Pittsburgh Steelers 24 (2-0) – New York Giants 17 (1-1)
by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com
Game Summary: For the first time, the New York Giants took the field at New Meadowlands Stadium as the home team. I’m a homer, I admit it. But frankly the New Meadowlands Stadium looks much better lit up in blue that it does in green. In fact, on TV, it looks like a cleaner, sharper Giants Stadium. Unfortunately, the Giants were once again severely undermanned and outgunned going into the game, specifically on offense. Injuries are really starting to take their toll on the Giants and one has to wonder if there will be enough time between now and Opening Day for the team to build any type of cohesiveness.
It appeared early on that neither team was very interested in playing on Saturday night, as they combined to generate just 47 total yards in the first quarter. Again, that was combined, folks. The most exciting action in the first quarter was the undercard between WR Hakeem Nicks and CB Ike Taylor who decided to trade blows (with helmets on…duh…) on just the fourth play of the game. Both were subsequently ejected. It didn’t really seem like it, but the time of possession battle was quite close in the first half, and both teams finally got moving in the second quarter. There were positives and negatives on both sides of the ball for the Giants on Saturday night. First and maybe foremost QB Rhett Bomar played the entire game, gaining extremely valuable experience. Bomar played as expected, a little below average. He had a few good moments, mostly in the running game where he runs quite fearlessly. Frankly, he needs to learn to get down and stop risking injury. Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown both ran the ball well. Other highlights were seen on defense, where the DE’s (particularly Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora) played well. DE Chris Canty had a solid game. The new safeties continue to play well.
It’s hard to imagine, but it could be that the Giants were tired coming into this game, seeing as they played on Monday night in an emotional (even though it was preseason) game against the Jets. Overall, the performance was pretty lackluster. Tired, out of sync, missing too many starters, whatever. The Giants have shown little fire in the first couple of preseason games.
Offense: The Giants were without two of their big guns on offense as Eli Manning was out due to the head laceration hr suffered last week and then prior to the opening kickoff, Brandon Jacobs was scratched with a stiff neck. Adding insult to injury, starting wide out Hakeem Nicks was lost to ejection on the fourth play of the game. Those losses compounded the fact that the starting offense line was the same as last week, with William Beatty starting at LT, David Diehl inside at LG, Shaun O’Hara at C, Guy Whimper at RG and Kareem McKenzie at RT. LG Rich Suebert and RG Chris Snee were still out of commission, though starting TE Kevin Boss and starting WR Steve Smith returned to the lineup. QB Rhett Bomar started at QB, and D.J. Ware was the spot starter for Jacobs.
The Giants offense played in fits and spurts during the first half. During their six first half drives, only two gained any significant yardage and all of them were short in terms of both time of possession and total plays. No drive used more than 3:28 of clock, and the number of plays for each were 5, 4, 5, 7, 3 and 7 respectively. If not for an amazing catch by Steve Smith on the Giants’ fourth drive, this could have been even worse. The Giants only held the ball twice in the third quarter, going three and out on their first drive, sandwiched between two long Pittsburgh touchdowns. Over the first 12+ minutes of the 3rd quarter, the offense gained just two yards on three plays. Finally, the Giants got going in the fourth quarter and pulled the score closer by scoring the last 10 points of the game.
The Quarterbacks: With starter Eli Manning and 2nd QB Jim Sorgi sitting this one out with injuries, the entire offense had to be shouldered by second year man and third string signal caller Rhett Bomar. Bomar had his moments. Overall, he played a fairly innocuous game, completing 13 of 26 passes for just 167 yards no touchdowns and an interception. To be fair, Bomar was running for his life behind a work-in-progress offensive line. Several times, including his 45 yard completion to Steve Smith, Bomar let the ball go at the last second before getting popped. Overall, Bomar was sacked twice, scrambled to avoid sacks twice, and was hit on five other plays. That’s nine hits on 27 drop backs. Not a good ratio.
As for his passing, often times he was not on target with his receivers. Several times he overthrew open receivers and on a couple other occasions his receiver was obviously not where he assumed he would be. A prime example of this was on his interception just before the half. Manningham sat on his route and Bomar (under no pressure) side armed the ball and led Manningham instead of just playing pitch and catch. Mario tried to make a play on the ball, but tipped it into the arms of a waiting Pittsburgh CB. Bomar is tough, he’s smart, and he has a live arm.
