The Pittsburgh Steelers look to get their fifth win of the season when they take on the New York Giants Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. Below are 7 things to watch for specifically in this game along with my prediction at the end of it. In case you missed it, here is the Wednesday podcast preview of the game that features a great interview with Giants beat writer Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York.
Captain Obvious Stat - I hate to start this preview off with one of the most obvious statements known to pre game breakdowns, but the Steelers simply can\'t turnover the football in this game. Sure, this is important in every football game, but I should point out that the Giants have scored 77 of their 234 points this season off of turnovers. That is right at about a third of their points scored. Giving the Giants a short field is giving them easy points as they do a good job of creating turnovers and capitalizing off of them as well. If the Steelers offense protects the football, their chances of winning this game increase greatly. The Giants offense is currently ranked 18th in 3rd down conversions with a 39.22% number, so the longer the field, the greater the odds are that they will stall.
No Salsa Lessons - Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is a very dangerous man. 261 of his 650 yards receiving so far this season have come via 6 catches. Of those 6 catches, 3 ended with him doing his Salsa dance. Cruz also has 215 yards after the catch so far this season to boot. He will line up both outside and in the slot as the Giants will give him every opportunity to get off of the line of scrimmage uncontested. Being physical with Cruz, when possible, is highly suggested, and it would not be surprising to see Cortez Allen draw him in the slot at times when the Steelers are in their nickel or dime sub package. Ike Taylor figures to see some of the Salsa King in addition, and he must wrap him up quickly whenever he makes a catch.
The Herzlich Maneuver - The Giants will be without middle linebacker Chase Blackburn in this game as he has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Starting in his place will be Mark Herzlich, the second-year undrafted free agent out of Boston College. Herzlich started two games as a rookie before suffering a severe ankle injury that ultimately landed him on the inured reserve list. He has only played 15 snaps so far this season on defense as he has been relegated to special teams duty. The Giants run defense has been fairly stout up the middle so far this season with their only weakness being runs off right guard. This is a direction where the Steelers running game is improving at over the least few weeks and they must test Herzlich up the middle with their power running game. Isaac Redman is a straight ahead runner and does not have the ability to bounce it outside like Jonathan Dwyer or Rashard Mendenhall can, so the Steelers offensive line must provide him good lanes to run in. Getting a body like Willie Colon or Maurkice Pouncey out to the second level and on the athletic Herzlich is a key in this game. The Steelers are 3-0 this season when they have out-rushed their opponent, so it is important that the ground game has some success early on in this game.
Explosive Opportunities - The Giants defense has allowed 35 pass plays of 20 yards or more in their first 8 games and only the New England Patriots have given up more. 8 of those 35 have resulted in touchdowns. The Giants also rank 29th in the league in yards allowed per play as they are giving up and average of 6.21 yards per play. That breaks down to 7.76 yards per pass and 4.64 yards per run. The Steelers pass offense has produced 24 explosive plays through the air so far this season and that is not bad considering that the offense now relies mostly on a shorter passing game that is supported mostly by underneath crossing routes. Ben Roethlisberger has taken very few deep shots this season, but he should have a few deep opportunities in this game to hit Mike Wallace over the top. Explosive plays will win or lose this game and the Steelers need at least 6 of them in this game to win it in my opinion.
Time To Make A Bigger Splash - The Steelers defense continues to struggle at making splash plays and they rank last in the league in that category. On the flip side, the Giants offense has only turned the ball over 11 times through 8 games and allowed 7 total quarterback sacks. Eli Manning has only been sacked 6 times himself. The Giants offense has also only suffered thrown for losses 20 times this season when you take away the sacks and the kneel downs. To sum it up, their offense has only allowed 38 defensive splash plays through 8 games. That is pretty damn good. If the Steelers defense is not able to provide at least 5 splash plays in this game, they will likely lose it. If they are unable to get to Manning, they sure better pressure the hell out of him if they want him to make a mistake.
Don\'t Be Down With JPP - Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can make a day miserable for a quarterback if allowed. He has been credited with 5.5 sacks so far through 8 games and a bucket load of pressures. Max Starks will have to be on his screws against JPP in this game and he might need some chip help from the running backs along the way. The Steelers offensive line has done a great job so far this season at keeping Roethlisberger upright and Sunday will perhaps be their biggest test of the season. If JPP gets off to a good start in this game, lookout.
Eli Savings Time - This game figures to be tightly contested one and it very well could come down to who has the ball last. If the Steelers have a slim lead very late in this game, they can not allow Manning to have the ball back with too much time left on the clock. If they do, they are asking for trouble, especially if they have not had success throughout the game at pressuring him. Manning is an elite quarterback and the Steelers defense does not have a good track record late in games against his type. There will be no Troy Polamalu in this game to bail them out, so somebody will have to make a play if a scenario like this unfolds.
Prediction - This game really should be a good as Ben takes on Eli. I expect both quarterbacks will have a good game so it will come down to splash plays and explosive plays. The Steelers defense must prove that it can win a close game against a great quarterback, and the lack of turnovers and sacks produced so far this season worries me. After playing this game over and over in my head, I have a feeling it will be tied late and the Giants will have the ball last with just enough time to left to drive for a winning field goal. I don\'t normally pick against the Steelers, but I have had this game circled on the schedule as a loss for some time now. Hopefully I am proven wrong as a road win would be a Giant step for this team.
Final Score - Giants 29 Steelers 26