By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants’ (8-4) match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) was billed as a referendum game for Big Blue. Unfortunately, the G-Men did little to convince the voters that they are worthy of an NFL playoff berth. The formula for the Steelers’ victory was simple: Utilize their weapons to win one-on-one battles with the Giants. New York will now have to go back to the Big Apple and evaluate what went wrong. Adding insult to injury, the Dallas Cowboys clinched a playoff berth this weekend, and the Giants likely lost any chance at the NFC East title.
It really was an epic fail for most everyone on the offense, with the only exception being Paul Perkins. The rookie running back had 38 yards on seven carries (5.4 yards per carry). The G-Men tried to force feed Rashad Jennings on the ground (3.2 yards per carry) to no avail, but the veteran back did catch six passes out of the backfield, including a touchdown. Odell Beckham had 100 receiving yards.
It was a bad week for Eli Manning, but he had the Steelers’ pass rush in his face for the better part of the afternoon. Manning had less than 200 passing yards (195 yards) with two TD passes on the afternoon. One of Manning’s touchdowns was a screen pass to Jennings, while the other TD pass to Sterling Shepard came after the outcome was decided. Manning’s quarterback rating of 69.9 says it all, and both interceptions he threw were a result of poor passes.
The Giants came into this game knowing they had to stop running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they contained neither player. Bell had 119 rushing yards on 29 carries (4.1 yards per carry). Brown didn’t have a ton of receiving yards (54 yards), but he did have a touchdown catch. Bell also had six catches for 64 receiving yards. Pittsburgh had a good run-pass ratio, which appeared to keep the G-Men off balance.
Allowing journeyman tight end Ladarius Green six catches and 110 receiving yards is inexcusable. New York’s defense was also lame in allowing seven of 15 third-down conversions to the Steelers, as well as one fourth down conversion in one attempt. The only bright spots were Olivier Vernon’s two sacks and Eli Apple‘s turnovers (1 fumble recovery, 1 interception).
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was very ordinary this week, while Landon Collins got schooled on the Green touchdown in the third quarter. If Jason Pierre-Paul is out for an extended period of time, his loss will substantially hurt the defense.
Special Teams: C
There was nothing special about the unit this week. Punter Brad Wing (44.7 yard average) did not have a stellar effort, as he booted one into the end zone for a touchback and shanked another one that got a good roll. At least Robbie Gould made both extra point attempts this week, but one has to wonder if Ben McAdoo’s fourth-down gambles are a result of the lack of confidence in Gould.
Beckham was utilized on the punt return unit, without any success. Bobby Rainey had a 38-yard kickoff return, but Dwayne Harris averaged only 10 yards on four kickoff returns. The Giants did see their one-game stand-in, Randy Bullock, hit all three of his field goal attempts for the Steelers. Antonio Brown brought the safety free kick back with a 23-yard return.
There’s not much the coaching staff can do about a deficient offensive line. People can complain about the play-calling from now until doomsday, but Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger could have eaten a sandwich in the pocket. On the other hand, Eli Manning has to run for his life on most every passing play. The Steelers also utilized their tight end effectively, using seam routes to perfection.
About the only thing the staff can do differently is use Perkins as the starting running back over Jennings. Maybe the returns of Shane Vereen and Justin Pugh will help as well, but otherwise this coaching staff will have to manufacture some spackle to patch these gaping holes.
Up Next: Dallas Cowboys 11-1
The Giants go from the frying pan into the fire. Next on the schedule are the Dallas Cowboys, who have won 11 games in row. New York dealt the Cowboys a 1-point loss in September, but Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have dominated the league since then. At this point, the Giants are fighting for their playoff lives.