Steelers 20, Giants 12: Hits, Misses and Musings

Much has been made about the revamped New York Giants offense, a unit that is supposed to be better this year in every facet thanks to the addition of some new faces like Evan Engram, Brandon Marshall and Rhett Ellison, the revamping of the running game and the improvement of the offensive line.

So how did it all play out?

Well keep in mind that neither starting quarterback Eli Manning nor top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. played in this game. Also keep in mind that Marshall didn’t have a pass target thrown his way.

Regardless, the Giants offense had many of the same issues that bogged it down last year. On third downs, they were five of 17, (29 percent). They went 0 for 2 in the red zone and in goal-to-go efficiency. And they averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on the ground, with starter Paul Perkins gaining just three yards on five carries.

Number of touchdowns? How about a nice, big fat goose egg.

Panic time? Eh, not quite yet since again, there was no Manning, Beckham or Marshall, nor was there a game plan to execute. But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t expecting a little more efficiency from the offense as a whole across the three strings.

Hits

S Landon Collins: Someone obviously forgot to tell third-year safety Landon Collins that it’s the preseason because he was like a whirling dervish out there. Collins finished with a team-leading five tackles including one for a loss.

LB Calvin Munson: Munson has done very little to dissuade me from making him my sleeper pick for a roster spot. Finishing third on the team in tackles and recording a special teams tackle, Munson took advantage of an opportunity to play middle linebacker with both Mark Herzlich and Keenan Robinson sidelined with injuries. Munson actually reminds one of a younger and slightly more efficient Herzlich, so it will be interesting to see if he can end up pushing Herzlich off the roster this year.

Aldrick Rosas: After badly shanking a long field goal attempt in warm-ups, the man with the ice water flowing through his veins nailed two big field goals of 27 and 52 yards. His competition, Mike Nugent, was also perfect on his field goal attemtps, but Rosas, to our eyes, remains in the lead for the kicking job.

Misses

QB Josh Johnson: Listed as the backup quarterback on the depth chart, Johnson received the start at quarterback with Eli Manning on the bench as a healthy scratch. Besides only completing 50 percent of his pass attempts (5 of 10 for 31 yards), Johnson’s biggest problem was and continues to be that he holds the ball far too long, looking to make something happen. He did just that on two of his sacks, one of which he ran himself right into T.J. Watts’ grasp (on the play, it might have looked as though Ereck Flowers gave up the sack, but trust us; it was Johnson’s doing). It’s only the first preseason game, but it would be a shocking development if Johnson’s performance tonight doesn’t put him behind in the competition with Geno Smith.

WR Roger Lewis: Targeted three times in the passing game and coming up with just one reception, Lewis didn’t help his case for a roster spot either. First, he was guilty of not working himself free from a defender on the play where Josh Johnson ran himself into a sack. But the more egregious mistake made by Lewis came on a pass thrown his way in the end zone. Lewis simply lost track of where he was and drifted out of the back of the end zone. While he made the catch, the pass was correctly ruled incomplete because of his lack of realizing where his feet were. Had he done so, the Giants would have had a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.

CB Valentino Blake: Yes, Blake had an early game interception, but other than that, he had a forgettable night in his quest to nail down a roster spot. He was beaten in coverage on Cobi Hamilton’s 44-yard reception which set up the Steelers’ first field goal of the game. Blake was also the guilty party on Hamilton’s 28-yard touchdown reception which gave the Steelers a 10-9 lead at the half. On that play, it looked like Blake gave up the inside positioning to the receiver.  Blake was also beaten on what would have been an 11-yard touchdown pass to former Giants tight end Xavier Grimble, except that play was nullified by offsetting penalties.

Hisses

This category is a combination of Hits and Misses.

Geno Smith: Smith was the best of the Giants three quarterback in this game, completing 10 of 16 pass attempts for 114 yards. While he did throw a blind interception—how he didn’t see the defender in the passing lanes is a mystery—Smith looked far more decisive and in control of the huddle than Johnson. I’ve said all along to watch out for Smith in the backup quarterback battle and interception aside, he did nothing to change my mind that he’ll win the backup job over Johnson.

The Flowers Report

Let’s put the progress made by offensive tackle Ereck Flowers into perspective.

First, after two downright awful and inconsistent seasons, Flowers has nowhere to go but up. And he’s been doing just that. I have this going in my camp reports so might as well continue them in the preseason game reports.

Ok, so how did he do in his first preseason game?

On a first glance, not bad. There were no holding penalties called and on first blush, he didn’t get his hands up around his opponent’s neck, which is a positive. He also did a nice job striking his opponents a lot quicker than he has done in the past.

Ok, so what happened on those two sacks of Josh Johnson in which Flowers was in the vicinity?

Let’s take a look.

On this one, Flowers had T.J. Watt blocked to the outside, which he was supposed to do. However, Johnson ran himself into an open lane where Watt simply had to side step to get him, even with Flowers hanging on. This sack was 100 percent on Johnson, who ran too close to the fire.

Now let’s look at Watt’s second sack:

On this one, it looked like Flowers was running outside to set up for a screen (head coach Ben McAdoo wouldn’t confirm it was a screen, saying only “possibly” when asked if it was, but trust us, it was supposed to be a screen.)

It’s hard to tell exactly who was at fault here—left guard Justin Pugh said he’d have to bog back and watch the tape to see, but he did acknowledge there was a miscommunication. McAdoo, meanwhile, hinted that there was a mistake made by a receiver on the outside which forced Johnson to eat the ball.

Overall on a first blush, Flowers had a solid showing in limited snaps. It’s a small step forward, but at this point, I’m sure the Giants will sign up for these baby steps forward.

Musings

A big topic in the post game locker room was the suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was handed a six-game ban by the league today due to his alleged involvement in domestic violence.

So what did members of the Giants think about the news?

Safety Landon Collins summed it up quite nicely.

“I don’t want to hear the backlash of, ‘This person wasn’t here,'” said safety Landon Collins. “You want to play against the best to become the best and he’s one of the best out there now.”

Collins is right. The Giants defense proved last year that it can stand toe-to-toe with the Cowboys’ running back. And should the Giants advance to the post season, guess what? They’re going to have to face the best of the best.

So yes, while it is an advantage for the other team to be missing a key element of its arsenal, iron sharpens iron, and the Giants, who don’t give me the impression that they fear anyone, don’t seem particularly elated over the possibility of Elliott not being on the field opening weekend (nor should they).