New York Giants 18 – Pittsburgh Steelers 13
Game Overview: It was a pretty typical first preseason game as the Giants and Steelers got used to full-speed, full-contact, 11-on-11 action for the first time. It wasn’t always pretty and there are a lot things to work on, but it was good practice against a tough, physical, well-coached football team. The Steelers were more physical than the Giants, but the Giants seemed to be more talented, especially when you consider those who were sitting out (Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Justin Pugh, James Brewer, Henry Hynoski).
The Giants did lose WR Kris Adams (broken left ankle) and possibly OT Chris DeGeare (MCL and ankle).
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning (2-for-5 for 73 yards) could not connect on his first two passes at the Steelers’ five yard line and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. He missed WR Rueben Randle deep on his third throw, but Coughlin said the problem on the play was Randle’s release taking too long (as did Michael Irvin on The NFL Network). Manning completed his next two and final passes of the game: a quick hitter to Randle on 3rd-and-9 that picked up a first down, and a beautiful touch pass to WR Victor Cruz down the seam on 3rd-and-4 for a 57-yard touchdown.
I originally thought David Carr (7-for-11 for 64 yards) performed worse than he did until I re-watched the tape. His first pass was his worst. He didn’t see a closing defender on a pass that should have been picked off and returned for a touchdown. But he followed that up with a nice 20-yard strike to TE Brandon Myers. Later in the second quarter, Carr was sacked for a 13-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 when the Steelers expertly sniffed out a screen pass. Carr was smart to take the sack there rather than force the ball to David Wilson, but I’m sure a lot of fans were upset with Carr on the play. On Carr’s third and final possession, he made a couple of nice throws, including a 15-yard strike to WR Jerrel Jernigan and a 12-yard pass to WR Louis Murphy. Pass pressure influenced some throws after that and he made a poor throw to WR Kris Adams in the end zone on his final play.
Playing Curtis Painter (5-for-11 for 55 yards) for the entire third quarter confused me, unless the Giants think he has a chance to unseat Carr. That playing time with the more advanced reserves should have gone to Ryan Nassib. Painter had his ups and downs.
Ryan Nassib (1-for-4 for 29 yards) played in the fourth quarter without the best blockers and receivers. He was sacked twice, had his blockers get penalized twice, and had a shotgun snap tossed over his head. That said, the delay of game penalty was on him. Nassib’s best play was his 29-yard completion on 2nd-and-12 despite heavy pressure on the Giants’ last scoring drive. He had protection on two throws after that, but could not connect with his receivers, and probably should have had his last pass picked off, which would have been a disaster given the situation.
Running Backs: It was tough going for David Wilson (5 carries for 16 yards; 2 catches for 6 yards). I spotted Wilson try to pick up two blitzes by not hitting the blitzer face up but by diving low with a cut block at the oncoming rusher. This worked once, but the second time the defender merely leapt over him.
Andre Brown (4 carries for 23 yards; 1 catch for 7 yards) had a rough start as he clumsily fumbled away a pitch for an unforced turnover. But he followed that up with some strong running on the next possession behind the second-team offensive line. Brown also did a nice job in pass protection.
With various line combinations coming in and out of the game in the third quarter, Da’Rel Scott (10 carries for 12 yards) did not benefit from the best run blocking. That said, he looks slower than I remember him being his rookie season. Scott did have a really nice catch on a clutch 3rd-and-10 seam pass for 20 yards in the third quarter.
Michael Cox (9 carries for 33 yards) flashed a nice combination of size, decisiveness, athletic ability when he received decent blocking on the Giants’ final scoring drive, which included runs of 11, 4, and 12 yards. He took an unnecessary risky chance however on the fumbled direct snap by not merely falling on the ball.
The fullback position was filled first by tight ends Bear Pascoe and later Larry Donnell. When Ryan D’Imperio came into the game, he made one decent block, but later ran by a linebacker that shot past him and made the tackle for no gain.
Wide Receivers: Rueben Randle was targeted three times, with one critical 16 yard reception on 3rd-and-9 on the Giants’ loan touchdown drive of the night. However, he couldn’t shake CB Ike Taylor on 3rd-and-goal, and he was the one responsible for the timing being off on the deep pass from Manning that fell incomplete. Victor Cruz doesn’t seem to be the fastest player out there, but all he does is make huge plays down the field. Nevertheless, one aspect of the game that remains a weakness for Cruz is his run blocking. Sometimes fans erroneously blame a failed running play on the offensive line when it was really someone else’s fault. On the same drive where he scored the 57-yard touchdown, Cruz missed his block on the defensive back on a David Wilson run.
Jerrel Jernigan caught two passes for 28 yards. Louis Murphy caught one pass for 12 yards. Julian Talley had a critical 29-yard reception, the Giants’ best offensive play in the second half, to help set up the final field goal. Ramses Barden had one catch for 10 yards.
