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Steelers-Giants pregame stretch

November 2, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) vs. New York Giants (6-2)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 50. The game time weather is not the issue here, it’s whether an NFL game should even be played in New Jersey considering the devastation most places within 100 miles of the stadium suffered in Hurricane Sandy. But in our world today, if there’s one thing that supersedes a storm of biblical proportions, it’s an NFL home game.

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Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Annoyance factor: The best we can say about this is that it will be interesting to see how Nantz’s anti-Steelers bias plays out in an NFC game. Simms has slipped badly as an analyst over the past two years and the best we can say about this is that it provides lots of fodder for Twitter and the blog. Also, it looks like we’ll be getting Denver-Cincinnati in the early game rather than the much more sensible Cleveland-Baltimore matchup. Thank God for the NFL Red Zone. (Notice how we used a capital letter to indicate that we want to thank the real God for red zone, it’s that important to us.)

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Referee: Bill Leavy

Competence factor: Hopefully, the replacement ref debacco in Seattle earlier this year will finally allow Leavy to stop beating himself up over the blown calls in Super Bowl XL that went against the Seahawks (not in the “that evens it out” sense, because it doesn’t, but in the “mistakes happen and they didn’t really decided that game” sense). The last few Steelers games with this crew have been uneventful and hopefully that trend continues Sunday.

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The line: Giants -3.5

Smarts say: This opened as -3.5 and very quickly dropped to -3, meaning a lot of smarts jumped on the Steelers and that “extra” half point. It then floated back to the original line, meaning more casual betters slightly favored New York. An over/under of 47.5 means something in the neighborhood of 26-23 Giants (where those early-betting smarts win) or 27-23 Giants (where they’d lose).

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Key matchup: Steelers offensive line vs. Giants front four

Because: The improvements made by the Pittsburgh OL in the past two weeks is the best reason to hope the Steelers can improve to legitimate contenders by year’s end. But this will be a much sterner test for that group than anything they’ve seen recently. With Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, New York can pressure quarterbacks without blitzing, allowing them to still play coverage behind. That means there are very few “easy” checkdowns on this defense, which means Ben Roethlisberger will need time to get through his progressions in order for the Steelers offensive to be effective with those long, time-consuming drives that have become a staple this year. Justin Tuck going against Mike Adams is the most concerning matchup because if Adams struggles, it will require Heath Miller to spend more time blocking than receiving and he’s obviously become the offense’s biggest weapon this year under Todd Haley.

Quick hits:

+ Under the heading of “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics,” the Steelers defense is No. 2 in the NFL (by 0.3 yards per game to the 49ers) and No. 1 against the pass. Obviously, no one in their right might (and certainly not Mike Tomlin as evidenced by the 54-yard FG attempt a few weeks ago against the Titans) wants Pittsburgh’s defense on the field right now with the game on the line. As we told Cory Giger on his radio show this week, it’s an indication that WHEN you do something in the the NFL is much more important than WHAT you do. Now playing devil’s advocate, let’s take Ike Taylor’s position that those stats are a legit indicator. Then how do you have the No. 2 defense and THAT offense (which ranks 10th, btw) and still only sport a 4-3 record?

+ There’s one problem with the theory that the Steelers will be loaded at running back when Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman return from injuries: Reality. In theory, three are better than one, but in practice, both Jonathan Dwyer and Mendenhall have shown they’re the kind of back that needs to get ALL 18 carries in a game to be truly effective. Only Redman has shown he can be effective (actually more effective) as a reserve/situational runner. What the Steelers really have a running back is depth.

+ History has shown the upcoming five-game stretch (November and first week of December) is critical to the Steelers success. Dating back to 2008, they’ve gone 4-1 in this stretch four times, culminating in two Super Bowl appearances. They went 1-4 in 2009, when they finished 9-7. Assuming Pittsburgh can handle Kansas City and Cleveland, that means they’ll need to beat the Giants and split with the Ravens, or, should they lose this Sunday, sweep the Ravens. That’s a tall order either way.

+ You can bet the Giants receivers won't drop seven passes this week.

The pick: Every rational aspect of this game (including the Steelers Sandy-driven travel hassles) screams GIANTS! So we’re going with Pittsburgh. We’re expecting Ben Roethlisberger’s best game of the year. We’re expecting Antonio Brown to redeem himself for his foolish hot dogging last week. And we’re expecting Will Allen and David Paulson to make big plays. Hey, if you’re going to make a crazy pick, make it real crazy … Steelers 27-21.

Last week: We were right on the mark about the Steelers playing well and the Redskins struggling, moving us up to a mirror image of Pittsburgh’s record at 4-3.

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