By Paul Dottino
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It’s a reunion of the Class of 2004 with co-valedictorians Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger back in the spotlight.
They’ve got two Super Bowl rings apiece and share admiration for one another as they enhance the luster of their draft class.
Manning has not played well over the past three weeks, having thrown a combined two touchdown passes and three interceptions. But the Giants (6-2) have won four in a row and have set themselves up for a second-half run at the postseason.
Big Ben has led the Steelers (4-3) to two consecutive victories, combining for four scoring strikes and a pick. In fact, the Steelers’ QB has thrown at least one TD pass in each game this season and only been picked off three times.
Here is a glance at the three matchups to watch:
1. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Ok, you are absolutely correct – these guys do NOT battle across the line of scrimmage from each other. However, in this rare case, we are going to pair up two players who aren’t on opposite sides of the ball because the passer with the better stat line at the end of this game likely is going win – and that doesn’t always happen. But the way these teams match up, there will be a very heavy emphasis on the quarterbacks’ play. Manning is more known for making big plays by hitting the deep ball and Big Ben has a reputation for completing passes while in the clutches of defenders who thought they were bringing him down for a sack. Track these two stats throughout the game and you’re likely to identify the winner.
2. Steelers TE Heath Miller vs. Giants ????. Exactly. Nobody knows how Giants defensive coordinator plans to defense this pass-catching tight end after Pittsburgh saw the Cowboys’ Jason Witten torch the Giants for 18 receptions and 167 yards last weekend. Miller (35 for 335 yards) leads the Steelers with 6 TDs and has scored in five of their seven games. He has become a key target for Big Ben in difficult spots and is more likely to run down the seam than Witten, who prefers to run slants, crosses and drag routes. The Giants allowed Witten to get off the line cleanly and used a variety of DBs and LBs to cover him, sometimes in a bracket and sometimes in man – nothing worked. One would expect the defenders to be much more physical within the first five yards against Miller.
3. Giants RBs and WRs vs. Steelers multiple blitz package. Again, we’re going with an oddball matchup – but that’s because Pittsburgh runs a wide variety of firezone blitzes, given that they rarely get pressure from their front three: They will send any number of defenders from anywhere at any time. It’s a high-risk, high-reward defense. That’s why they are among the NFL’s best in overall defense (2nd, 274 yards per game) and pass defense (1st, 183 ypg), but a bit lower in points allowed (8th, 20.6 ppg). The Giants’ receivers must recognize the blitz and run the correct hot routes to bail out Manning and the running backs – either Ahmad Bradshaw or Andre Brown – need to buy Manning an extra second to step into his throws.
Prediction: Giants 26, Steelers 20
Prediction vs. the spread: 4-3-1
What do you think are the key matchups for the Steelers vs. Giants game on Sunday? Share your thoughts below.