By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers game Sunday against the New York Giants is a matchup that many of us have been anticipating since the schedule was released, as it pits two elite quarterbacks against one another. While the outcome of the game will depend on more than just the play of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, make no mistake about it, both quarterbacks will have some extra motivation to leave this game victoriously.
The Giants are currently riding a four game winning streak, but they have shown that they have flaws that can be exposed. However, the Steelers will need to continue their two-week trend of improvement if they are going to win this game.
Unfortunately, the injury bug continues to bite, and it could possibly jam up the Steelers progress this week. Jonathan Dwyer is more than likely out, calling into question a running game that has been more than productive against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Redskins. Additionally, while LaMarr Woodley is likely to play, it is hard to believe he will make it through the entire game, as his hamstring issues tend to always cause greater inconveniences than expected. These issues are worth closely monitoring during the game, as they will assuredly have an impact on the final outcome.
The Steelers have yet to win a marquee game, but this Sunday provides the perfect opportunity. Beating the Giants will provide a boost of confidence to the Steelers that they can compete with and win against Super Bowl caliber teams. That confidence could prove the difference between finishing the season 10-6 and 12-4. So while on paper, this is an NFC game that will not have any bearing on their AFC record, the intangible impact on the Steelers psyche moving forward will be immeasurable.
The Steelers Will Win This Game If…
The offense converts red zone trips into touchdowns, and they sustain long drives that keep Manning and his offense off of the field.
The Giants can put up points, and while the Steelers defense has been better as of late in stifling the scoreboard, they have not matched-up against an elite quarterback since Peyton Manning in week one. Expect to see Manning and his receiving corps take advantage of the Steelers’ defense inability to get pressure by connecting on several big plays down the field that result in points. Consequently, the Steelers should be able to move the ball, and they must ensure that they convert their red zone visits into touchdowns. This is going to require that the offense operates efficiently and plays mistake free football. I expect Heath Miller to play another big role is this game in the red zone, as he has become a sure-handed option for points. The other receivers must also make sure that they squeeze the football when targeted in the end zone, and not carelessly drop balls that will convert third downs or result in touchdowns.
The Steelers must also continue their trend of long and methodical drives, and this will require that the running game continue to be effective. However, without Dwyer, this may prove difficult. Isaac Redman looks like he will get the call, and hopefully he can pick up where Dwyer left off last week. The longer that the Steelers offense can keep Eli, Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz on the sidelines, the greater their opportunity to win this game.
The Giants Will Win This Game If…
They get to Roethlisberger, and they stop the Steelers running game.
Uncharacteristically, the Steelers have done a solid job of protecting Roethlisberger this season, though they haven’t truly played against a team with the pass rushing capabilities of the Giants. While Mike Adams has played well in the last two games, his performance in keeping Roethlisberger upright will go a long way in determining how successful the offense will be. If the Giants do get to Roethlisberger and limit his time to throw, the offense will be hard pressed to score points, and the pressure could result in turnovers. If this happens, mark this game as a loss for the Steelers.
Additionally, the Giants must be able to slow down a Steelers running game that has been on fire the last two weeks. They will get a hand in doing so with Dwyer being out, but they haven’t been good in shutting down the run all season, ranking 19th overall in the NFL. If the Giants allow the Steelers to be efficient with their running game, it will result in the Steelers getting into a rhythm and continue their systematic approach to moving down the field.
I am 4-2 on the season in successfully picking the Steelers’ games, and in the offseason, I picked the Giants to win this one. However, as I did a few weeks ago with the Cincinnati game, I am changing directions. I have a strong gut feeling that that the Steelers will leave the Meadowlands with not only a win, but also a 5-3 record heading into their Monday night contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. While I do anticipate Eli throwing for over 300 yards, I also see him turning over the ball at least twice, interrupting two scoring chances. I also believe that it is time for Chris Rainey to breakout in the return game, returning a kickoff for a touchdown. But the greatest reason for why the Steelers will win this game is Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger’s competitiveness is legendary, and there is nothing that he wants more than to beat the quarterback that was drafted before him in the 2004 draft. His teammates know how important this game is to him, and I expect them to elevate their level of play.
When the game is on the line, and when Roethlisberger has a chip on his shoulder, he plays his best football. When it is all said and done tomorrow, expect Roethlisberger to have outdueled Manning and to have led the Steelers to victory on a game-winning drive to cement the victory. Tomorrow will not be a day to bet against Big Ben.
Steelers 32 Giants 25