 yards needed to tie the game.

Coaching: Head coach Tom Coughlin once again suspended WR Plaxico Burress for a team transgression, and it did not hurt the Giants on the field or off.  Coughlin’s rules are now respected by the entire team (almost), and this group plays through the whistle and gives every ounce of effort they have inside the white lines.  It’s often said that a team will reflect its coach’s personality after time, and as I’ve mentioned before, this team is a carbon copy of their head coach.  Steady, consistent, aggressive, and unfailingly optimistic about its chances to find a way to win.

Offensive play caller Kevin Gilbride will be skewered more than a Spiedie at a Binghamton Summer BBQ, but rest assured, Gilbride is making the right calls.  Fans bellyache when he passes too much and runs too much, but the fact remains his play calling keeps teams off balance and has this team averaging over 27 points per game, good for 6th in the NFL.  The Giants also lead the league in rushing, and despite only a 2.4 yard per carry average, Gilbride never abandoned the run against the Steelers.  Even in a game against a blitzing team that stuffed the ground game, Gilbride called 35 runs to 32 passes and with the game on the line, again found the right combination for Eli Manning to lead his team to victory.

Steve Spagnuolo’s defense picked up 5 sacks, scooped up 4 INTs, held the Steelers to 1/10 on 3rd downs and kept the black and gold to 249 total yards for the game.  Just like last season, his defense is improving as its becoming more cohesive, and honestly, the best is most likely yet to come.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Picking Eli would be easy, but my sentimental pick is DE Mathias Kiwanuka, who picked up 3 sacks and played the game of his short NFL career against the vaunted Steelers offensive line.  Kiwanuka was cut down by a cheap shot in college, saw his draft stock fall, got switched to LB after playing DE all his life, broke his leg in 2007 and missed the Giants Super Bowl run, and then he gets moved BACK to DE after Osi Umenyiora was lost for year.  That not enough?  On the final play of this season’s opening game, Redskins LT Chris Samuels dove at Kiwi’s knees and sprained his ankle.  Congrats to the lanky one, #97, for fighting through injuries, position changes and plenty of doubt to notch a 3 sack game and be a true difference maker on this defense.  For your outstanding courage Mathias, you get a “Rocky” lunchbox and an old Betamax copy of “The Wizard of Oz” (pay attention to the Lion).

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – The referees.  Wow.  You guys…you.  Wow.

  1. 3rd Down, Giants hold – Ticky tack personal foul on Kenny Phillips for actually trying to make play on a 3rd down the Giants stopped
  2. A blatant neutral zone infraction on Jacobs’ two failed goal line attempts.
  3. Ticky tack holding call on S Michael Johnson on a punt return when the man who was “held” was actually bumped with his toe on the white line.
  4. 3rd Down, Giants convert – Kevin Boss called for a hold on Lamar Woodley that negated a first down run when it was CLEAR as day that it was a clean block and Woodley pulled a Keanu Reeves and flopped to the ground.  (Keanu Reeves is “Joey” for “bad acting”)
  5. 3rd Down, Giants are held – A failed, you guessed it 3rd down conversion for the Giants, helped by CB Deshea Townsend pulling a WR’s jersey almost clean off, but apparently that’s OK in Steeltown.
  6. TD Run by Mewelde Moore – Tuck was held clearly by TE Heath Miller, no call.
  7. 2nd and Goal – Ike Taylor holds at the goal line, no call.

Refereeing is at an all time low in the NFL, and yes I’m biased on some of these calls, but the Steelers got the shaft on some calls too.  It’s almost Halloween; watch out for flaming bags on your front porches you blind as a bat bunch of buffoons.  Alliteration rules.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, October 26, 2008)
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