Intro by the Steel Phantom...
Some of you may have noticed that, for several weeks now, Still Faith has been missing in action. The Sitemasters here fully expect Faith to return; when he does, I'll be gone. In the meantime, I will strive to maintain the standard previously established here. Think of me as some guy up from the taxi squad; while I'm with the Big Club, I'll try to help the team.
The Still Mill looks at more tape than your average assistant coach; from the Porter Report, I suspect Trenches is down with the same bug. I can't match that and I can't match The Steel Tank's preternatural vision as displayed by his prediction last week. Still Faith's optimism is without peer and, while we may miss it, it is not something I can, or should, mimic.
My view is that the Steelers are a team on the rise but, by no means, are they a team that has arrived. My slant will be to look at particular matchups both as these may influence the game and as they map areas which (I believe) the FO ought to address. So much for warmups.
STEELERS-GIANTS PREGAME REPORT:
Both of these teams are Old School. They've been in the League since conception. They are both family owned and they remain under their original ownership(s). Both teams seek to build through the draft; while both start FA, those men are (generally) low cost, low profile ensemble players. Just as the Steelers have no big ticket FA, the Neon in NY is restricted to Broadway and Times Square.
This year, the Giants have scored 253 points; the Steelers have the same number. The Giants have given up 198 points, the Steelers 201. Wins are what count; the Giants are 9-4, the Steelers aren't. Still, with a victory in Cleveland, the Steelers would be closer to that mark and, had the defense held against the Eagles, these teams would be on an equal footing.
Corn flakes could turn to gold but they probably won't. What is, is; let's see what might be coming up:
While the Steelers had good success on offense against Oakland last week, the Giants will pose a different kind of problem. Oakland's philosophy is to blow plays up; they give up yards but they get alot of turnovers. Last week, the Bus ran free when Oakland's DT ran their twists and Gandy was able to influence Upshaw or Johnstone upfield. Frequently, this created gapping holes at the LOS which Oakland's subpar LB corp was rarely able to fill.
The Giants have a different approach. They are not a big play defense; job #1 is runstuffing and, considering their #2 rank in this category, they must take that work seriously. They are a disciplined veteran unit. With the notable exception of last week's game against the Skins, the Giants don't blitz much, relying on their D-line to get pressure on the QB. Three matchups I'll be watching are:
Faneca vs. Keith Hamilton: Last week, Alan played Darrell Russell who is coming off a Pro Bowl season. Russell is not playing at that level this year but Hamilton is. Keith leads the Giants with 8 sacks; last week, he had his way with the substitute OC and LOG the Skins have fielded all year. We'll see how Alan, and Duff, fare.
Marvel vs. Strahan: In '98, Strahan had 15 sacks. Last year, he had 5.5. Hoping to rebound this season, Micheal started slowly and had only 3.5 sacks in the first 8 games. He's coming on, his sack count now stands at 7. Smith is a better OT now than when Burnett and Brown abused him on their way to Player of the Week. This matchup may show use how far Marvel has come, or how far he has to go.
Gandy vs. Jones: Ordinarily, Gandy wins this but, off last weeks performance, I'm concerned for Wayne. Regan Upshaw as very average (as is Jones) but did record two sacks. If our one-armed LOT breaks down, I like a matchup with Smith vs. Jones and Shar vs. Strahan.
On paper, the Raiders D-line may be more talented than the Giants. However, there is no doubt that the NY LB are far superior to Oakland's. Armstead and Barrow were college teammates; reunited through the miracle of FA, these players use their speed and vet guile to make plays all over the field. While the clock is ticking on these men, they remain the real deal.
Barrow and Armstead do their damage in pursuit. It may be reasonable to run at them. If Faneca and Gandy can handle Keith and Cedric Jones, we'll see alot of Kreider vs. Barrow and Bettis vs. Armstead.
As always, there is Kordell. Various official sources suggest that, last week, #10 became a leader. I want to believe that since it is leadership, more than ability or technique, which has separated Stew from the Gannon and McNair types. This week, the game may be in Kordell's hands. I think the Steelers will have difficulty establishing the Bus and, if so, will need to depend on their passing game. Previously, Kordell hasn't had success in those circumstances; if he does on Sunday, this team will take a huge step forward.
Like the Steelers, the Giants seek to establish the run, take care of the ball and win TOP. In '99, NY couldn't run at all. Joe Montgomery was their leading rusher and Joe didn't get to 400 yards. In the off-season, the Giants brought in 3 FA OL: Brown, Parker and Zeigler. None of these men are Pro Bowl candidates but, together, they have formed an efficient unit. The Giants are #2 rushing the ball and, while Collins is nearly as immobile as Graham, he is rarely sacked. In fact, last week the Skins crew of high digit FA DL didn't sniff Kerry.
The Steelers run defense has been spotty, at best, in the second half. They were ranked 5th in that category at the halfway point but were 20th and headed south the last time I looked. Dayne may not be a problem but Tiki Barber is just the kind of back that has abused this team of late. As always, it will be a long day for the team that fails to defend the run.
Finally, a note on defensive schemes: Last week, the Giants destroyed Brad Johnson. On the first play, they came with an all out blitz. The Skins folded fast: seven consecutive 3 and out, zero first downs for two quarters. The Skins barely moved the ball until, in the last seven minutes, the Giants went to their prevent. In contrast, last week the Steelers Fr. 7 played to contain Gannon. With no pressure, Rich threw for nearly 300 yards.
This Sunday, there will be two QBs on the field who have shown some fragility under pressure. Maybe they've both come of age, maybe not. I'd like to see the Giants attempt to exert defensive pressure because that's a test Kordell needs to pass. I'd like to see the Steelers do the same because that is an identity they must re-establish before they can hope to seriously contend.