Bomar needs time to learn, and as has been mentioned on The Corner Forum, if he’s exposed on the practice squad it’s highly likely he’ll be signed away. The battle for the number 2 QB has become very interesting, so much so that Jim Sorgi plans to push his scheduled return up and play in the final preseason game against New England.
One more thing about Bomar that should be noted is that he’s very deceptive on delayed handoffs, ala Tony Romo. He keeps his head up and looking downfield, as if he’s setting up for a pass then quickly gives the ball to the back. Bradshaw scored on one of those plays, and before the end of the half HB Andre Brown took off for 21 yards from the same formation.
The Running Backs: HB D.J. Ware received the surprise start following a pregame stiff neck suffered by Brandon Jacobs. Ware gained 10 yards on 4 carries and had a nice catch and run for 9 yards on his only pass reception. Unfortunately, Ware didn’t get to continue his game as he suffered a concussion covering a punt return early in the first half. Ware is one of four Giants running backs that are in the mix for playing time, and another injury that keeps him out a significant amount of time will hurt his chances.
HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a very good game on Saturday night. Bradshaw showed great vision and cut back ability on two occasions where he avoided pursuit to gain positive yards where there were seemingly none to be had. On another occasion, he turned the ball up field and plowed right over safety Troy Polamalu for good yardage. Bradshaw didn’t factor in the passing game, but that’s only if you don’t count the fact that Bradshaw has improved in both his blitz pickups and downfield blocking for other receivers. Bradshaw ended the game with 28 yards on 6 carries and a very nifty 9 yard touchdown run where he outran the safety to the corner on a well blocked delay.
HB Andre Brown seems to be all the way back, even mentally, from his Achilles tendon tear from last season. Brown looks explosive, quick and powerful, carrying 13 times (doubling that of ever other Giant) for 67 yards. Brown also didn’t factor in the passing game. As with anyone with the limited experience he has, Brown’s playing time will be predicated on whether he can factor into the protections on passing downs.
Gartrell Johnson managed 9 yards on 4 carries to round out the Giants’ running attack. On the Giants’ field goal drive in the fourth quarter, Johnson whiffed on a blitz pick up, and it was bad, causing Bomar to get sacked and putting the Giants in a third and very long situation.
FB Madison Hedgecock was lauded after the game by HC Tom Coughlin for becoming more aware and doing better with his assignments. Nothing, other than his poor special teams play, stood out during the game.
It’s interesting that with a very raw QB in the game, the running backs were only targeted three times on the night (D.J. Ware once and Gartrell Johnson twice). One would think that easing Bomar in with quick wheel routes and flares would have been more logical. The Giants really need to get the backs more involved in the passing game.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The Giants had their entire complement of wide receivers available on Saturday, but lost Hakeem Nicks after only four plays to ejection. Derek Hagan came on to take Nicks’ place and caught two passes for 10 yards. He was completely blown up on a bubble screen due to no fault of his own. That play has not worked for the Giants in quite some time.
Welcome back WR Steve Smith and congratulations on the play of the night. Smith was targeted 4 times and caught 2 passes for 53 yards, including a sensational grab on the first Giants touchdown drive where he took what seemed to be a sure interception away from the Steeler defender. Mario Manningham, for the second week in a row, was targeted 6 times but was again only able to come down with one reception for 11 yards.
Sinorice Moss caught a beautifully thrown slant for 11 yards and a first down on the Giants’ second touchdown drive.
Last week’s Player of the Game, Victor Cruz, caught 2 of 4 passes thrown his way for 30 yards.
TE Kevin Boss was back playing for the first time following his ankle surgery and he looked quite good blocking in the running game. He made a key seal block on the 9 yard touchdown run by Bradshaw. Boss didn’t have a ball thrown his way, however Scott Chandler, Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe all had passes thrown to them. Beckum, who is panned for his lack of effectiveness as a blocker, had a devastating lead block on a Steeler CB during the bubble screen to Hagan. Beckum got out quickly and planted the CB, but unfortunately C Adam Koets didn’t get over in time to engage the safety and Hagan was dropped like a rock.
