Pittsburgh Steelers 24 (5-3) – New York Giants 20 (6-3)
By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com
There was no fourth quarter magic for the New York Giants on Sunday. In the midst of squandering a 10 point lead by giving up 14 unanswered points to the Steelers in the fourth quarter, New York could do absolutely nothing on offense to counter and lost a heart-breaker.
The Giants had opportunities. In fact, a case could be made that they had Pittsburgh on the ropes in the third quarter but were unable to put them away. Yes, New York was the recipient of several questionable calls that led to 14 first half points. Specifically the calls were a questionable late hit on Victor Cruz that gave the Giants an automatic first down on the Pittsburgh one yard line and a questionable fumble called on QB Ben Roethlisberger that LB Michael Boley returned for a touchdown.
The problems really started on the last drive of the first half after New York was able to induce Pittsburgh into their second long pass interference penalty. The Giants were poised to score at least three points with a 1st-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 34-yard line with 52 seconds left. That 1st-and-10 quickly became a 1st-and-20 when TE Martellus Bennett and RT David Diehl committed back-to-back false start penalties. QB Eli Manning was able to get 11 of those yards back, but K Lawrence Tynes’ 51-yard attempt fell a yard short. Two intermediate pass plays and a spike later, Pittsburgh converted a field goal at the gun. Instead of a 17-7 halftime lead, the score was 14-10.
The real trouble for the offense came in the third quarter when the Giants held the ball for more than 10 minutes. Despite outstanding starting field position on one possession, New York could only come away with two field goals. In the fourth quarter, the offense was horrid. Eli and crew could not muster a challenge to the Pittsburgh comeback, failing to even obtain one first down and losing eight yards on three possessions, all of which ended up three-and-outs.
Despite the 14-10 halftime lead, New York was outplayed in the first half. The Giants gained just eight first downs (three by penalty) on 97 total yards (37 on the ground and 60 through the air) and converted just one-of-four third down opportunities. New York gained nearly as many yards through penalty (87 on two pass interference penalties) and from their defense (70 yard fumble return for a touchdown).
The Giants defense played fairly well through three quarters, especially when you consider the horrid field position that special teams kept putting them in. Pittsburgh held the ball for nearly 20 minutes in the first half, but three sacks and the fumble scoop and score kept the Giants in the game. The most disappointing aspect of the defense was allowing the Steelers to run for nearly 100 yards in the half after holding the Cowboys to just 19 yards on the ground all game last week. In the third quarter, the Giants defense was able to get a three and out and then force an interception on Pittsburgh’s’ second drive. When the fourth quarter began, the time of possession was relatively close again. Pittsburgh finally got the big play they were looking for on a 3rd-and-6 crossing pattern to WR Mike Wallace. New York sent six players after Big Ben who hit Wallace in stride two yards short of the sticks in front of CB Corey Webster. S Antrel Rolle attempted to come up from his safety position to make the play on Wallace, but his poor angle resulted in cutting off Webster, effectively taking Webster out of the play. Rolle dove and missed, and then CB Jayron Hosley also took a poor angle and couldn’t catch Wallace. CB Prince Amukamara also had a shot at Wallace but could not catch him. The resulting 51-yard touchdown got Pittsburgh within three points, but the Giants still seemed to be in control.
Unfortunately the Giants couldn’t move the ball at all for the rest of the game and the defense was left to try and hold the fort. They did, for a short time, keeping Pittsburgh off the board after getting set up at the Giants 12-yard line following another monster return. New York held on a fake field goal by Pittsburgh when CB Michael Coe did an outstanding job in staying home and dropping the kicker for one-yard loss following the pitch. That was it, however, as Pittsburgh scored on their next drive to take the lead with just over four minutes left and then ran out the clock on their final drive. The killer play on the go ahead drive was an offsides penalty on Hosley, who faked as though he was going to jam the slot receiver and stepped into the neutral zone. The Giants stopped Redman short of the first down on the 3rd-and-7 play. Instead, they converted the resultant 3rd-and-2 and went on to score the go ahead touchdown.
