With both New Jersey and New York feeling the effects from Hurricane Sandy, and the city of New York receiving enough backlash from citizens to cancel the New York City Marathon, it was an interesting decision by the states and the NFL to move forward with the game. With a ton of logistics and security questions lingering, not to mention an intriguing match-up at hand against the New York Giants, we at Steelers 101 discussed this and more with Simon Garron-Caine from Giants101.football, and one that is nowhere near normal for the Giants.
We remember seeing an article or two suggesting it was in bad taste to play the game Sunday afternoon but there hasn't been backlash on the scale of the marathon (and rightly so in our mind: the marathon absolutely takes over the city and requires a lot more public resources than a football game. The marathon also starts in a part of Staten Island that is one of the worst-hit parts of the city).
Coach Tom Coughlin mentioned that more than half the players were without power following the storm, and lots of the players live in Hoboken and Jersey City which were very hard hit areas. Lots has been made about the Steelers having to travel to Jersey the morning of the game, but half the team living out of friends' houses and dealing with the damage to their own homes are probably as big distractions as any.
That said, by far the most practical affect the storm will have on the game will be apparent at game time: given the lack of power, closed roadways, gasoline shortages, public transportation suspensions and the general having of more important things to do, we'd expect lots of ticket-holders not to make it to the stadium Sunday. Half-full stadiums are always odd and, if it is empty, should sap some home field advantage. Moreover, with tickets probably being sold for pennies on the dollar, we start to wonder about that reputation Steelers fans have for traveling with their team
Moving onto the game, we talked about the Giants secondary, and whether the Steelers could have an advantage going into this weekend.
The Giants secondary has been an enigma this season, but the biggest reason for the turnaround has been health. Prince Amukamara's been healthy enough to play like the starting NFL corner he was expected to be, after healing from a sprained ankle. On top of that, Corey Webster overcame a rocky start and a broken hand; important backups Michael Coe and Jayron Hosley have played well before and after missing time with injuries of their own.
The Giants pass defense looks awful on paper, but that might be a bit misleading. They do give up a huge number of passing yards…but those yards haven't translated into tons of points for their opponents: Big blue is 29th in yards allowed but only eight teams have allowed less points per game. A large part of is scheme: Perry Fewell appears happy to give up short passes underneath and remain committed to stopping quick scores and big plays. The result is long drives and lots of yardage for their opponents but good red zone defense and excellent turnover production (league-leading 24 takeaways) has made it a formula that has worked…for the most part.
Keep an eye out this week for the three-safety look. The Giants have used it a lot in previous years with Deon Grant as the third safety, but Stevie Brown's excellent play in Kenny Phillips' absence has earned him some playing time even with Phillips and Antrel Rolle both ready to go. While many around the team expect to see lots of it down the stretch, it remains to be seen whether it will be installed this soon. But linebackers Keith Rivers, Chase Blackburn and Jacquian Williams likely to be in street clothes, and Mathias Kiwanuka seeing increased reps along the defensive line in recent weeks, it's not out of the question that we'll some of the "Big Nickel" package, as its known, this week.
There is also a fact that has to come up in any Giants-Steelers match-up is the Eli Manning Ben Roethlisberger connection, as the two will be linked by draft class (2004) and quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings. While he does not expect Eli or any of the Giants to be pressured or even concerned with the 2004 draft class storyline, there could be a storyline for this game by playing in Sandy's aftermath. One thing that has separated Roethlisberger and Manning are the critical and often outlandish chances Manning will take, and whether he has moved past those as he continues to trend upward in the eyes of fans.
Unfortunately, Eli has not totally gotten over some of the mind-numbing mistakes that were a big part of what characterized the early years of his career. There was a horrible interception in the end zone against Philly that arguably cost us the game and there were two horrible interceptions against Washington that made the 77-yard game-winner to Victor Cruz necessary in the first place. However, the latter example proves the larger point: the classic Eli "Aw Shucks" interceptions and goofball plays are there…but they hardly define his play anymore.
He's really earned all the praise he gets as a big game, big moment quarterback. You might see one or two of those errors, but, do not expect them in the fourth quarter, don't expect them when the game's on the line. Any quarterback can get rattled if you hit him, but Eli has proven he can deliver in the face of pressure, both from pass rushers and the bright lights of big moments.
With Manning moving toward an elite level, it seems like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are the “go to” wide receivers, but as we know with the Steelers a wuarterback must have other options to become elite.
Manning really does embody the cliche that the ball goes to the open receiver, and big games for Domenik Hixon, Reuben Randle and Ramses Barden at various points in the season highlight that. Cruz probably sees the most balls, seeing that he works the middle of the field a lot and Nicks draws more double teams. Cruz is an unbelievable possession threat who can break one at anytime.
That said, Nicks is probably the "better receiver" in the more traditional sense: he's got the strength to beat press coverage, the speed to separate, the toughness and hands to catch tough balls in traffic and the height, length and physicality to go up and get it. Cruz may be as quick and shifty as they come, but Nicks is the complete package. They are an absolutely phenomenal 1-2 punch, not all that different from the Wallace-Brown combo.
The best anecdote we can offer is this: Mario Manningham had a touchdown in every playoff game last year. Just when you get to making sure Cruz and Nicks don't beat you, Eli will find the next best place to go with the ball. Point in case: Martellus Bennett and Hixon are both on pace to have 50+ catch seasons as the 3rd and 4th options.
The last question in our conversation was cliché but had to be asked; the Giants win if:
The Giants win this one if they win the turnover battle. We know, we know, it's cliché…but we see pretty comparable teams. Committed to running games that don't work as well as anyone would like, defenses that aren't quite living up to what they used to be, and awesome, multi-weapon passing attacks that usually end up taking over the game. Both teams have the aerial attack to move the ball. If one team doesn't fumble away the game early on, it probably comes down to the last offense standing.
*Note: Help with the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to go towards the Red Cross Disaster Relief.
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