Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Steelers vs. Giants

Plenty of interesting angles to this Sunday's game at Heinz Field vs. the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

Will the Steelers be able to protect Ben Roethlisberger from the Giants' fierce pass rush featuring Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka. etc., plus an aggressive and effective linebacking corps? Will Willie Colon (and others) be able to contain Tuck, who has seven sacks in seven games?

Should the Steelers run right at the mobile Tuck at defensive end? The Browns did, a couple weeks ago, with some success.

Will the Steelers run defense be able to get off the field on third down? To do so, they must not only limit the Giants' passing game featuring QB Eli Manning, Super MVP and emerging star, and a very deep corps of receivers, -- but, more importantly, they must contain the Giants' powerful running game featuring 270-pound battering ram Brandon Jacobs (pictured above), the slashing Derrick Ward and the mercurial Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants have the best running game in the NFL.

Will the Steelers' receivers be able to get off the line of scrimmage and into their routes quickly? This will be key to the success of the Steelers' recent strategy for protecting Big Ben from getting sacked, hurried and knocked down. With Big Ben taking short, three-step drops and hitting quick outs more often than ever before, the receivers will have to quickly work around the Giants' physical corners, who play an in-your-face bump-and-run style.

All in all, the Giants' secondary has been playing extremely well, including physical play by their corners and rangy, ball-hawking coverage by their emerging stars at safety, Michael Johnson (who had two interceptions last Sunday against San Francisco), James Butler and prized first-round rookie Kenny Phillips, who's been getting considerable playing time in nickel and dime defenses. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls advocated/predicted the Steelers should/would draft Phillips in the first round of April's draft, for a number of reasons that seemed to make sense at the time (not to quibble with the selection of Rashard Mendenhall, who we thought would be long gone by the time the Steelers turn to pick came up on the board). Mendenhall will be a fine player in this league (as will Phillips), and we're looking forward to his return next season. We're glad Mendenhall is a Steeler -- selecting him was a no-brainer -- but it will be interesting to watch Phillips in action on Sunday. Ever since training camp, New York media have been raving about his heady play, closing speed and coverage abilities.

Also interesting to watch will be the performance of former Steeler wide receiver Plaxico Burress, an enigmatic diva but also a formidable player. The Manning-Burress combination has produced more touchdowns than any other QB-receiver tandem since Burress joined the Giants after the 2004 season. He tends to perform especially well when motivated, and when he feels slighted; and he supposedly has always felt the Steelers organization and fans here in Pittsburgh never appreciated him. No doubt, he will be out to prove something on Sunday -- not that he has anything to prove, having made the last-minute winning catch in the Super Bowl and, as we said, having established himself as a go-to, big-time player in New York. Still, controversy dogs him -- Coughlin suspended him for a game (without pay) this season, and it's been estimated that Giants' management has fined Burress upwards of 50 times for various infractions since he joined the Giants. New York media have pegged him as being a self-absorbed, me-first type of player, a reputation that's dogged him throughout his career. Countering that perception, ironically enough is that he's proven himself to a tough player, he plays hurt, and he's productive, so the Giants must figure he's worth the trouble, even if he's had a reputation (before last year) of disappearing in big games -- a reputation he developed as a member of the Steelers. So, it will be interesting to see how he plays in the caldron of Heinz Field on Sunday. We wouldn't bet against him coming up big. Frankly, however, we're tired of the media focus on Burress ... and we're more worried about the Giants' running game and pass rush.

Links Worth Checking Out

The daily must-read One for the Other Thumb has an excellent Q&A with John Woods, a staff editor with The New York Times and regular contributor to the NYT's football blog, The Fifth Down. As Cotter notes, he's also a Steelers fan -- and offers a number of insightful observations about Plaxico Burress, Tom Coughlin, the Giants' pass rush and other factors likely to come into play when the Steelers host the Giants late Sunday afternoon.

The Giants' pass rush (Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, et al) is extremely worrisome, so it may be worth taking a look at how the Browns (?!) neutralized it a week ago Monday night. AOL Fanhouse does just that, with an in-depth analysis of how the Browns prevented the Giants from sacking QB Derek Anderson even once.

The ever-excellent Nice Pick, Cowher has a typically astute take on the drumbeat in Dallas calling for Bill Cowher to become next head coach of the Cowboys. Hint: Not likely to happen as long as Cowher and Dallas owner/general manager/player personnel director/grand poobah Jerry Jones both remain control freaks (which will be forever).

Matchup Storyline Did you know?
Series leader: Giants, 43-28-3, in a series that dates back to a 23-2 Giants win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the very first game in Steelers team history in 1933.
Streaks: The Steelers have won two of the past three matchups, including a 33-30 win over the Giants on Dec. 18, 2004 in a game that featured seven lead changes.
An unstoppable force collides with an immovable object when the Giants' top-ranked rushing offense meets the NFL's top-ranked defense. When RB Brandon Jacobs has 100-plus yards, the Giants are 6-1. When Jacobs has 10-plus carries, the Giants are 19-4. ... Giants WR Plaxico Burress will be playing his first game against his former team (Burress played for the Steelers from 2000 to 2004). ... The Steelers are going for a 10th consecutive win over an NFC opponent at Heinz Field. ... Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley -- who is up for GMC Sierra Defensive Player of the Week honors -- is going for a fifth consecutive game with a sack.