Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 9 Analysis Versus New York Giants

By Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams that the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each opponent has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants

What: Week 9 Regular Season Matchup

Where: MetLife Stadium

When: 4:25 EST Sunday 4th, 2012

How: CBS

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
TEMartellus BennettDallas CowboysNew York Giants1st String Backup
OTSean LocklearWashington RedskinsNew York Giants1st String Backup
DTShaun RogersNew Orleans SaintsNew York Giants1st String Backup
OLBKeith RiversCincinnati BengalsNew York GiantsStarter
DBDante HughesSan Diego ChargersNew York Giants1st String Backup
DBChris HortonWashington RedskinsNew York GiantsDepth
CBAntwaun MoldenNew England PatriotsNew York Giants1st String Backup
SStevie BrownIndianapolis ColtsNew York GiantsDepth
RBBrandon JacobsNew York GiantsSan Francisco 49ers1st String Backup
WRMario ManninghamNew York GiantsSan Francisco 49ers1st String Backup
WRDevin ThomasNew York GiantsChicago Bears2nd String Backup
WRDuke CalhounNew York GiantsOakland RaidersDepth
WRBrandon StokleyNew York GiantsDenver BroncosDepth
DEDave TollefsonNew York GiantsOakland Raiders1st String Backup
CBAaron RossNew York GiantsJacksonville JaguarsStarter
WRMichael ClaytonNew York GiantsUFA2nd String Backup
OTStacy AndrewsNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup
OTTony UgohNew York GiantsCUT1st String Backup
OTKareem McKenzieNew York GiantsUFAStarter
DTRocky BernardNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup
DTJimmy KennedyNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup
MLBJonathan GoffNew York GiantsUFAStarter/Injury
DBBrian WitherspoonNew York GiantsReleasedDepth
CBWill BlackmonNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup
SDeon GrantNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup
SDerrick MartinNew York GiantsUFA1st String Backup

It\’s always hard being the Super Bowl champs in an offseason because there is a heavy pressure to repeat even though history implies the chances are limited. The other fear is that contract year players may jump at a big money contract elsewhere having already taken the Super Bowl off their bucket list. Surprisingly, the New York Giants did not lose too many starters this offseason. They also signed a new group of interesting players.

The Giants will be without three starters from last season. Kareem McKenzie has been a solid contributor for the past five years, but just turned 33. The Giants let him walk and he has not gathered much interest from other teams. Jonathan Goff was the starting middle linebacker in 2010, but suffered an ACL injury causing him to miss all of 2011. Chase Blackburn looked good in a replacement role late in the season, including an interception in the Super Bowl. Aaron Ross was also allowed to walk, but he was more of a cap/position upgrade casualty as Terrell Thomas, who missed 2011 with an ACL injury, was resigned instead.

As far as backups, on offense Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham both signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Many will remember Manningham as the Super Bowl hero, but his loss was made possible by the surge of Victor Cruz. Jacobs has a reputation as a bruising back and was a great compliment to Ahmad Bradshaw, but at age 30 along with a poor attitude, made him expendable. The other major losses on offense were both backup tackles.

Along the defensive line, the Giants lost three first string backups. Dave Tollefson had 5 sacks, Rocky Bernard had 30 tackles and Jimmy Kennedy saw limited action. The Giants also lost three backup defensive backs. Deon Grant had 64 tackles, Derek Martin had 12 and Will Blackmon had only 6. Out of those six players, it\’s not too surprising that only Tollefson was picked up by another team. Grant is 33, and will likely be picked up as a low end starter, or competent backup.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
PositionNameRoundCollegeHeightWeight
RBDavid Wilson1.32 (32nd)Virginia Tech5\’10206
WRReuben Randle2.31 (63rd)LSU6\’4210
CBJayron Hosley3.31 (94th)Virginia Tech5\’10178
TEAdrien Robinson4.32 (127th)Cincinnati6\’4264
OTBrandon Mosley4.36 (131st)Auburn6\’5314
OTMatt McCants6.31 (201st)UAB6\’5308
DTMarkus Kuhn7.32 (239th)NC State6\’4299

For a team that just won the Super Bowl, the Giants needed a good draft direly. They had lost depth players at running back and wide receiver and also needed a new tight end, cornerback and tackle. Even though they were the last pick in almost every round, they were able to get excellent players at each position.