Kris Adams had three passes thrown his way, all incomplete. He fractured his ankle on the last of these. Kevin Adams also had three passes thrown in his direction, all incomplete.
Tight Ends: Brandon Myers was OK as a blocker, sustaining his blocks but getting no real movement. He had one catch for 20 yards down the field. Larry Donnell played quite a bit, including at fullback (where he looked decent) and in a more traditional H-Back/TE role. Donnell failed to come up with a couple of tough throws in his direction, one of which was probably catchable. Late in the third quarter, he had a chance to pick up a first down on a throwback screen, but could not avoid the one defender who had a shot at him before the first-down marker. Chase Clement was flagged for a holding penalty in the fourth quarter.
Offensive Line: It’s hard to get that good of a reading on the first-team line when they did not play all that much. Brandon Mosley started at right guard and did a decent job. He missed a block at the second level and needs to sustain better on his run blocks, but he picked up a stunt like a veteran on the long touchdown throw. David Diehl gave up a quick outside pressure to a rushing linebacker on the touchdown. David Baas fell off a block too soon on an unproductive running play. Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe were solid. Beatty really is developing into a quality lineman and is probably the one irreplaceable Giant right now other than Eli.
Preseason reserve lines usually look pretty shaky. First you are not replacing just one guy who is surrounded by seasoned veterans, but usually bringing a whole new line that has very little experience, cohesion, and chemistry. This is exacerbated by the fact that some players are then moved to different positions within the same game as you will see below. That versatility will help an individual player make the team, but may give the impression that none of the reserves have talent – which simply is not true.
With Justin Pugh and James Brewer out with concussions, the first second-team line still had Beatty at left tackle and Mosley at right guard, but it also had Selvish Capers at left guard, Jim Cordle at center, and Stephen Goodin at right tackle. Soon after, Chris DeGeare replace Beatty at left tackle. These units performed OK for the most part, but there were a couple of breakdowns late in the second quarter when on one play Goodin and Capers gave up immediate pressure and then DeGeare gave up another. Cordle also got powered back on one bull rush too.
At the start of the third quarter, DeGeare, Capers, Cordle, Mosley, and Goodin remained in the game. DeGeare failed to spot a blitzer leading to a pressure and Goodin was late picking up a stunt. On the next possession, Matt McCants came in for Mosley at right guard and later in that quarter Bryant Browning came in for Goodin at right tackle. Cordle gave up a pressure and McCants was slow to pick up a stunt, leading to another pressure. McCants also missed a block on a running play that led to a 4-yard loss. Capers moved decently on pulls, but failed to make contact at the second level.
In the fourth quarter, the new line from left to right was Browning, Michael Jasper, McCants, Eric Herman, and Goodin. This combination had the most trouble. Goodin was immediately flagged for the Giants’ first penalty of the game, a false start, and probably should have been flagged with holding on another play. Herman had a really bad debut as he gave up two sacks and surprisingly, had some issues on his run blocking. Then McCants, who was now in at center, snapped the ball over Nassib’s head, resulting in a defensive touchdown for the Steelers.
After that disastrous two series, Herman was benched and McCants was shifted back to right guard with Cordle coming back into the game. Cordle again struggled with a big nose tackle over his head. Cordle just doesn’t seem big and strong enough. Cordle and Jasper also failed to block the defensive tackle who hit Nassib just as he threw the 29-yard completion. Later on this drive, Browning wiped out his man and McCants looked very good pulling and making another block at the second level on Cox’s critical 12-yard run on 3rd-and-6 that set up the final field goal. Jasper is a big dude with surprising agility for his size.
Defensive Line: Minus Tuck and Pierre-Paul, the starting unit was Cullen Jenkins and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end and Shaun Rogers and Linval Joseph at defensive tackle. The Steelers ran the ball very well on the Giants in the first quarter, including picking up 36 yards on six carries on their first scoring drive. Shaun Rogers appeared solid, but Linval Joseph was not particularly stout. Neither was Johnathan Hankins when he saw some early playing time. Up front, however, the bigger problem appeared to be the defensive ends. At times, Kiwanuka and Cullen simply did not set the edge, crashing down too far inside and allowing Steeler backs to easily run into an open gap. At other times, Kiwanuka and Cullen simply got blocked, and one time Kiwanuka charged too far upfield, allowing the back to easily come underneath. Jenkins did look very good on one inside rush for an 8-yard sack, forcefully taking down the hard-to-tackle Ben Roethlisberger.
Adrian Tracy’s penetration was a huge factor on the failed 3rd-and-1 rushing attempt up the gut that went nowhere. I didn’t see the Osi-like edge quickness that his coaches/teammates claim, but he showed better than anticipated strength on bull rushes.