The Offensive Line: For the second week in a row, the patchwork starting offensive line showed little cohesiveness, especially in the passing game. The Steelers didn’t blitz half as often as the Jets did last week, but their twists and stunts confused both sets of offensive lines all night long. LG David Deihl was abused on two passing plays that nearly got Bomar injured. As mentioned, QB Rhett Bomar was hit 33% of the times he dropped back. It remains to be seen, with the recent addition of Shane Andrews, just what the makeup of this line is going to be. Adam Koets, he of the three games worth of experience in four years, was horrible at C and now Rich Suebert is taking snaps at C in practice. Backup OL Guy Whimper was once again pretty solid at RG. It’s probably safe to say that Whimper is no longer the future at LT for the Giants, but he can play guard and in a pinch can play tackle. Mitch Petrus got into the game late and looked agile and powerful on a nice pull where he planted the safety. If LG Dennis Landout had maintained his block on the right defensive end, Gartrell Johnson would have had a hole the size of Rhode Island to run through.
The Defense: The Giants were playing as close to full strength as they’ve been in just about a year, as starting safety Kenny Phillips and linebacker Keith Bulluck took their first snaps of the season. The starting linebackers were Jonathan Goff in the middle flanked by Clint Sintim and Michael Boley. From what we heard on Wednesday, however, it appears that Sintim may be the odd man out with Bulluck taking over on the weak side. (Or strong side, as apparently DC Perry Fewell calls it.) There’s no way to know what’s really going on, however, because Coach Tom Coughlin praised Sintim for “attacking the line of scrimmage” during the game. For a detailed explanation of how the linebacking corps seems to be shaping up, please read this write-up from Ledger-Star reporter Mike Garafolo which explains the new terminology and philosophy that DC Fewell wants to employ.
The linebackers are now being asked to attack the line of scrimmage to get to the same level as the defensive linemen, depending on the type of technique the particular lineman in front of them is playing. It’s apparently designed to take a second crease away from the opposing running backs.
The Giants defense once again played it close to the vest, but there were more stunts and blitzes than last week. The Giants sent the safeties in on the QB on a couple of occasions, and Boley was in the backfield a couple of times as well. The first team defense held Pittsburgh to just 91 yards on their first four series, allowing only a field goal over that span.
Front 7: How cool was it to see the speed and explosiveness back in the steps of both DE Osi Umenyiora and DE Justin Tuck? Throw in the outstanding play of Mathais Kiwanuka and it appears the Giants top three DEs are back in business. All three got very good push up field and disrupted the backfield for most of the time they were in the game. Tuck and Kiwanuka combined for five QB hits, and Tuck’s stop of an end around by Antwan Randle El for a 9 yard loss set the tone for the starting defense. Umenyiora also gets credit for collapsing the pocket from his end, causing RB Rashard Mendenhall to move right into Rolle who dropped him for a loss. This is the kind of pressure that’s needed to if the Giants are to have success on defense this season. Rookie Jason Pierre-Paul was nearly invisible most of the night.
As good as the DEs, were, once again the DTs left something to be desired once Barry Cofeild and Chris Canty were out of the game. Canty, who is now nursing an injured groin, was a monster in the middle and looked like the guy the Giants were hoping for when they signed the former Cowboy last year. Last week, Rocky Bernard didn’t play very well and there was nothing that would have led anyone to believe that would change. But things did change, as Bernard suddenly got stout and made two stops at the goal line at the end of the first half, saving at least three points and possible seven. Later, however, when combined in the middle with Jay Alford, the Steelers ran straight up the middle for huge yardage. Rookie Linval Joseph also got pushed around a lot in the second half as well. To say that there is a fairly dramatic drop off after the starting DTs is not a stretch. Joseph, the rookie, may be the best of the bunch after Cofield and Canty and he may even displace Cofield before seasons end if some of these guys don’t step up soon.
As noted above, it’s very difficult to figure out just what the Giants are doing with their linebackers. Keith Bullock made his debut, receiving 6 snaps, and had an outstanding stop on Mendenhall, dropping him in his tracks after a three yard gain. Jonathan Goff appears to have won the starting MIKE job as Bulluck has been told he will be working on the outside. It’s kind a mystery, however, as Goff did not get in on a single tackle during the game. Gerris Wilkinson had another solid game and apparently didn’t suffer any injury of any kind. That’s two games in a row, and I believe a personal record.
