In the preview going into this game I talked about how this was a nice measuring stick as to where the Steelers were going to be. On the schedule, as of right now, this was only the second team that was above .500 that they have played and I think the Giants are a better team than the other they played, the Denver Broncos. Hurricane Sandy made herself felt in a number of different ways but the game still went on. The Steelers came, the Steelers conquered.
It wasn't exactly a clean game with some highly questionable calls on the field but it didn't matter. The Steelers defense was pissed and felt they had something to prove. I am not sure if that is true, but they played like it. This is no slouch of an offense and they held them to virtually nothing. The offense was shaky at time but the offensive line just dominated the Giants defensive line in the running game and although Ben was hit more than usual he got time when it was most important.
After a botched fake field goal on the Giants three yard line (or so) the Steelers forced a three and out and got the ball back for Ben. The Steelers went nine plays that covered 51 yards and scored the go ahead touchdown. Eli Manning had the ball, down four, with under four minutes to play. Eli Manning dropped back to pass three different times and didn't complete a pass. The Giants punted and didn't get the ball back.
The defense was outstanding when it had to be and when giving the chance Ben Roethlisberger made the big throw on third and seven and Isaac Redman broke the Giants back on the very next play. Despite everything that has happened so far in the Steelers season this was the game it really came down to when you look at the team going forward. Mike Wallace is fast. Feels good. Feels real good.
Here are some of my thoughts for the game. Most, if not all, of these are good:
-I don't know who should get the game ball for today. There are a lot of guys who could hold this honor but the guys who stepped up today just as well as anyone else was the entire defense. The Giants are a very good offense that average over 400 yards a game and all the Steelers did was hold that same team to 182 yards. The Giants were only 2-of-10 on third downs and five three and outs in the Giants ten drives. Every fourth quarter possession was a three and out and for the entire fourth quarter they totaled nine plays, 4:14 TOP and -8 yards. Just unreal. Manning is widely considered one of, if not the best, fourth quarter quarterbacks out there and the Steelers made him look like a rookie. Ike Taylor caught and interception (let that sink in), Keenan Lewis playing some outstanding football and Will Allen really has meshed well with Ryan Clark in the secondary. Taylor took Cruz nearly completely out of the game and while the secondary looked very shaky before the year Lewis has played some great football the last few games. Will Allen never gets any love but you never hear his name called. That is not a bad thing. Ryan Mundy is a great dude but has made too many mistakes. Allen is back there and working well with Clark and he is holding the fort down and helped a secondary limit manning to only ten completions. For the entire game. Ten. LaMarr Woodley hasn't been healthy all season but this is the best he has looked all season and the rush defense really shut the door and made the Giants a one dimensional team. What was once a weak part of the team has really turned it around. The defense was outstanding. When you figure that the Giants got seven points from a fumble returned for a touchdown they only gave up 13 points to a very good offense. Hats off to Dick LeBeau. Maybe he isn't as dated as many would want you to think.
-If you have followed me on twitter and read me on here for a while you know that I am not a huge Isaac Redman fan. I don't think that he is bad but I think that people over inflate how good he really is because they are mad with Rashard Mendenhall. Today, Redman wore his big boy pants and was an absolute monster. He ran the rock 26 times for 147 yards and the game winning score. The offensive line had a lot to do with the running game today but Redman was also making the extra yard and when there was nothing on occasion he was getting three or four yards. When he seemed bottled up he was able to keep his center of gravity and bounce it where it needed to go. This Giants defense wasn't good against the run but the Steelers have been stuffed by much less talented teams. Hats off to Redman for making me look like a fool, even if it is just for one game.
-If Redman and the defense were in line for some game ball talk then you have to include Emmanuel Sanders in that discussion. Antonio Brown left the game with what is being talked about as an ankle sprain or maybe a mild high ankle sprain but Sanders stepped up and had a marvelous game. He only made two catches for 20 yards but one of those catches was a touchdown. Where he might have made the biggest impact was in the return game. We all know how dangerous AB is in the punt return game but all Sanders did was return three punts for a 25.3 yard average including a 63 yard return that set the Steelers up inside the ten. Granted, the Steelers didn't score on that possession but how nice is it to have Sanders back there as a third string returner with Rainey and AB out? I mean that is a lot of talent in the return game.
-Speaking of Rainey you have to lump him in with the special teams success. He returned five kicks tonight for nearly a 35 yard average and took one of them back 68 yards. The Steelers haven't been very good at returning punts/kicks in the recent past but with the athletes they have they are a true threat to make something happen. I know you usually talk about the return guys in the special teams recap but all the guys blocking today were really great. They still did have a penalty or two but overall they were pretty great in the field position battle. Also Drew Butler put two of his four punts inside the 20 and average 41 yards per punt. In close games field position can win you the game. The Steelers flipped the field early in the first quarter and really never lost it the rest of the game. The Steelers had 11 drives (not including ones that ended the half or game) total and six of them starting at their own 40 or better. That is outstanding.