New York reached a little to grab David Wilson at the end of the 1st round. Wilson is a smaller sized back who oozes big play potential. This was a bit of a head scratcher as he is very similar to Bradshaw, but runs with enough power to be a stand alone back. Reuben Randle was a highly touted prospect at wide receiver out of LSU who dropped all the way to the end of the 2nd round. He has size, decent speed and polished route running for a rookie. He will likely be the outside Y receiver in a three receiver set to allow Cruz to slide into the slot.

Jayron Hosley is an undersized corner who has good coverage skills. While he is a little soft against the run, he will provide the Giants with some depth at a position that has been in major flux for them. Adrien Robinson will join Martellus Bennett as the Giants new tight ends. Jake Ballard was claimed by the New England Patriots, who apparently think tight ends are currency, had suffered an ACL injury along with Travis Beckum. The only remaining tight end that was on the roster was Bear Pascoe, who had 12 catches last season.

Coaching Staff:

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has been covered a lot by the media in the past few years. He was called too old, his ability to connect with the players was questioned and in one cold game looked red as an apple. All of that said, you can\’t detract from the fact that he can get his players to perform in the playoffs. He has been the head coach of the Giants since 2004 and is more of an offensive coach than anything. Coughlin was a wide receivers coach for three teams over 7 years in the NFL before becoming the head coach at Boston College. He used that three year span to get a head coaching job at the NFL level with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. While he is only 142-114 overall, he has led the teams he has coached to the playoffs 9 times in 16 seasons.

offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been with the Giants since 2004, when Eli Manning was drafted. He was Manning\’s quarterback coach for two years before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006. Gilbride has also been the offensive coordinator for four other teams over the years and that includes a stint with the Steelers. He was the head coach of the San Diego Chargers before he worked for the Giants and was the offensive coordinator under Coughlin in Jacksonville in 1995 and 1996. That connection likely lead to his hire in 2004. Gilbride is known for instituting read routes where his receivers adjust their routes on the fly during a play based on what the defense does.

The Giants defensive coordinator is Perry Fewell. He is entering his third year and was also involved with Coughlin in Jacksonville. He was a defensive backs coach from 1998-2005 for three different teams before becoming the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. He became their interim head coach in 2009 when Dick Jauron was fired after 9 games, but the Bills chose Chan Gailey as their next head coach the following season and accordingly, Fewell ended up on the Giants. While his defense was under fire all of last year, it was a big part of the reason the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Not too surprisingly, there were no major hires or fires on the Giants coaching staff this offseason. While a few assistants are new, most of the coaches have been on the Giants for over five years now. It\’s also notable that the Giants wide receivers coach is Kevin Gilbride Jr. This is the second team in a row I\’ve studied where a coach\’s son is also on the same staff.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
OFFENSE
StatGiantsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game385.18372.312346.8
Points/Game24.6920.32122.2
Pass Yards/Game295.95253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game89.232118.914117.1
First Downs/Game20.71021.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)1619151716
Interception Rate2.72%152.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)810132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)287422337
Sack Rate4.75%67.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession29:30:002132:33:00230:00:00
DEFENSE
StatGiantsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game376.427271.81346.8
Points/Game252514.2122.2
Pass Yards/Game255.129171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game121.31999.88117.1
First Downs/Game21.12616.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)206112416
Interception Rate3.40%102.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)11743010
Sacks (2011)483351737
Sack Rate8.15%66.60%186.82%
SPECIAL TEAMS
StatGiantsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For6.12910.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against9.9178.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For23.22225.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against22.91123.71623.8
Field Goals Made79.17%2274.19%3182.89%
EFFICIENCY
StatGiantsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Turnover Differential77-13280
3rd Down % Offense37.38%1445.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense38.18%1738.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense30.77%2637.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense55.56%2661.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense57.14%850.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense55.74%2154.84%1752.18%

The Giants had an above average set of stats during the regular season last year. While their stats weren\’t unreal, they turned it on in the playoffs and outperformed what they did in the regular season. Manning backed up his claim as a top quarterback by throwing for just under 5000 yards. While the running game was awful, the offense did a good job of not turning the ball over. Their defense couldn\’t stop opposing offenses, but generated a high amount of turnovers. The Giants had a poor overall efficiency and special teams play.

