Dec 162004

Approach to the Game – Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, December 18, 2004: Looking at this game on paper, it is another unequal contest against a team that the Giants don’t match up well with. However, I have a gut feeling that this is a game the Giants can win and, if the Giants win the turnover battle, I think the Giants will win.

Yes, I know I am going out on a limb here. The Giants are very beat up and they will not be getting anyone back healthy this week. And Eli is coming off an atrocious game. The Steelers are an extremely physical team, with a top run running game and THE top-rated defense in the NFL. But I just get the feeling that the Giants are due for some breaks to finally bounce in their direction. I also think this is a trap game for the Steelers, sandwiched between two important intra-conference games for them.

If the Giants somehow manage to pull of the upset here, they are not out of the playoff hunt in my opinion. This is the toughest remaining game on their schedule and 8-8 may be good enough to get in this year.

Giants on Offense: For the second week in a row, QB Eli Manning and the Giants will face a 3-4 defense. The Steelers’ defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, is one of the very best in the business. As has been the case for years, the Steelers like to stuff the run and blitz the opposing quarterback from all angles. The Steelers’ rush defense is second in the NFL, allowing less than 80 yards-per-game. The pass defense is fifth in the NFL, allowing less than 178 yards-per-game. That combination makes them #1 in the league. They are also #1 in scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points-per-game.

All of this does not bode well for a Giants’ offense that has scored one touchdown in four games with Eli at the helm. On paper, this looks to be another shutout. And it doesn’t help that WR Jamaar Taylor (quad) and RG Chris Snee (glandular infection) will be out again. But the offensive line has been playing better in recent weeks and Manning is due to show some signs of improvement. The Steelers will be looking to shut down HB Tiki Barber and the Giants’ ground game first and foremost. The key for the offense will be (1) not turning the football over, and (2) hurting the Steelers through the air in order to take some pressure off of Tiki.

What it comes down to is that Manning, Shockey, Toomer, and Hilliard need to start making some plays. Not just routine plays, but making the difficult throw or the difficult catch…breaking a tackle and getting some yards after the catch. Highlight reel plays. The Pittsburgh linebacking corps is a bit beat up. LOLB Clark Haggans is out as is ILB Kendrell Bell. LILB James Farrior has a very sore shoulder. But the Steelers still have a lot of talent at this position and SS Troy Polamalu matches up well with Shockey. Still, if Shockey wants to be considered one of the best players in the game, he needs to make plays against good players. It is time for Shockey to take over a game. The Steelers’ corners benefit from a strong pass rush. They are solid and don’t give up a lot of big plays, but they can be beat. It is time for Toomer and Hilliard to start making some plays too. This is not impossible task. Manning should stop worrying about doing everything perfectly, get to the line, get the ball snapped, drop back and hit the open man. If I’m Coughlin and Hufnagel, I may even get into a bit of the hurry up and/or shotgun just so Eli doesn’t have to think so much.

Obviously, the offensive line needs to play a physical game. But they also have to be sound mentally. Pittsburgh will try to confuse the line and Eli with various fronts and blitzes. If the offensive line can figure out mentally what Pittsburgh is doing (and they did a pretty good job of this against the Ravens), then Manning should have time to find an open receiver. Teams don’t usually do much damage on the ground against the Steelers, but the line must open some holes for Barber and Barber has to make some plays on his own too.

The Giants are not going to score a lot of points. Just don’t be stupid with the football. Play for field position. Eli needs to stop over-thinking and just let it rip. And someone on the other end of the football has to make a play…not just an ordinary play, but a special one. Do those things and the Giants can score enough to win.

Giants on Defense: Contrary to what the national media says, Ben Roethlisberger has been very inconsistent in recent weeks. He’s a big, strong quarterback with an excellent arm and surprising mobility, but he is still a rookie who can be guilty of making rookie mistakes. What has impressed me about him has not been so much the plays he has made, but his poise. However, the Giants have to go into this game with the strategy of gearing up to stop the ground attack and putting the onus on Roethlisberger to win the game.

Stopping the run is the key. The Giants have not done a good job of stopping the run in recent weeks and that has made inconsistent quarterbacks such as Patrick Ramsey and Kyle Boller look sharp against them. Why? Because when you can run the football, it becomes extremely tough to play defense because play-action works so well.

Look for the Giants to employ the same front of Lance Legree, William Joseph, Kenderick Allen, and Fred Robbins this week. This group played hard last week. Some of their problems came from inexperience and a lack of cohesion, but that should improve a bit this week. Like the Ravens, the Steelers have a very physical and talented offensive line. The Giants’ defenders up front need to play with great leverage and desire, matching the physical nature of the Steelers. The linebackers have to get much more involved in run defense at the line of scrimmage too, instead of farther down the field. With HB Duce Staley (hamstring) still a bit gimpy and rusty, HB Jerome Bettis has been the go-to back in recent weeks. The guy is a load. Gang-tackling must be the order of the day. Pound on the guy…make him feel his age. Everything depends on the run defense. Hold the Steelers ground game in check and this becomes a low-scoring dogfight that either team can win.

But be careful of the play-action! That’s what makes the Steelers so dangerous. Lance Legree has to be wary of the play-action boot to his side as this is something the Redskins took advantage of and Roethlisberger throws well on the run. WR Plaxico Burress (hamstring) has been limited and that has taken away a big deep threat from the Steelers’ offense. If he plays, he will line up over Will Peterson. Aside from the height differential, this is a decent match-up for New York as Peterson plays a physical game. It will also be interesting to see if the Giants put Curtis Deloatch on Burress some due to his height advantage. (Late Note: Burress has been ruled out of the game due to his injury). The other big match-up is Will Allen on WR Hines Ward. Ward is the Steelers’ leading receiver, with twice as many catches as Burress. Third wideout Antwaan Randle El is very good too. With the front seven needing to focus all of their attention on run defense, Peterson, Allen, and Deloatch need to come through with superior performances. And just as importantly, when they get their hands on the football, they must come up with the pigskin. No more drops, no more letting the opposition rip the ball away. Win the turnover battle and help out your offense!

The Steelers don’t throw much to the tight ends and the backs, but they will do so in the redzone. The linebackers have to focus on the run, but they can’t get suckered either.

The game plan is simple. Stop the run. Make Roethlisberger beat you. It will be tough for an undermanned Giants’ defensive front to achieve the first goal, but if they can, this game is very winnable.

Giants on Special Teams: Antwaan Randle El is a very shifty punt and kick returner. With this game likely to be one of field position, keeping him under wraps is very important. The Steelers have had some memorable special teams breakdowns in recent years that have cost them games. A punt or field goal block could prove decisive.

Prediction: Steelers are looking ahead to the Ravens. Giants pull off the upset. 13-10.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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