-The offensive line has come a long way. When David DeCastro went out in the preseason and Marcus Gilbert went down it was looking bleak. Mike Adams wasn't thought to be a reliable option but did they really have a choice? Well tonight it was all about the line. Sure, Ben got knocked down and sacked but when the Steelers needed to give Ben time and needed to create lanes to run through the offensive line make it happen and go the yardage it needed. It is really hard to tell who is totally responsible for the running back's yardage and while you have stats like adjusted line yards from Football Outsiders that give you a better ideal but really there is no way to tell how much is running back and how much is line. All I know is that there were some huge holes to run through and when the Giants knew the Steelers were running the football in the second half the Steelers offensive line still opened up holes and got things done. The Steelers had 97 yards rushing in the first half and all of those 97 yards came between the tackles. That is taking pride and moving bodies. The pass blocking was suspect at times but with the pass rushers that the Giants had it was foolish to think that he wasn't going to get touched. Not that it makes it OK, like when Adams got turned into a turnstile on the Giants first sack or when Max Starks just let a rusher go right by that resulted in the "fumble" returned for a touchdown. LIke I said, late in the game the Giants didn't get to Ben. It helped Ben make the play and they made the holes in the running game.
-It seems silly to not have talked about Roethlisberger yet but that is how good the other aspects of the game were. Ben's stats weren't flashy but he completed a good number of his passes (21/30) and although he made one really bad mistake that resulted in an interception he made some just clutch plays such as a huge pitch and catch with Sanders before the half to lead to a field goal and converting a third and seven that basically ended the game. Incomplete on that down and Eli gets the ball back with a chance to win it. Ben didn't even give him that option. He threw for 216 yards but made the throws in the second half when the Steelers had to get back in the game. I am not sure what people think of him but if he isn't in the MVP discussion then he should be very close to it. Some might say that Ben is too dink and dunk of a thrower now to really get in the talk but go check Tom Brady and Aaron Rodger's yard per attempt average and you will see that Roethlisberger is just about the same as them. He isn't as flashy but he is having a fantastic season.
-Mike Wallace takes a lot of shit this year. Some of it is deserved and some of it isn't but tonight he made what might be the watershed moment of the game and the season. With the Steelers down 20-10 in the fourth quarter there was a third down and five at midfield. Wallace catches a slant pass right at the first down marker just over midfield and just turns on the jets to get to the sidelines and score. You talk about how fast Wallace is but just watch him here. Sorry for the weird video but it was the only one I could find at the time:
That is why Wallace is going to get big money. This play made it a three point game in a matter of seconds on third down when the Steelers needed it most. Wallace hasn't been good this year, at all, but this is the kind of stuff you can't get with any other receiver in the league.
-Todd Haley has been so good for this offense. I knew the offense was going to be better this year but I really didn't think it would be this good. Hats off to Haley for how he has handled it so far this season.
-Coach Mike Tomlin really had a tough call to make late in the game. It was fourth and about a yard from the three yard line with the Steelers down three. They elected to send the field goal unit out which isn't what I would have done but with the way the defense has played I could understand wanting to tie the game then let the defense work. Instead Tomlin call a fake field goal where holder Drew Butler tosses the ball over his head to kicker Shaun Suisham much like what Les Miles does at LSU. It didn't work. Suisham was dropped for a yard loss. Now, I probably wouldn't mind this a ton but it was a 22 yard field goal attempt that most teams aren't going to come after all that hard and considering that it was to just tie the game and there was still a good bit of clock left it was a head scratcher. Add on top of that that the Steelers have been manhandling the Giants in the middle and basically gaining yards at will I don't know why you would resort to a fake field goal. Just really confused still. As stupid as it was and as angry as it made me it is still funny to think of Suisham running the football. Tomlin isn't a great coach in some aspects and this was one of those times. Whatever, they won.
-The officiating was bad. It was really bad. The Ben fumble for a touchdown was really bad and then the Clark hit was embarrassingly bad. I know it was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit and I was pretty vocal at first on twitter that Clark needs to learn but I guess I should back down from that a little bit. There should have been zero flag on that but I think Clark's reputation for illegal hits in the past got that flag thrown at him but that isn't how flags should be thrown during a game. Would I probably like Clark to go more for the ball than the body in that situation? Yea, especially considering that Taylor was right in front of Cruz. I think if he more goes for the ball than the body it wouldn't have been an issue and it would have resulted in three points rather than seven but the call was still terrible. A really brutal game for the officials. If you know me you know that I preach that officials don't win or lose games and I wouldn't have thought that even if the Steelers lost, but those officials need to be better. A lot better.
-Phil Simms was absolutely brutal on the broadcast. I know a lot of people hate Cris Collinsworth but Simms is worse, in my opinion. Simms just really had no clue and at least Collinsworth has knowledge about the game and is pretty good at articulating it to the people watching despite his overly smug attitude which is probably the sole reason people hate him. Having Simms call a Giants game also is a real treat.
It was a statement win for the Steelers and now they get an extra day off before a Monday night contest with the Kansas City Chiefs.