Eli Manning didn’t have a good day. In fact, Eli hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet in any of his last three games, but this one was by far his most frustrating. Manning completed just 10-of-25 passes for a paltry 125 yards. The Giants have had trouble getting the ball outside the numbers lately, and on Sunday they kept trying but other than inducing two long pass interference penalties, they had no success. Until a couple weeks ago, the Giants were the number one team in terms of big plays, defined as 20 yards or more. On Sunday Manning competed just two, a 33-yard pass to Bennett and a 26-yarder to Cruz. Only two other completions were made for more than 10 yards.
It appeared again that New York wasn’t able to find anything effective in the middle of the field or to the backs. Manning was also under a ton of pressure, particularly from the right where David Diehl was given his starting job back. Manning was only sacked twice and officially he was only hit five times but that number was higher. Manning was constantly on the run in the pocket, particularly late in the game when he could get nothing going. Manning also threw a horrible interception after going through his progressions and heaving up a duck towards Victor Cruz.
It appears that HB Ahmad Bradshaw will be the work horse until he either gets more injured or the Giants finally become frustrated enough to give one of the other backs more playing time. Bradshaw didn’t play badly, but he simply is missing holes and cutbacks that are there for him. He’s been impatient and it’s hurting the team. Bradshaw rushed 15 times for just 48 yards, a 3.2 ypc average. Bradshaw was in to block often, but he seemed to be in miscommunication with Diehl more than once on assignments. Amazingly, Bradshaw wasn’t targeted one time in the passing game.
HB Andre Brown is more decisive than Bradshaw, but gets so few carries it’s difficult to determine if he’d be any more effective. Brown carried seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown. Brown lost three yards from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line on a second down play and when Manning was unable to hit WR Rueben Randle on a fade route, the Giants had to settle for a field goal. On that play, FB Henry Hynoski hesistated when he confronted two Steelers and failed to block either. Brown had no chance. Brown also was not targeted in the passing game.
Hynoski did not have a good game blocking, but I have no idea if it was his fault or the offensive line. It seemed that the backs were hit in the hole on every single play, so my first thought would be that Hynoski was not completely at fault as his job is usually to set the edge or lead through the hole.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
WR Victor Cruz had another rough game on Sunday. Manning targeted Cruz 11 times catching five for 67 yards, both team highs. Cruz got lit up in the end zone following a horrible decision by Manning to try to force the ball to him. Cruz stayed down for a while and frankly, it appeared that he wasn’t on the same page with Manning for much of the day. Dare I say it – expecting the wrath of The Corner Forum – Cruz seemed to develop a slight case of alligator arms late in the game, too. It’s hard not to blame him after some of the licks he’s taken lately.
WR Hakeem Nicks caught just one ball out of four thrown to him. That’s it. It’s hard to understand why he’s not being used in the green zone any longer. Nicks isn’t 100%. The Giants need him or someone else to step up. All three of the other receivers, Hixon, Randle and Barden have stepped up already this season and one of them has to take some of the pressure off Eli, Cruz, and Nicks soon. Randle and Hixon were targeted four times total but neither of them caught a pass.
TE Martellus Bennett also has been absent in the green zone lately. Bennett was targeted just four times, catching three for 40 yards. It’s puzzling why Bennett wasn’t used more.
As mentioned, David Diehl reclaimed his spot anchoring the right side of the line. I would not have done that, particularly because I feel Sean Locklear has been solid in pass protection. Not great, but solid. Diehl did not play well in the passing game. His strength was supposed to be run blocking so I understand the rationale for returning him to the line to help the running game. It didn’t pan out, as we all saw.
As for the rest of the line, they couldn’t sustain blocks in the running game and they gave up a lot of pressure to a defensive front that consistently sent five guys at Manning.
Defensive Front 7:
I may be in the minority, but I don’t feel the Giants defense played badly on Sunday. Through three quarters, though they gave up a ton of yards to RB Isaac Redman, they had only given up 10 points. Frankly, the offense failed them. Had the Giants been able to convert the two third quarter field goals into touchdowns and a 28-10 lead, the Steelers would have been forced to pass, and frankly, the defensive line did a very good job at getting to Roethlisberger. Big Ben passed for just 216 yards, and 51 of them came on a crossing pattern on which he only threw the ball five yards. After spending two-thirds of the first half on the field, they were gassed in the fourth as the offense kept going three-and-out.
