The elite of the elite will collide on the field in Pittsburgh Sunday when the New York Giants line up against the Steelers. Roethlisberger versus Manning. AB versus OBJ. Having five of the top three players in the NFL at their position, if you include Le’Veon Bell, on the same field has the potential to be the best game of the day, maybe even the season.
The Steelers should be very fresh after 10 days off, with a two game winning streak. But, the Giants are on a winning streak of their own at 6 games. And, they’re a much better team than they showed through two and a half quarters this past Sunday against the same winless Cleveland Browns the Steelers looked unimpressive against the week before.
Currently the Giants are a 6-point underdog to the Steelers, and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Steelers a 70% chance to win. Pittsburgh is only 2-2 at home this season, so I don’t see how anyone could think they’re a touchdown better than an 8-3 New York team, even with the home cooking.
The Steelers are flirting with the possibility of missing the playoffs with each loss. The Giants are trying to keep pace with the NFC East leading Dallas Cowboys for the division title, while also jockeying for playoff position should they not win the division. So this matchup shouldn’t disappoint. Here’s what to look for come kickoff.
When the Steelers are on defense, their much maligned secondary will be challenged, not by just Odell Beckham Junior who lit up the Browns for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Sheppard. Sheppard averages 10.8 yards per catch and has 5 touchdowns of his own, while Cruz averages 17.1 yards per catch.
The Giants have the 12th ranked passing attack at 256.5 yards per game, and they have big strike capability with 9 plays of over 40 yards which is 5th best in the NFL.
The Steelers allow 263.5 yards per game through the air, which is 10th worse in the NFL, but due to the “bend but don’t break” strategy they’ve employed for most of the season, they haven’t given up the large amount of big strike plays like in past seasons. It will be key that they keep everything in front of them and not allow Eli’s trio to get behind them consistently for 6 points. This will be the first time you’ll hear me say the “bend but don’t break” game plan is their best option. The Steelers don’t have the type of defensive backs to stay with OBJ and crew at this point in their careers.
When the Steelers offense is on the field, Pittsburgh needs to play ball control and run the ball with Le’Veon Bell, as they have the past two games, to win the time of possession battle and keep the Giants passing game on the sideline. Even though the Giants have the 5th ranked defense against the run (89.1 ypg) and are 3rd in yards allowed per carry (3.5), Pittsburgh will need a strong effort in the running game to keep the defense off balance and protect Roethlisberger from the Giants ferocious pass rush which is 13th in sacks (25) and tied for 8th in interceptions (10).
However, the G-Men have the 9th worse pass defense allowing (264.7 yards per game), and are 6th in most plays given up of 40+ yards (9) and 20+ yards (41). So there will be some opportunities for the “Killer B’s”. They just shouldn’t give it a heavy dose. I said the same thing in my preview of the game against the Colts, but luckily I was wrong.
I expect Roethlisberger will keep a close eye on safety Landon Collins. He has the ball hawking skills of former Baltimore Raven Ed Reed, and provides strong run support like former Steeler Troy Polamalu. Collins leads “Big Blue” in tackles (87) and interceptions (5), to go along with 3 sacks.
Expect a low scoring game. I predict under 45 points combined. Kickoff is Sunday in Heinz Field at 4:25 pm.
When it comes to the battle between Roethlisberger and his fellow 2004 classmate Eli Manning, it’s 2-1 in favor of #7. But Eli won the last meeting at Heinz Field 21-14 in the 2008 season. You’ll have to forgive Steeler Nation if they don’t remember that loss, because of how the season ended winning Lombardi number 6 in Tampa. #7 also has the edge over Eli in total wins since they entered the NFL in 2004. Big Ben is tied for 3rd in that time span, while Eli is 5th.