Damontre Moore flashed as a pass rusher on a number of plays. He caused an incompletion against the Steelers’ starters in the first quarter, hitting Roethlisberger just as he released the ball with quick inside pressure. He did get suckered on play-action boot, along with S Tyler Sash and LB Keith Rivers. In the second quarter, Moore did a nice job of sniffing out and disrupting two screen passes. Moore’s run defense was much better than advertised too.
Justin Trattou made some plays including causing a running play to be stuffed for a 1-yard loss in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, he really stood out on one series where he first held his ground at the point-of-attack and stuffed the back, and then immediately followed that up with a sack. On the Steelers’ last drive, his penetration caused a 2-yard loss on a running play.
Marvin Austin may not always be the stoutest player in the world, but he hustles and he flashed in pursuit on running plays. That said, both Hankins and Austin were pretty stout inside against the Pittsburgh reserves. Matt Broha was run at on one play but flashed good backside pursuit on another. Late in the game, he did miss a tackle on a cutback run in his direction.
Frank Okam twice flashed on the pass rush, including sharing a sack with Adewale Ojomo. Speaking of Ojomo, he may not be a camp player, but all he does is make noise in preseason games (1.5 sacks this week). Is it because of the competition or is there real talent there? Regardless, he finished off the Steelers with a sack on 3rd-and-14 and then pressured the quarterback and caused a holding penalty on the failed 4th-and-20 conversion attempt.
Linebackers: It was not a good game for the linebackers, particularly the first unit of Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich, and Keith Rivers. All three seemed to be simply running around out there, always a step slow and not very decisive or forceful at all against the run. Indeed, all three were easily blocked. Jacquian Williams made a huge play by deflecting a 2nd-and-16 screen pass that looked poised to pick up big yardage, but he also struggled at the point-of-attack against the run. Both the defensive ends and linebackers were regularly fooled by misdirection too.
Dan Connor struggled early too as he seemed to be caught chasing after receivers down the field after initially reading run. Two times he was lucky that receivers could not come up with the catch down the field (though on the first, I am not sure if he was covering up for someone else’s mistake). As the game wore on, Connor appeared more natural than Herzlich, but neither is very fast and the lack of speed is noticeable. For Connor, this showed up in coverage and on his inside run blitz where the quarterback ran away from him. Connor did nail the back for no gain at the line of scrimmage on one play, something of a rarity for a Giants’ linebacker. And he was more instinctive against the run, often being near the ball carrier in the scrum.
Aaron Curry came played fairly stoutly near the line of scrimmage and was a pretty fired up individual during the game. He helped to clean up the failed 3rd-and-1 short yardage run by the Steelers in the third quarter and disrupted a running play in his direction on the last play of that quarter. Jake Muasau looked pretty good in coverage.
Defensive Backs: Prince Amukamara was only tested once, giving up a short completion on 2nd-and-4, but making a forceful tackle. He also made a nice play in run defense. Corey Webster got beat on what should have been a 20-yard touchdown pass, but the receiver could not get his second foot inbounds.
Jayron Hosley flashed on a run blitz where he tackled the ball carrier from the backside for only a 1-yard gain.
Trumaine McBride flashed in both run support and in coverage, including a deep shot down the field. Terrence Frederick played pretty well too. He had nice coverage on a deep throw and while he gave up two short throws, he made very sure tackles after the catch. Junior Mertile played too far off the receiver and gave up two easy back-to-back receptions. Laron Scott also gave up two back-to-back completions on the Steelers’ last drive. Charles James sacked the quarterback when was unblocked on corner blitz.
Tyler Sash was active. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he was around the ball a lot. After biting on the play-action boot, he did make a nice play in the behind the line against the run. Later, he had good coverage on the intended receiver on a 3rd-and-5 incomplete pass.
Special Teams: Josh Brown was 3-of-4 on field goal attempts, making kicks of 23, 30, and 47 yards, but missing from 38 yards out. His kickoffs were strong, with two resulting in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was OK but not great as the Steelers returned two kicks for 27 and 30 yards.
Steve Weatherford had a strong night, averaging almost 50 yards per punt on six punts, with a net of 41.7 yards. Punt coverage was good except for one 19-yard return in the fourth quarter.
Damontre Moore blocked one punt. Zak DeOssie hustled downfield, making one tackle inside the 5-yard line and then helping to force a muffed punt that Tyler Sash recovered. Ryan Mundy made a sure tackle on one kickoff return and Trumaine McBride leveled the punt returner on another return.
The Giants were only able to return two punts and one kickoff. Jayron Hosley returned one punt four yards and Charles James returned the other 20 yards. However, James’ decision to return the punt out of the end zone was not a smart move. Jerrel Jernigan had a nice 27 yard return on the free kick after the safety.