DE Justin Tuck had his best game of the year, registering two sacks, five tackles and batted a ball at the line. He was everywhere. Not to be outdone, DE Osi Umenyiora had his best game, registering seven tackles and a strip sack that resulted in the defensive touchdown. The other defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul also had a monster game registering 8 tackles and a sack. The defensive tackles also played well, but the problem was they could not bring down Redman on first contact. The Giants hit Redman at or behind the line numerous times, but he would keep churning for two, three, four, five more yards, always falling forward. That hurt because it kept Pittsburgh in manageable down-and-distance situations.
It seems that the Giants big problems were with the linebackers. Frankly, Mark Herzlich had trouble all game despite being in on eight tackles. The biggest problem I saw with Herzlich is that he did not close well and constantly lost his gap. Another issue is something I used to see with Clint Sintim. Herzlich, too many times, engaged an offensive lineman and could not work off of him to get to the ball carrier until too late. Michael Boley led the team in tackles with 10 and also had the scoop-and-score. Boley was in coverage often on TE Heath Miller, trading off with S Antrel Rolle and S Stevie Brown. The missing link on the day, completely, was Mathias Kiwanuka (only one tackle).
New York seemed to catch a break when speedster WR Antonio Brown left the game early with an injury. His replacement, Jerricho Cotchery, was more than up to the task as his replacement, catching all four balls thrown to him. The Giants seemed to be trying to take away Miller and WR Mike Wallace, and they only caught seven balls between them. CB Corey Webster did a great job on Wallace, and it wasn’t his fault that he was able to get across the field for the touchdown. That was on S Antrel Rolle, as noted above.
Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley played well, but also missed chances to run down Wallace on the touchdown play.
Other than taking the wrong angle on the Wallace touchdown, Antel Rolle played a solid game, registering nine tackles and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on a blitz.
It’s hard to imagine that losing Chase Blackburn on specials caused the Giants to give up huge return after huge return to the Pittsburgh return teams, but there is no other actionable evidence to suggest otherwise. New York simply was unable to contain Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Rainey on kickoff and punt returns, respectively.
The Giants were simply fortunate that none of the big returns turned into points. Part of the reason is that both Steve Weatherford and Lawrence Tynes were able to make tackles as the last line of defense.
The Giants return teams didn’t produce much, and Tyler Sash committed a costly penalty on the final opportunity for the offense. Instead of starting the final drive at their own 35 yard line, they were backed up to their own 12.
Michael Coe did an outstanding job of staying home to stop a fake field goal short of not only the goal line but also a first down.
I don’t have much to discuss here other than my own personal question about sticking with Bradshaw as the back getting the majority of the carries. Brown needs more than one series to get into a rhythm and frankly I’m very interested in seeing what rookie David Wilson can do.
Additionally, if anyone noticed, for some reason WR Victor Cruz missed quite a few plays early in the game. There has been no reason given for that. As for the game plan, it’s obvious that the Giants are having trouble with the cover 2 and they didn’t seem to do anything to try to exploit the middle of the field with the TE and backs. I don’t recall a single screen pass attempted against the aggressive Pittsburgh front.
Okay, so it was a stinker from the offense and the defense faltered late. The special teams were suspect and though the Giants got a few breaks, they were unable to capitalize in the end. Hurricane Sandy, no matter what was said, had to affect the Giants. The majority of the team had family and safety issues to contend with. The Giants got fortunate that the entire division lost this week so there was no ground lost in the NFC East. Yes, the road to a first round bye is tougher than it was but it can still be done. Frankly, with their history, who wants one anyway?
Cincinnati is up next, and the Giants have an outstanding opportunity to get to the bye at 7-3, a record I would have signed up for before the season began. The Giants have to figure out how to get the passing game untracked and how to get the defense balanced week in and week out against the run. I still believe the Giants are in prime position to get to the playoffs as the NFC East Champion and defend their title in the playoffs.