There was a lot on the line this afternoon in Rutherford, NJ as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants squared off. Both teams were fighting for respect in their divisions and had a lot on the line. When you mix in the events of recent days with Superstorm Sandy and all the upheaval that went with it, there were so many dynamics at work it was hard to predict what would happen. And what happened was the Steelers went into MetLife Stadium with the odds against them and they put on an impressive performance in a win that wasn’t as close as the score.
When I broke down my 5 things to watch, I felt like there were 5 aspects of this game to consider so let’s re-visit those.
The matchup between Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. This was a huge win for LeBeau and the Steelers. LeBeau played tight man coverage with 2 safeties deep, keeping typically 6 in the box to stop the run, and the players responded with a smothering performance. Quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants passing game could never get any rhythm. The Steelers defensive backs played the Giants wide outs very physical, and even though the Steelers only logged 2 sacks on Manning, he was under constant duress, and it felt like there were many cases where he was throwing like he was under more pressure than it may have appeared. Gilbride could never find a formula to crack the Steelers defense who never let up, even when things didn’t go their way.
I wondered how the Steelers offensive line would matchup against the Giants defensive line. The Giants defensive line is tremendous at rushing the passer, and they did a really good job getting after quarterback Ben Roethilsberger with 3 sacks and several more pressures. I said that the Steelers needed to run right at that line to keep them honest, and boy did they. Isaac Redman, playing for the injured Jonathan Dwyer just pounded the middle of the Giants D to the tune of 147 yards on 26 carries. I’m not a big stats guy, but that sort of running makes an old school Steelers fan like me drool.
I also wondered about how the Steeler amended travel schedule would effect them. Looks to me that it didn’t at all, and I was thankful. With all the other things that worked against the Steelers including injuries to key players like wide reciever Antonio Brown and running back Chris Rainey, along with some of the poorest officiating I’ve ever seen, I was glad travel fatigue never came into play.
Then there was the matchup of the Steelers passing offense against the Giants pass defense. I thought the Giants did a good job for the most part. The forced Roethlisberger to a lot of checkdowns, kept routes cut off and made him take what the defense gave him. Unfortunately for Giants fans, on one of those shallow crosses Ben hooked up with wide receiver Mike Wallace and he just flew past every Giants defender for a long touchdown. There aren’t 5 players in the league who could have made that catch and run.
The last point I wanted to consider was how would the Steelers react if they had a lead in the 4th quarter against Manning. Well, it really started playing out that way. The Steelers stormed back from 10 down and took the lead late in the 4th. The Twitterverse starting blowing up with talk of “Manning Magic” and how the Giants were going to march down and win it. But the Steelers defense never got the memo beause on their final drive they put the clamps on the Giants offense one final time, and closed the door on any 4th quarter miracles for the Giants.
In the final analysis, this performance by the Steelers was dominating. They outgained he Giants by nearly 2 to 1, and if not for some home cooked officiating and fluke plays the scoreboard looks much worse. All I have been hearing is how much better the NFC is than the AFC, but on this night the AFC team had everything working against them, and they still went out and won big. It was put up or shut up time for the Steelers as they reached the midway point of the season and I think after this performance they must be considered among the top teams in the NFL.