By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: Sitting at 6-2 with a 2.5 game lead over the Eagles and Cowboys, there is a natural tendency to feel good about the position the Giants are in. But in one week, a 2.5 game lead can turn to a 1.5 game lead, and in two weeks, a 2.5 game lead can turn to a 0.5 game lead heading into a bye.
As we Giants’ fans have seen in recent years, a fast start guarantees nothing.
The wins over the Redskins and Cowboys were huge, but the Giants must keep the momentum going and they face a very tough and physical opponent this weekend who I am sure is determined to demonstrate their championship pedigree against the reigning NFL champions. The good news for the Giants? The Steelers have not been the same team on the road (1-3) this year as they have been at home (3-0).
With two “must-win” division games now past them and two weeks from the bye, now is not the time to relax.
Giants on Offense: The Steelers have been dealing with some injury and age issues on defense, but they are still remarkably second in total defense in terms of yards allowed per game (274.1) and ninth in points allowed per game (20.6). They are #1 in pass defense, allowing a measly 182.6 yards per game, and ninth in run defense, allowing 91.6 yards per game.
This will be the fourth opponent in a row that the Giants have faced that operates out of a 3-4 defense (49ers, Redskins, and Cowboys being the others). When asked if playing that many 3-4 opponents in recent weeks helps, Tom Coughlin had an interesting response:
“They’re all different. They’re all different. You can categorize them that way, but each team is a different team in how they present. As soon as it becomes third down, it’s something totally different as well…Defensively, (the Steelers are) powerful, they’re strong, and they’re an attack-mode team, just like they always have been. Multiple looks, the creation because of versatility of opportunities in terms of coverages, pressures, fire zones, all-out pressures on third down and in the green zone.”
That said, one would think that similarity in style would help at least to a small degree. After a very strong performance against the 49ers, the offensive line has taken a step backwards in the past two games against the Redskins and Cowboys. OC David Baas, who is ailing with ankle and elbow issues, really struggled at times against nose tackles Barry Cofield and Jay Ratliff. Baas has missed practice time again this week so it’s clear he is still hurting. He faces another tough customer this week in NT Casey Hampton.
The Giants running game has simply been off the last two weeks. With Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) ailing and missing practice time, I would strongly consider sitting him and going with Andre Brown and David Wilson the next two weeks. Brown is more of a north-south, no-nonsense runner and that may be what the offensive line needs right now. And David Wilson isn’t getting enough touches to really make a difference. In my opinion, the Giants can afford the “luxury” of sitting Bradshaw and getting him healthy. They have other options. Of course, the big risk is having Wilson in the backfield against the complicated blitzing schemes of Dick LeBeau’s defense.
When one sees that Pittsburgh has the #1 pass defense in the NFL, it would suggest that the Giants’ passing game may be in for a rough day. However, I think the Giants can do some serious damage throwing the football on the Steelers. For one, the Steelers have not been as strong rushing the passer this season. They only have 12 sacks on the year. That doesn’t mean those linebackers can’t get to the quarterback, but James Harrison hasn’t been as dominating as he has in the past. And LaMarr Woodley has been bothered by a hamstring injury. So I think the Giants can give Eli Manning time to throw the football this week, something he didn’t have much of against the Dallas Cowboys.
Secondly, although respectable, I think Pittsburgh’s secondary might have problems with the Giants’ receiving targets. RCB Ike Taylor is very solid and consistent, but this really is LCB Keenan Lewis’ first year of being a full-time starter. Plus, All-Pro S Troy Polamalu (calf) will miss another game. It does look like former Giant safety Ryan Clark (concussion) will play.
My game plan would be similar to the game against the 49ers. Come out throwing. I would play three wide and see if the Steelers can rush the passer and cover Cruz, Nicks, Hixon, and Bennett. Keep in mind that TE Bear Pascoe may be out in this game and the Giants may want to surprise the Steelers with one down-the-field shot to Adrien Robinson.
After hopefully getting the lead, I would emphasize the run more in the second half of the game.
Much focus will be on the Giants’ ability to score touchdowns in the green zone.
Giants on Defense: The Steelers are tenth in the NFL in yards per game (369.9) and 13th in scoring (23.9). They are seventh in passing (272.6) and 21st in rushing (97.3). For years, contrary to their offensive heritage, the Steelers have had more success passing than running the football.
The Steelers have suffered some serious hits on their offensive line. And their running back corps is awfully beat up too. It’s either been feast or famine for teams trying to run against the Giants. My expectation is that the Steelers will not be able to generate a consistent ground attack. But obviously, the first key for the Giants is to shut down the run.
RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle) will miss the game and rookie Mike Adams will likely start in his place. Adams has struggled at times and this is a match-up DE Justin Tuck must win. OC Maurkice Pouncey is the best in the business. LT Max Starks is huge, but may struggle with the athleticism of DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The guards are average, but have some size.
In the passing game, the Giants should be able to generate some heat on Ben Roethlisberger, but the key is to finish the play. Roethlisberger is big, strong, and mobile. He is tough to bring down. But he will hold onto the football and the Giants need to take advantage of that.
Roethlisberger has some dangerous targets to throw to. TE Heath Miller is a reliable, dependable target for Roethlisberger. He has six touchdown catches on the season. And with linebackers Chase Blackburn (hamstring), Jacquian Williams (knee), and possibly Keith Rivers (calf) being out, the Steelers are likely to test a linebacking group in coverage that could not handle Jason Witten last week. As a matter of fact, although the Steelers don’t throw a lot to their back-up tight ends, I would be a little wary of Leonard Pope and David Paulson.
Everyone knows that Mike Wallace is the speedster outside at wide receiver. He can blow by a corner and put a quick six points on the board. Fellow WR Antonio Brown is actually their leading receiver with 40 catches and Emmanuel Sanders has factored into the passing game as well as a third target.
Stop the run. Get heat on Roethlisberger and bring him down when you get your hands on him. Don’t let Wallace get deep on you and keep Miller from moving the chains and scoring in the green zone.
Giants on Specials: The Steelers are very dangerous in the return game with Chris Rainey and Antonio Brown. The Giants have to do a better job blocking for Rueben Randle on punt returns. They have given him very little room to operate.