The Giants defeated Pittsburgh last season 18-13 in the preseason opener.
The Pittsburgh Steelers went 8-8 (4-2 in the AFC North) in 2013 and missed the playoffs after the San Diego Chargers grabbed every lucky horseshoe in the country. The New York Giants went 7-9 (3-3 in the NFC East), which was somewhat impressive since they began the season 0-6, but they too missed the playoffs.
This Saturday, the Steelers and Giants will square off at 7:30 p.m. ET in a preseason game. The Giants have already played a game, having beaten the Buffalo Bills 17-13 in the Hall of Fame Game, but this will be the Steelers’ first game of the preseason.
Will the Giants benefit from already having a game under their belt? Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter because the preseason games don’t really mean anything. It’s an excuse for fans to get excited that football is finally back, but if your favorite team loses each of its preseason games, move on — quickly. The preseason allows coaches to get their teams acclimated to football once again and provides an opportunity for coaching staffs to make final roster decisions.
Not so fast… After going 8-8 last season and 0-4 during the preseason the Pittsburgh Steelers mindset has to be to take these games more seriously to set the tone for the upcoming season and to get back to winning games. Meaningful or not, this preseason matters to the Steelers mentally.
In the Hall of Fame Game, Giants QB Eli Manning was 6-of-7 for 43 yards in three series. Manning’s backup, Ryan Nassib, threw for 139 yards while completing 7-of-12 attempts. He also threw the go-ahead 73-yard TD pass to Corety Washington early in the fourth quarter.
The big story surrounding the Giants this week is the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson after a much too brief career in the NFL. Wilson was advised by his doctors to not play football anymore after suffering too many neck injuries. Whether you are a Giants fan or not, you have to feel for Wilson and the situation he is in.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the better QBs in the NFL. How long that will be the case remains to be seen, but the Steelers can still win a Super Bowl with him. He’ll be missing two of his favorite receivers this season — Emmanuel Sanders is now with the Denver Broncos, and Jerricho Cotchery is now with the Carolina Panthers. It will be interesting to see how the offense comes together. In the draft the Steelers focused on their defense, selecting Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier at No. 15 overall and DT Stephon Tuitt out of Notre Dame in the second round. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has said he thinks Shazier will start and Tuitt will see a lot of snaps. The Steelers ranked ninth against the pass in 2013 and 21st against the run. On offense they ranked 12th in passing yards and 28th in rushing yards. The Steelers need to be better across the board, but in particular stopping the run and running the football effectively. As the season gets going we’ll see if they have improved so they can finish better than 8-8.
What to Watch For:
The No-Huddle Offense
If you point to a single factor in the turnaround the Steelers made in the second half of the 2013 season, it could be the inclusion of more no-huddle on offense. This isn’t a hurry-up offense in the truest sense but a more methodical no-huddle philosophy.
Lots of Big Hits
The theme of the first days of Steelers training camp has been physical play—big hits in drills and excessive amounts of energy.
Young Wide Receivers
Everyone knows that wide receiver Antonio Brown is elite. He has nothing to prove in these preseason games. The rest of this group is fighting for position on the depth chart. Some receivers are fighting just to avoid being cut.
This group of wide receivers is loaded with athleticism. Who’s not ready to see Markus Wheaton out there at full speed? Or get a live look at just how physically dominating rookie Martavis Bryant can be? Has Justin Brown evolved as much as the talk says he has? This is an exciting time to be a fan of the Steelers. This offense is going to be so much fun to watch.
Pittsburgh currently has 11 wide receivers on the roster, and they will be vying for no more than five or six spots. That means these young men had better make the best of their limited opportunities in live action.
Any Cornerbacks Out There?
Pittsburgh is looking for some answers at cornerback. As of now, the starters are an aging Ike Taylor and an inconsistent Cortez Allen. The most consistent cornerback on the roster is slot corner William Gay.
It will be very interesting to see how the rest of this group plays. Guys like Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, Shaquille Richardson and Isaiah Green all have a legitimate shot to secure a spot as the fourth cornerback.
The Running Game
The Steelers of late have not been the Steelers of old. Especially in the run game or lack thereof over the last few season. With a revamped OL and super OL coach on board though the backs have no more excuses.
Le’Veon Bell is the starter. He is coming off a decent rookie campaign and the sky is the limit for this kid. What really interests us though is seeing how the addition of the bowling ball LeGarrett Blount and the lightning bolt rookie Dri Archer affects the run game.
The much hyped 2014 rookie class will get their first official taste of NFL action on Saturday. The problem, first round pick Ryan Shazier is questionable. So it second year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, nosetackle Steve McLendon, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, and rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower.
Meanwhile, with players like Shazier are out of the lineup, it will give the likes of Vince Williams and Sean Spence more time and prove their worth within the organization. One we specifically want to see is Spence after returning from a two year injury riddled vacation.
This game comes down to which team’s second and third teams perform the best. In the end, I believe the play of Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski on the second team offense will be enough to lift the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, New York Giants 14.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Date: Aug. 9, 2014
Location: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.