Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Giants Week 9 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Giants Week 9 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
This just may be the most anticipated games of Week 9. The Steelers (4-3) are riding the momentum of their first two-game winning streak of the season, while the Giants (6-2) hope to add to their four-game winning streak.
The marquee matchup in this battle will be between two quarterbacks that were part of the 2004 NFL Draft class. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning both have won two Super Bowls, and both are arguably two of the elite quarterbacks in the league today.
However, this game goes far beyond Roethlisberger and Manning. The Steelers have a running game that is just starting to find its stride, and the Giants feature one of the top ten rushers in the NFL.
Defensively, New York has playmaking ability on their front line as well as in the secondary. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, hasn’t been as effective in the takeaway department, but still has managed to be ranked in the top five in overall defense in the league (even without Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu).
As important as this game is to both teams, the Steelers might enter this game with a little more urgency. Many people, including myself, thought that Pittsburgh would be in much better shape record-wise at this point in the season. This game by far will be the hardest challenge for the Steelers so far this year.
Let’s see how Pittsburgh matches up to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are the two quarterbacks that shine the brightest of the group of signal callers that were a part of the 2004 draft class. They both have combined for five Super Bowl appearances and four championships. This season, Manning is third in the league in passing yards (2,301) while Roethlisberger’s 1,987 passing yards ranks him at ninth. Eli and Big Ben have completed over 60 percent of the passes on the season, and have virtually identical numbers for the year. This matchup can go either way. Just about every team in the league will kill to have either one of these quarterbacks leading their offense down the field week after week.
After a series of injuries to Pittsburgh’s backfield, they have finally found some rhythm in their running game. Running back Jonathan Dwyer has posted back-to-back 100-yard games and has become the Steelers’ leading rusher on the season. However, even with the resurgence of Pittsburgh’s ground attack and the possible return of Rashard Mendenhall, New York’s running game has shown more consistency all season long. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is currently ninth in the league in rushing with 570 yards and has found the end zone four times. Bradshaw’s backup, Andre Brown, has shown productivity in the Giants’ offense with five rushing touchdowns of his own.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is proving that his performance from last season was no fluke. Cruz’s 650 receiving yards ranks him at sixth in the league, and is tied for first in the NFL with seven receiving touchdowns after the first eight weeks of the season. Along with Cruz, the size of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks can present a tough challenge for Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks. The most reliable pass catcher for the Steelers seems to be tight end Heath Miller. Overshadowed by Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Miller is often overlooked by defenses, and should be the x-factor in keeping drives alive for Pittsburgh in this game. Wallace and Brown will find it difficult against New York’s ball-hawking secondary.
Just like their backfield, the Steelers’ offensive line has endured through injuries and are finally starting to gel. They’ve helped their rushing attack jump from 31st to 21st in two weeks, and hasn’t allowed a sack in two of their last four games. As good as that sounds, the Giants’ offensive line has done much better. New York’s o-line has paved the way for a ground game that is averaging 114.6 yards per game and has scored 10 touchdowns. In addition, the Giants have only given up seven sacks and 21 quarterback hits all season long (both are best in the NFL).
New York’s front four can be considered one of the best in the league, and one of the most athletic. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul leads a New York defensive front that has 10.5 of the team’s 21 sacks. Veteran defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora adds depth along the Giants’ defensive line. Pittsburgh doesn’t have as much depth up front, and hasn’t been as productive as the Giants have either. The Steelers’ defensive front only has three of Pittsburgh’s 12 sacks on the season. The only noise that the Steelers’ defensive line may make is from their run defense, which ranks ninth in the league.
Pittsburgh’s linebacking corps is known for their pass rushing ability. Lately, that aspect of their game hasn’t reared its head. Only nine sacks have been recorded by the Steelers’ linebackers, and facing a Giants offensive line that has surrendered the fewest sacks in the league will present a problem. New York’s linebackers haven’t had that much success in corralling quarterbacks either, but have picked off quarterbacks four times, compared to Pittsburgh’s two interceptions from their linebackers. This might have been a more interesting comparison if the Steelers linebackers of the 1970s and the Giants linebackers of the 1980s were involved. Unfortunately, this will have to do.
It may not seem like it, but Pittsburgh has the best pass defense in the NFL, giving up an average of 182.6 yards per game. As well as the Steelers have coped without Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu, their secondary have lacked big plays throughout the season. Free safety Ryan Clark has the only interception out of all Steelers defensive backs. Giants strong safety Stevie Brown is second in the league with five interceptions, which is tops in a New York defensive backfield that has 11 of the team’s 16 interceptions (which is tied for first in the league).
Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has kicked quite a few field goals so far this season, 26 to be exact, and has connected on 24 of those. New York’s Steve Weatherford has averaged 45.9 yards per punt and has put 11 of his 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. Pittsburgh’s kicker Shaun Suisham has been just as accurate as Tynes, and rookie punter Drew Butler is almost a carbon copy of Weatherford. The difference maker in this matchup will be Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and rookie Chris Rainey. If it wasn’t for a couple of penalties, the Steelers would have two punt returns for touchdowns this season instead of zero. Brown, a Pro Bowl special teamer from last season, and Rainey both can take it the distance at any given point in time.
Just like both quarterbacks in this game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Giants head coach Tom Coughlin both have won Super Bowl championships. Coughlin has proven twice that he can lead a team to the Promised Land the hard way. The two times the Giants went to the Super Bowl during the Coughlin era, they were wildcard teams, and persevered. Tomlin also led his team to two Super Bowls, winning one and becoming the youngest head coach to win a championship. Even with Tomlin having the assistance of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers are pretty much on the same level as the Giants are when it comes to their coaching staff and what their head coaches bring to their respective teams.
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