The Giants offense had a very good year. They finished top 10 in passing, points, total yards, first downs, fumbles lost and sacks allowed. They ranked last in the NFL in the running game, which led to a poor time of possession total. They were right around average for interceptions. Cruz, who had missed the 2010 season with a hamstring injury, had a great sophomore surge with 400 plus yards more than Steelers standout Antonio Brown and 7 more touchdowns.

The Giants defense was the biggest reason experts thought New York was going to make a quick exit out of the playoffs last year. While they would end up turning it around in the playoffs, this defense had its share of issues during the season. They ranked near the bottom of the league in total passing yards, first downs and points allowed. However, this defense ranked in the top 10 in sacks, fumbles and interceptions. Jason Pierre-Paul also had a great sophomore year and generated 16.5 sacks. Osi Umenyiora came in second with 9 sacks and Justin Tuck and Tollefson, now with the Oakland Raiders, both had 5 sacks. Defensive back Corey Webster had 6 interceptions, while Kenny Philips and Ross, now with Jacksonville, both finished with 4.

The Giants were not good on special teams. They ranked in the 20\’s at returning and were around average at covering. Ross was the main punt returner and Thomas, now with the Chicago Bears, was the primary kick returner. Lawrence Tynes had a decent year making 79.2% of his kicks and missing only one from inside 40 yards. Efficiency was a similar story as the Giants were a +7 in turnover differential which ranked them in the top 10. They ranked in the middle of the pack for 3rd downs and right near the bottom on 4th downs. This is the first team I\’ve seen that performed relatively the same for and against on 3rd and 4th downs. The red zone was a different story, and while the offense ranked 8th, the defense was 21st.

Final Remarks:

The Giants will have a lot of eyes on them this season. I was amazed how quickly the world tossed them aside after they won their last Super Bowl, but I don\’t think that will happen this year. This is a young team that has the capacity for prolonged success. Manning is one of the best in the NFL, and while he doesn\’t always put up the numbers the other elite quarterbacks do, he performs in the clutch. They have Bradshaw who is a very good back at only 26 years old and the rookie Wilson should be able to effectively spell him. At wide receiver, Cruz is coming off of a break out year, while Hakeem Nicks is one of the better receivers in the game. The rookie Randle also should get on the field a lot this year.

The defense is a similar story. While injuries hurt this unit last year in the regular season, backups stepped up and the stars performed when it mattered. The defensive line continues to be one of the best in the NFL with several talented pass rushers. Mike Boley elevated this group of linebackers and the variety of skills Mathias Kiwanuka brings, complements the late season surge of Chase Blackburn. In the secondary, Ross is gone, but Thomas is better and fully recovered from his injury. 2011 first round pick Prince Amukamara is entering his sophomore season and looks ready to step up.

The question marks surrounding this team are few but dire. Can this offensive line continue to excel? The core of this line is around 30 years old and still considered one of the better groups in the NFL, but it will be interesting to see if they can perform better and boost the running game. Tight end is another question mark. While Ballard didn\’t impress last year, I wonder how Bennett will perform with this big role change. Cruz, Kiwanuka, Umenyoira and Philips are all entering contract years. While many other contributors have an extra year or two on top of that, there is no doubt that the cap will cause losses to this team in the near future.

Key Stat:

The dreaded Super Bowl hangover could affect the Giants in 2012. It is a well documented fact that most teams who play in the Super Bowl usually have a bad follow up season. For some, it\’s the opposite. After a 10-6 record in 2008 won them a Super Bowl against the heavily favored, and at the time undefeated, New England Patriots, the Giants followed up by going 12-4 the next season. During that season, they defeated the Steelers 21-14 on the way to their 12-4 record. They would end up losing their only playoff game that year to the Philadelphia Eagles. The key stat is that while for some the Super Bowl has foreshadowed a decline in the next season, for the Giants it has meant the opposite.

 

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