Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
The New York Giants came in to Heinz field looking to keep up their winning ways against a tough Steelers team riding a two game winning streak. The Steelers first drive was marked by Le’Veon repeatedly getting the ball as both a runner and a pass catcher. The Giants defense was bailed out by tight end Jesse James who dropped a pass that would have been good for a first down on third down and one. On the Giants first series they relied solely on Rashad Jennings as both a rusher and receiver and the drive ended after just six plays. It was clear that yet again they were trying to establish the run game early and attempt to improve upon what has been a consistently ineffective rushing attack this season. As the clock wound down in the first quarter, Eli Manning attempted to jumpstart the offense on their second drive but to no avail. On third and fourteen Manning found Odell Beckham Jr. on a crossing route for a 14 yard gain and an apparent first down. Except left tackle Ereck Flowers was called for a hold in the end zone which negated the first down and by rule made the play a safety. The Giants then kicked off to Antonio Brown down 2-0. Brown’s 23 yard return established good field position for the Steelers who proceeded to move the ball into Giants territory. On third and eleven from the Giants twenty five yard line the Giants’ defense made the stop, forcing the Steelers to settle for a 44 yard field goal. Heading into the second quarter the Giants trailed 5-0, needing their offense to find a rhythm. Through two possessions the Giants lackluster offense gained only 28 yards.
As the second quarter opened the Giants began to steadily move the ball for the first time all game long. For the second time in the game a Giants offensive lineman negated a first down. Manning’s twenty one yard pass to Sterling Shepard was negated by right guard John Jerry‘s holding penalty. Though that wouldn’t be the most significant miscue of the drive. Later, on a second and four from the Pittsburgh nine yard line Manning’s pass intended for Larry Donnell was intercepted by linebacker Lawrence Timmons. It was a costly red zone interception that immediately eliminated a great opportunity for the offense to finally put some points on the board. The Steelers quickly took advantage of the turnover and in just three plays went forty yards, capped by a 22 yard touchdown reception by Antonio Brown. It was a great catch made by the league’s premier wide receiver. Pittsburgh went for the two point conversion but was denied, making it 11-0 Steelers. The Steelers offensive line played superbly in the first half and for the most part neutralized the Giants pass rush which had woken over the past three games. Olivier Vernon picked up a sack on the Steelers final drive of the half but the defensive line struggled to gain pressure on Roethlisberger. A 34 yard field goal by Randy Bullock capped the Steelers final drive which took almost six minutes off the clock and extended the Steelers lead to 14-0 heading into the locker room. The Giants gained a total of 91 yards in the first half and were were consistently unable to move the ball effectively.
The Giants hoped to change things as they opened up the second half with the ball but it was just more of the same inefficiency as they quickly went three and out. The defense came out in the second half looking to limit the Steelers production after giving up more than 200 yards of total offense in the first half. They were able to force the Steelers into a three and out of their own and Manning and the offense took the field again. The Giants second drive of the third quarter saw the offense move the chains only to be denied on a fourth down and one from the Steelers three yard line. It was only the second series of the game where the offense looked cohesive as Manning found Beckham three times. On the Steelers following possession the defense came up with their first takeaway of the game when Le’Veon Bell fumbled. The Giants took over on the Steelers seventeen yard line and just two plays later they capitalized on the Pittsburgh turnover. Rashad Jennings took Manning’s short pass thirteen yards for the score, cutting the Giants’ deficit to 14-7. Just as soon as the Giants drew closer, the Steelers offense bounced right back. Roethlisberger marched his team down the field on a seven play, 88 yard drive that culminated in a 20 yard touchdown pass to tight end Ladarius Green, who’s standout game continued. It was his sixth reception and put him over one hundred yards for the day. Later in the third quarter Eli Apple made an excellent interception on a ball intended for wide receiver Eli Rogers. As the fourth quarter began it was clear that the Giants needed to put together a scoring drive and pull closer again. Despite starting with excellent field position the Giants were not able to move the ball down field. They got as far as the Steelers thirty five yard line and when they couldn’t convert on third down and long, coach Ben McAdoo went on 4th down and 13. Manning then threw his second interception of the game and the ball was back in the hands of the Pittsburgh offense. A short time later the Giants would be in a similar situation as they were earlier in the fourth quarter. On fourth down and nine from the Steelers 24 yard line Manning was sacked returning the ball to the Steelers. The failure to convert on fourth down, put the Giants at 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts. With just under thirty seconds left in the game and down 24-7, the Giants scored a meaningless touchdown that made it a ten point game. The one yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard made it 24-14.
The Pittsburgh victory ended the Giants six game winning streak and made it seem significantly less likely that the Giants will catch the Cowboys in the NFC East Division. The game was a litmus test to see how good the Giants really are and against a good opponent they failed to rise to the challenge. Their offense struggled throughout the game and is clearly pedestrian at best. On the other hand their defense is clearly their strength but against the Steelers they were not able to contain Roethlisberger and his assortment of weapons. It will be interesting to see how the Giants perform over their last four games, with three against divisional opponents. Next week the Giants will host the Dallas Cowboys who they beat in their season opener, however the Cowboys are a completely different team now, riding an 11 game winning streak. It’s an important game though even if they win the likelihood of catching the Cowboys in the division is now very slim. Their offense will need to show some consistency for them to even have a chance. What this team really is, is sure to reveal itself as the Giants face a series of teams that are all vying for a playoff spot.
Dan Evans is a Contributing Writer for PureSportsNY You can find him on Twitter @DanEvansPSNY