Folger’s Forecast: Giants vs. Pittsburgh
by Bob Folger, Senior Analyst
After winning successive division games, and sitting pretty now at 6-2, you’d expect the Giants to have a huge letdown. Human nature is tough to fight.
However, if you don’t show up against the Steelers, one of the most physical teams in the league, you’ll get your collective heads handed to you. It would, therefore, behoove the Giants to show up prepared for a physical battle.
The Steelers are getting back to “Steelers” football, which means a physical running game, big-play wide outs to hit you deep, and a defense that is big, tough and physical. They are dangerous when they have the lead, as it protects their weakness, which is its offensive line’s so-so ability to pass block. Force the Steelers into passing downs, and you have a big advantage.
Giants on Offense
The offense’s game plan to beat the Steelers is simple – run the ball. And we think the Giants can do it. The Steelers front seven is not as good as it once was, while we think the offensive line is blocking well for the run. Smacking the Steelers in the mouth, and then burning them on play-action, is a recipe that the coaches force-feed to succeed.
This is the week to get Andre Brown back into full-rotation mode with Ahmad Bradshaw. Simply put, Brown is the better back with the ball in his hands. Bradshaw is a better blocker and decision-maker in pass protection, though Brown is no slouch either.
Moving forward, giving Bradshaw the majority of the snaps would be a mistake. Brown is bigger, faster, he’s more talented, and he’s nearly as tough. If the Giants want to run the ball, and they should, they have to make this duo a true equal-time rotation.
The Giants’ passing game has stopped taking the league by surprise and is not quite as dominant as it was last year, which is why the running game needs to step up. Hakeem Nicks is getting closer, while Victor Cruz needs to get his head back in the game, as he did not play well last week. We suspect the contract extension that’s being worked on might be on his mind. The organization really needs to get it done, the sooner the better.
Rueben Randle is the player that we feel is going to surprise the league before this season is all said and done. He’s really showing flashes out there. We like how he’s beating single coverage, how he goes up to get the ball, and how he uses his big body to his advantage. We’d also like to see tight end Martellus Bennett pick up his route-running, which needs to be sharper.
Pittsburgh’s linebackers are still its defense’s strength. OLB James Harrison has to be accounted for on passing downs but we think their most complete linebacker is Lamar Woodley. Eli Manning has to help his linemen identify Pittsburgh’s bevy of pass rushers, most of who come off the LB blitz.
Giants on Defense
Controlling the line of scrimmage has to be a Giants’ priority this week, especially against the run. Take away Pittsburgh’s running game, and you take away their heart and soul. The Steelers’ passing game is good, but not great.
Pittsburgh’s weak link is its offensive line. They are particularly vulnerable when pass-blocking. It’s a big group that lacks mobility, which leaves their quarterback vulnerable in the pocket. The Giants’ pass rush is starting to come on. The last thing Pittsburgh wants to do is go back to pass on every down.
This week will be Chris Canty’s third game back from PUP. Last week, he never looked better in a Giants’ uniform. He’s in great shape, he’s fresh, and he’s really getting off the ball well. The Giants could also be getting back Rocky Bernard, which would really help hold things in check in the pit. The defense has missed Bernard’s combination of experience and power.
Chase Blackburn likely won’t play in the middle, which will put a big bull’s-eye on the chest of backup Mark Herzlich if the Giants stay in their base defense. We think the defense will miss Blackburn against this very physical group up front. Herzlich will have to be particularly cognizant of the cutback runs and try hard to contain his natural enthusiasm, not over-react, and play under control. Discipline needs to be his focus.
The Giants’ secondary got their turnovers last week but they also gave up a lot of yards. The bottom line is they played big when it counted (early and late), but there were too many holes in the coverage to satisfy anyone.
Kenny Phillips is on the verge of returning. If he suits up he will be eased back into the action, likely in the nickel and dime packages.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Antrel Rolle moved down into a Deon Grant-type S/LB role this week. Rolle is much better playing close to the line of scrimmage. His gambling style as a deep safety is an ongoing disaster waiting to happen. His two interceptions vs. the 49ers several weeks ago might have been the worst thing that could have happened. His gambling is leaving his corners naked out there.
Giants on Specials
The Giants haven’t had as much positive play from their special teams in quite some time. Both kickers continue to impact field position as well as the scoreboard, while the coverage units continue to play well. There’s no doubt that they miss Jacquian Williams’ blocking and tackling, but there’s still plenty of young talent that is stepping up. Spencer Paysinger has been their most consistent player.
Pittsburgh’s special teams have been ordinary. Their return game has been quiet while their kickers have been solid but unspectacular. Look for the Giants to win this battle and contribute against another difficult opponent.
The Giants rarely play well offensively at home, and we don’t know why. Running the ball will help control the clock but the offense’s red zone deficiencies have to get fixed. The best matchup in the Giants’ favor is their defensive line vs. Pitt’s offensive line. If as expected the front seven can take away Pitt’s running game, we like the home team’s chances.