Rookie Phillip Dillard was in on a few plays, but he gets caught in the wash a bit now and then, and he also appears to ‘guess’ wrong on some running plays, leaving what appears to be his area of contain and leaving a giant hole in his vacated area.
Rookie 6th round draft pick Adrian Tracy had a spectacular night, constantly attacking the line of scrimmage. Tracy made 9 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss.
The starting 7 played good football against a potent Pittsburgh offense. The defensive line played the best they’ve played in many, many games, which is a very encouraging sign.
Defensive Backs: CB Corey Webster was back at his spot on the field and made his presence known early by staying on top of a Big Ben pass and intercepting it on the Steelers second drive. Antrel Rolle was again a huge force in the middle, and it’s apparent just how huge an upgrade he’s going to be in this defense. Deon Grant again played well. Unfortunately, Sha’reff Rashad suffered a minor concussion after getting the start due to Rolle’s tardiness to a meeting earlier in the week. Safety Mike Greco didn’t play well at all, blowing his assignment and allowing WR Mike Wallace (who blew by CB Bruce Johnson as if he were standing still) to exploit the middle deep part of the field for a long touchdown. The most welcome site for all Giants fans on Saturday night was the return of “Superman,” Kenny Phillips. Phillips was in for only 6 plays, but he was in. He wasn’t a factor in any of the snaps, but that doesn’t matter as he came out of the game with no issues and looks to play a significantly larger role in the game this weekend against Baltimore.
4th corner Bruce Johnson had another very eventful night, allowing the long TD to Wallace but breaking up a pass that could have gone for a touchdown to Randle El right before the half.
Special Teams: P Matt Dodge was better on Saturday, but he still lacks consistency. Speculation is that the Giants will soon start looking for a replacement for the late round draft choice, which begs the question, what will the Giants do for a holder if he does go? So far, Dodge has performed quite well in that department. He’s made every play, and there have been a couple of dicey snaps in there.
K Lawrence Tynes had a very good night kicking off. Though he didn’t have a touchback, two were into the endzone and should have resulted in poor field position for the Steelers, but the coverage teams are still horrible. Even with two kickoffs into the endzone, the Steelers average starting field position was the 25 yard line. The Giants average return was only 17.5 yards, resulting in an average starting position at the 23 yard line.
The kickoff return game was better, but there still seems to be very little enthusiasm in the blocking department. Andre Brown seems to be the heir apparent to Dominak Hixon, as it doesn’t appear Gartrell Johnson will make the team. Brown’s returns were adequate, but they need to be better.
In the punt return game, Aaron Ross nearly broke one for a touchdown, but reserve CB Courtney Brown could not move out the Pittsburgh punter. Still, it was an encouraging sign until it was discovered that Ross suffered a plantar fascia tear in his foot that will keep him out at least 10 days (yeah, right…10 days…).
Victor Cruz had a costly muff after trying to field a punt at his one six yard line very late in the game. The ball, which would have reached the endzone, rolled out of bounds at the 1 yard line and effectively ended the Giants chance for an attempt at a tying touchdown. It’s a rookie mistake, and one that cannot be repeated. Cruz has got to contribute on specials if he wants to make the team and making a mistake that costs your team 19 yards of field position while needing a touchdown to tie in the last minutes of a game isn’t going to win him any fans on the coaching staff.
Coaching: There isn’t much to say here other than it was curious that the Giants didn’t design a few plays to get Bomar out of the pocket and/or allow him to get some quick passes out to his backs early to slow down the Pittsburgh pass rush.
Offensive Player of the Game: This week’s award goes to second year HB Andre Brown for leading the Giants with 61 yards on 13 carries for a 4.7 yards per carry average and one touchdown. Brown also chipped in with 55 return yards.
Defensive Player of the Game: The Defensive End trio of Mathais Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora share the award for teaming up to give the Steelers starting offense fits over their first four series. Honorable mention to 6th round draft pick Adrian Tracy who was all over the field and led the Giants with 9 tackles.