Week 9 of the NFL season is here, and it’s another NFC East battle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This week the Steelers travel to New York to face the reigning Super Bowl Champion Giants. New York has answered the critics early in the season on their way to an NFC best 6 wins including an impressive win over the San Francisco 49ers on the road. Over the past two weeks the Giants have defeated divisional rivals Washington and Dallas in close contests.
The Giants defense was far from impressive in those games giving up 23 points to Washington and 24 to Dallas.
The Giants blew a 23 point lead against a Cowboys team that looked horrible in the first half of that game. Tony Romo threw four interceptions and was still only a few Dez Bryant fingers from defeating the Giants. On the same note, the Redskins turned the ball over four times in the second half, took the lead with under two minutes only to give up a 77 yard game winning pass to Eli Manning and Victor Cruz.
The Giants have flirted with disaster over the past two weeks and quite frankly they are lucky that they aren’t sitting at .500 at this point in the season. I believe the Giants are vulnerable this week as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town. The Steelers come into this game off an impressive victory over rookie sensation RG3 and the Washington Redskins. The Redskins came into the game with the number one rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 177 yards per game. The Steelers held them to 86 net rushing yards. The Redskins came into the game with the fifth ranked offense at 405 yards per game. The Steelers held them to 255 net yards and 25% efficiency on third down. The Steelers much maligned defense has answered the bell over the past two weeks holding the Bengals and Redskins to 14.5 points per game. After seven weeks, the Steelers again have the number one passing defense in the NFL, allowing only 182.6 yards per game. Most of that production is without their best defender Troy Polamalu. I believe Eli Manning will test Ike Taylor and the Steelers cornerbacks down the field with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Steelers must bring consistent pressure on Eli Manning and force him into bad decisions. The Dallas Cowboys were able to hold Eli to 192 yards with one interception with no touchdowns. If the Steelers can limit the Giants running game, they will be able to consistently put the Giants into 3rd and long situations and win the field position battle.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense have begun to stabilize over the past three weeks. In their past three games, the Steelers have averaged 24.6 points per game and moved the ball with ease. Because of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer has got the starting nod at running back for the Steelers. Dwyer has run with purpose and power on his way to 229 rushing yards (6.7 YPC) over the past two weeks. It has been Dwyer along with key offensive line replacements Mike Adams and Ramon Foster, as well as fullback Will Johnson leading the way for the Steelers renewed rushing attack. The Steelers need to stay committed to the ground game and keep the ball away from the Giants and their potent offense. Todd Haley will continue to use a short, intermediate passing game to control the clock and keep Ben Roethlisberger clean. Through seven games, the Steelers have protected Roethlisberger better than at any time in his history with the team. At this point, Ben is only being sacked once every 20.6 drop backs. This number is improved from once every 14.2 drop backs last season and in Roethlisberger’s first eight seasons he has averaged being sacked once every 12.3 drop backs. The Steelers offensive line will face their toughest test yet in pass protection against the Giants star defensive lineman Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyoira. Roethlisberger must be efficient versus the Giants ball-hawking secondary and be smart with the football.
Taking a quick look at the team statistics show the Giants come into this ballgame ranked 4th in the NFL in total offense with 396.8 yard per game, while the Steelers rank 10th with 369.9 yards per game. Neither teams rushing rushing attack is overly impressive. The Giants average114.6 yards per game, good enough for 12th in the NFL, while the Steelers rank 21st in the NFL in rushing with only 97.3 yards per game. The passing games are neck and neck as the Giants rank 6th with 282.1 yards per game and the Steelers rank 7th with 272.6 yards per game. This matchup will feature 2 of the top 3 quarterbacks drafted in the 2004 NFL Draft. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning will always be compared to each other as long as they are in the NFL. Both have an impressive clutch gene and a knack for game winning drives. Both have 2 Super Bowl rings and have the ability to win several more. Could this game be a Super Bowl preview? It is certainly possible with Manning and Roethlisberger under center. Both are elite quarterbacks that simply refuse to lose. On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers clearly have the edge. The Steelers rank 2nd in the league in total defense, surrendering 274.1 yards per game and giving up 20.6 points per game. The Giants rank 24th in the NFL in total defense, giving up 386.5 yards per game and surrender 20.1 points per game. I believe that whoever wins the turnover battle in this game will win. If the Steelers take care of the ball they should be able to dominate possession and keep Eli and the Giants observing on the sidelines.
I expect the Giants to come into this game with heavy hearts and play emotional football. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey were greatly impacted by the storm. Many of the players, coaches and fans may have been impacted by this disaster. The NFL released a statement on Tuesday confirming that the game will continue as scheduled on 4:25 at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. At the end of the day, both teams will be well coached and well prepared for this game. If you simply look at the final scores from the last two weeks you would think that both teams are playing well and trending upward. However, I believe the Giants mediocre play over the past two weeks will catch up with them this week as they face a tough Steelers team that is finally hitting their stride. The Giants have really struggled late in games over the past two weeks. Although they have done enough to win, that may not be enough this week when they face a Steelers team that is much more disciplined than the Cowboys or Redskins. I believe the Steelers make it three wins in a row and get a big road victory 27-23.
-Tony DelSignore Jr. (@TonyD_12)