Giant Relief: The Steelers Prove to be the Contender
In the opponent preview for this game I noted that both the Steelers’ last two victories and the Giants’ six-game winning streak were somewhat suspect because of the quality of the opponents, and that consequently this game would serve as a measuring rod for both teams. Well, the results are in, and the Steelers sure looked like contenders yesterday at Heinz Field.
There were a number of encouraging signs on both sides of the ball. Let’s begin with the defense, which has been the big unknown this season.
Eli Manning, who had been somewhat of an interception machine at various points earlier in his career, has become much better at taking care of the ball, and had thrown an average of less than one INT per game (14 total) for the past two seasons. The Steelers’ defense, which has been really poor in this area, has shown signs of coming on in the past several games, and picked Manning off twice yesterday. One was by a defensive back, who as a group are clearly beginning to get the idea (Sean Davis) and one was a really athletic catch by Old Man Timmons. Both men managed to run the ball back a good way, although Davis’ runback was all for naught as Artie Burns was hit with an illegal block in the back penalty.
This is all the more astonishing since during the course of the first 10 games of the season the Steelers’ defense had a total of five interceptions. The have five more in their past two games.
The defense also picked up another couple of sacks, which is particularly good considering that Manning had only been sacked 13 times all season, a league-best average. The Steelers got him down twice—and one of them was by Ricardo Matthews. In fact, it was a good night for San Diego transplants. It was also another good night for James Harrison, who has five sacks in his last five games. That’s just absurd, somehow…
The Giants don’t rely on the run, using a short passing game to substitute, which is why they are not excelling in time of possession. But yesterday they were particularly bad (we would like to think thanks to the Steelers’ awesomeness), holding the ball over eight minutes less than the Steelers.
The Steelers went into the game determined to shut down whatever running game the Giants might attempt, and did so successfully. They averaged 79+ yards rushing per game coming in, and rushed for just 56 yards yesterday. Manning was also held to under 200 yards passing.
There were two main storylines going into the game—Manning vs. Roethlisberger, aka the No. 1 and No. 11 picks in the 2004 draft, and Antonio Brown vs. Odell Beckham, aka two of the top receivers in the NFL. The outcome came down decisively on the side of Roethlisberger and Brown. Oh, Beckham totted up some yards, although 90 of his 100 yards came in the second half. He had nearly twice as many yards and receptions as AB. But AB showed up where it counted—on a beautiful TD catch in the end zone.
As for Roethlisberger/Manning, the QB ratings tell the tale. Ben’s NFL QB rating was considerably higher than Manning’s—98.0 vs. 69.9—but the really fascinating figure is the ESPN’s QBR ratings, which supposedly take into account things the QB shouldn’t be held responsible for (or shouldn’t get credit for.) The rating tops out at 100, and Ben’s rating yesterday was 71.6. Eli’s was a season-low 16.9.
But there were two really big stories in the game. The first would be Le’Veon Bell, who was again a complete workhorse, never leaving the field when the offense was on it as far as I could see, and touching the ball 36 times, 29 of them rushing attempts. He is racking up unbelievable stats in the last few games, averaging 175 yards from scrimmage. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com noted:
Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged an NFL-record 125.5 yards from scrimmage in his unparalleled nine-year career. Bell is right on his heels, averaging 124.6 in 44 career games.
The other big story is Ladarius Green, our second San Diego transplant. After a very frustrating beginning to the season (and middle of the season, for that matter) he is looking very much like who the Steelers hoped they were signing. He led the receivers with 110 yards on six catches (he also had a drop which probably would have resulted in a nice gain had he caught it.)
The amazing thing is, these stories overshadow the rather surprising one of the Steelers’ kicker, one Randy Bullock, who signed Saturday, showed up, and was three for three on field goal attempts and one for one on extra point attempts. He was a late replacement for Chris Boswell, who had an “abdominal injury.” I can’t find out any more about this mysterious injury or how it occurred or what it means, but at least for today Randy Bullock put some great stuff on tape. It had to be particularly satisfying for Bullock, whose last team was—the New York Giants.
I’m sure there will be lots more to say—it’s always more fun after a win—but for now we can bask in the glow of 7-5, with only the niggling discomfort of the Ravens thoroughly beating the Dolphins—really thoroughly—to stay ahead of the Steelers. This “easy schedule” down the stretch is beginning to look a lot more difficult. Let’s hope the guys escaped with only minor injuries, although Javon Hargrave had to leave with a possible concussion partway through the game and Shamarko Thomas appeared to re-injure the groin muscle. But, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, I’ll think about that in the morning…