Anytime you feel you have a good ball club, as a head coach, you are looking for teams on the schedule that you feel will give your team their greatest challenge. I’ve learned with the National Football League that while it’s fun to look at the 16-game schedule before the season starts, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot. We can circle ‘big’ games and put little stars next to a given victory but even those don’t always turn out right.
I’m betting you probably had Pittsburgh defeating Tennessee back in April when the schedule came out and I’m sure Patriots’ fans had done the same thing with their home game against the Arizona Cardinals. In both cases, it didn’t quite work out so well but now in the case of the Steelers, they have won back-to-back games for the first time in 2012 and look to win a third in a row on Sunday against the New York Giants.
Whenever you play the defending Super Bowl Champions, it’s a huge game. They have what you want and you want to show them you are deserving of it as well. For the Steelers now at 4-3, this game in New York, errrrrrr, New Jersey takes on some pretty serious ramifications.
The first thing you have to do is see just where the Steelers’ offensive line truly is. After pounding the Bengals and the Redskins on the ground in the last two weeks, if this line does the same and the team rushes for over 120 yards against the G-Men then we can start to get excited about this team.The other thing to look for from the O-line is protection. If they can keep Ben Roethlisberger upright and relatively clean against the top front four in the game today, then we can start to get excited about this team.
The receivers will be challenged by a very good, opportunistic secondary of the Giants. They will do their best to cover long enough to allow the front four to get pressure on Roethlisberger. If he gets more time than usual to throw, then the ‘Young Money Crew’ will have a field day. If Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Co. grab several passes each and score a couple of TDs on Sunday then we can start to get excited about this team.
Defensively, we could really be at a disadvantage in the secondary against Eli Manning who is a pretty darn good quarterback. Ryan Clark believes he will play but if he can’t go, that leaves Will Allen and Ryan Mundy at the safety positions and I’m not exactly crazy about that. It puts more pressure on the corners and forces Dick LeBeau to probably blitz even more than he normally likes. Either case, if this secondary can limit Nicks and Cruz and Co. then we can start to get excited about this team.
Pressure! Have we really seen the ‘true’ Dick LeBeau-style pressure this season that we have grown so accustomed to seeing? Nope. We sure as hell haven’t but there are factors such as injuries and age and opposition that come into play here. With that said, I still expect LeBeau to challenge Manning with different looks and delayed blitzes in an effort to confuse him and throw him off a bit. If the Steelers’ defense can get to Eli Manning like they haven’t gotten to a quarterback this season then we can start to get excited about this team.
The New York Giants are the perfect opponent to use as a measuring stick for this team simply because they challenge the Steelers in all of the most important areas. The Giants are not the second-coming of the undefeated Miami Dolphins but they are formidable and have won four in a row. One of two things will come out of this game regardless of the score; Either we can start to get really excited about this team or we can start to ponder the “what-ifs” of 2012. Until next week anyway…