By David Todd
All the hype coming into this one surrounded the quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class, each of whom has piloted his team to two Super Bowl victories and each with a well-deserved reputation of being among the best in late-game comeback situations. The Ben-Eli matchup was just the seventh-ever meeting between QBs with two or more rings. The backdrop of hurricane Sandy played a part in preparation, travel and pregame ceremonies, but didn’t seem to be a factor once the game kicked off. On the field the Steelers played by far their best game of the season. They were solid in all facets and showed great mental toughness in overcoming a number of terrible officiating calls. I said this was a “house money” game for the Steelers. They cashed in big. A marquee game, a marquee win.
Unfortunately the Steelers continue to fill the injury report. Antonio Brown sprained his left ankle early in the game and didn’t return. Mike Tomlin referred to it as a mild high-ankle sprain. Chris Rainey collapsed walking off the field after being hit on a kickoff return in the third quarter (although I couldn’t see the hit) and has damage to his ribs or rib cartilage. Adrian Robinson suffered a quad injury and Will Allen had a stinger but was able to return.
*Isaac Redman gets top billing in this one as he put up career high numbers in yards and attempts piling up 147 yards in 26 carries, his first-ever regular-season 100-yard game. Redman ran hard and, like Jon Dwyer last week, was able to gain a ton of yards after contact. He got 13 yards on his first carry and 28 on his last and was a load to bring down all game.
*The offensive line deserves equal billing with Redman. They consistently opened holes and dominated the Giants defense front in the run game. The Steelers finished with 158 yards rushing, 4.5 yards/att. After a shaky start, the pass protection was much improved in the second half and allowed Ben to settle in and lead two fourth quarter scoring drives. Willie Colon was a mauler and Will Johnson continues to prove to be very useful.
*Outside of one incredibly bad throw Ben was excellent again. He was under heavy pressure early and had more trouble eluding the Giants agile pass-rushers, but was given more time as the game went on and really found his rhythm in the fourth quarter when he went 6-8 for 99 yards and a TD. By contrast Eli went 1-5 for 1 yard in the fourth.
*Manny Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are probably better than half the league’s starting receivers. They came through in a big way today combining for 6 catches, 70 yards and a TD.
*If anyone needed convincing of Mike Wallace’s speed, I assume they don’t now. All the Steelers’ receivers are dangerous when they catch the ball on the run and Wallace is the most. He’s stupid fast. Two Giants DBs thought they would catch him at the corner on his 51-yard slant-and-fly. They didn’t touch him.
*The Steelers did an excellent job of putting up three points at the end of the first half, going 47 yards in 31 seconds.
*The offense converted another fourth down and are now 5-for-5 on the season. Will Johnson had a great kick-out block to open the hole for Redman.
*It looked like Ben often decided where he wanted to go with the football pre-snap and it appeared he missed seeing some open receivers. This was obviously due to concern with the Giants pass rush, but is something I’ve rarely seen before.
*Mike Wallace had another drop and killed a drive with 1:35 left in the first half. He needs to work back to the ball more aggressively.
*In a replay of their effort against RGIII last week, the Steelers held Eli Manning to a season-low passer rating of 41.1 and less than 50% completion percentage (10/24). (Manning did generate 87 yards on two pass interference calls.)
*The defense held the Giants to 182 total yards and 2/10 on third down conversions. On the Giants three possessions in the fourth quarter they went three and out on all three, netting -18 yards on nine plays which included both the Steelers’ sacks.
*On the Giants second drive Keenan Lewis came on a blitz, saw Eli look to check down, held his ground and batted the pass down forcing the Giants to punt.
*Ike Taylor got the Steelers fourth interception on the season which was generated by heavy pressure by Steve McLendon and Cam Heyward.
*Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor made a great play throwing Andre Brown for three yard loss on second on goal from the two. After an incompletion on third down the Giants had to settle for a field goal to go up 20-10. A decisive four points the Giants didn’t get.
*Giants wideouts were held to 6 catches for 77 yards. The pass defense was excellent and, like the offensive line, has shown massive improvement in the past four weeks. Will Allen continues to do a shockingly good job filling in for Troy.
*Keenan Lewis and an excellent game and was unjustly tagged with one PI call, but he has to try to get his head around on deep balls. The 46-yarder penalty at the end of the first half was a good call. Keenan probably doesn’t want to see the Nicks stiff-arm on film either.
*James Harrison could have iced the game if he had fallen on an Eli Manning fumble at the Giants 12-yard line with 3:45 left. Instead he tried to scoop it and the Giants recovered.
*Chris Rainey was fantastic returning kicks. He finished with five returns for 173 yards (34.6 avg.) which included 50 and 68 yard runs.
*Manny Sanders, the team’s third option in the return game, had a 63-yard punt return that essentially set up the Steelers winning score.
*The Steelers did a good job of containing David Wilson who has been very explosive on kickoff returns this season.
*The Steelers opted for a fake field goal from the Giants 3, down 20-17 with about 11 minutes left. It’s easy to second-guess the call with hindsight. If Tomlin wasn’t going to kick the field goal he should have run the ball, particularly with the success the Steelers were having on the ground. I didn’t expect a rush off the edge with such a short kick and the Giants easily stuffed the fake.
*Brandon Johnson got a holding call on a punt return with 3:07 left in the game. Tomlin was not happy.
*Mike Tomlin and his staff get an A+ for the third week in a row. Both coordinators dialed up excellent game plans and the staff deserves a ton of credit for the team’s improvement over the past month. They also deserve credit for keeping the team focused and mentally tough in the face of some terrible calls.
*On defense Dick LeBeau surprised me by having Ike Taylor follow Victor Cruz all over the field, including in the slot, but both he and Lewis were solid. The Steelers showed different looks and were able to generate pressure that made Eli more and more uncomfortable as the game went on. They also did well in disguising their blitzes.
*Todd Haley continues to do a great job of mixing the play calling. The Steelers again dominated time of possession holding the ball for 35:15. Haley made an excellent call on 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers 29 with 2:40 remaining in the game. Manny Sanders ran a deep seam route that took some time to develop and Ben hit him for a 16-yard gain and a first down. Play to win. Haley did there.
*Even though they got points at the end of the first half, the Steelers were slow to use their last time out and probably could have taken one shot at the end zone had they called it quicker.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Just wow. The first pass interference call on Keenan Lewis was very questionable. The personal foul call on Ryan Clark on the same drive was as bad as it gets and cost the Steelers four points. The fumble-touchdown just looked wrong. The ball moved in Ben’s hand after he was hit, but he clearly still had control and was trying to pull it down and Heath Miller was blocked in the back as he tried to make the tackle.
Up Next: The Chiefs at home on Monday night. This is one the Steelers should win regardless of who is on the injury report. A win will set them up at 6-3, in excellent position for the two-games-in-three-weeks showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.
Originally posted here on ESPN 970 & reprinted with permission.