Steelers at Giants -- Week 9
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. (FieldTurf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Spread: Giants by 3
Forecast: Temperature in the 40s and falling, with a 10 percent chance of rain in a partly cloudy forecast.
Records: Steelers (Overall: 4-3, AFC North 1-0); Giants (6-2 overall, NFC East 3-1)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Oct. 26, 2008: Giants 21, Steelers 14; Dec. 18, 2004: Steelers 33, Giants 30 (rookie Ben Roethlisberger outdueled fellow rookie Eli Manning, 316 yards to 182, in Giants Stadium en route to a 15-1 regular season record). Series record: Giants hold a 46-29-3 advantage.
What matters: The defending Super Bowl champions are starting to play like the team that rolled through the playoffs. The Giants have reeled off four victories in a row, the first two by an impressive 67-30 cumulative and the latter two -- over NFC East rivals Washington and Dallas -- by just nine total points. They’ll face a Steelers team resurgent after its first two-game winning streak since 2011. Pittsburgh will miss star S Troy Polamalu (calf), Pro Bowl LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and T Marcus Gilbert (foot), plus it will have to play with whatever running backs are the least hurt. Jonathan Dwyer (quadriceps), the third-string tailback with back-to-back 100-yard games, missed Wednesday and Thursday practice time this past week. Only Isaac Redman (ankle), after a two-game absence, was able to do much work.
Who matters: Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, catching Manning’s pitches, are precisely the kind of tandem that can give fits to a beleaguered Steelers' secondary. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis have gained confidence in recent weeks with improved play, but they have yet to face a duo as talented as the Giants' receivers. This game likely will boil down to a slinger’s shootout between Manning and his fellow 2004 high-draftee Roethlisberger.
Key matchups: Taylor-Cruz bears watching. Taylor put the clamps on Cincinnati's A.J. Green (one catch, eight yards) two weeks ago, but this is a different cat. A Steelers' defensive front seven without Woodley opposite James Harrison on the edge, with no support from an unpredictable Polamalu, likely won’t confound or harass Manning anywhere near enough. Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked and didn't throw an interception last week, as his offensive line continued to show improved play in pass protection and zone blocking -- evidenced by Dwyer’s second consecutive 100-yard game. They haven’t faced a front four like the Giants, though.
Injuries of note: The Steelers list has become central to what Mike Tomlin calls their 2012 “story” -- Polamalu (seventh game out), Gilbert (third), and, if they miss as expected, Woodley (second) and RB Rashard Mendenhall (seventh) just shows how injuries have impact the team. They’re thin at RB again, with only Redman and Dwyer seemingly healthy enough to play Sunday with rookie Chris Rainey in reserve. Rookie Mike Adams has run-blocked well and survived in pass blocking in Gilbert’s right tackle spot. Safety is a concern not only because of Polamalu’s absence, but sidekick Ryan Clark left early last week due to a concussion. Clark practiced all week while maintaining he was fit to play. If Clark sits, it’s backup night at the safety position, starring Will Allen and Ryan Mundy.
Inside stuff: Funny how that Class of 2004 turned out for the top quarterbacks drafted. Manning, who didn’t want to play in San Diego, got traded to New York and wound up leading the Giants to two Super Bowl triumphs already. Roethlisberger took the Steelers to two Super Bowls in his first seven years. And the Chargers’ Philip Rivers still cannot get out of January. ... If Dwyer is healthy enough, expect him to get his share of the carries. He’s proven that he runs best behind this zone-blocking Steelers line. ... Third-down back Baron Batch (shin) was downgraded and didn’t practice by week’s end, so who will play that role among an already depleted running back corps? Rainey? Probably Redman, but after missing the past two games, maybe the Steelers go with four receivers.
Connections: Clark spent the 2002-03 years on the Giants practice squad. Giants FB Henry Hynoski spent 2007-10 at Pitt eating dinner in the Steelers cafeteria and sharing the practice fields behind a facility both occupy. And Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride held that position with the Steelers in 1999-2000 and once was considered a Steelers head-coaching candidate.
Stats you should know: The Steelers will depart Pittsburgh for the game on Sunday morning because the hotel they had booked was without power due to Hurricane Sandy. The Redskins counted 10 drops among their incompletions last Sunday, but the Steelers’ defenders strongly believed that they caused most, if not all of them, by hard-edged play and thudding hits on receivers. ...The Giants’ defense has become the Steelers of old: It has 21 sacks and 16 interceptions thanks to pressure, mostly from its front four; the Steelers have 12 sacks and just three interceptions. ...The Steelers have lost four straight and six of their past nine against defending Super Bowl champions.
Record watch: If Dwyer reaches 100 yards rushing again, it will mark the third consecutive such day and the first trio for a Steelers running back since Willie Parker in 2007. ...Heath Miller needs one more touchdown to surpass Elbie Nickel’s 37, highest for a Steelers tight end. Miller’s next TD catch also will equal his previous career high for a season, seven.
Looking ahead: The Steelers return home to play a Nov. 12 Monday Night Football game against Todd Haley’s old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, then play the AFC North-leading Balimore Ravens twice in the following three weeks.
Prediction: Giants 34, Steelers 24
Follow Steelers reporter Chuck Finder on Twitter @CBSSteelers and @cfinder.
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Steelers at Giants -- Week 9