When the history of the 2008 season is written, the summary of the Steelers-Giants might read something like this:
The Steelers hosted the New York Giants at Heinz Field in a see-saw defensive battle where Pittsburgh succeeded in going toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl Champions until a wild snap made by an emergency long-snapper during a punt play led to a freak safety that tied the game, and ultimately gave New York the momentum needed to win….
Ah, wouldn’t that give you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling…
No one should be fooled by the score as 21-14 does not begin to reveal the poor showing the Steelers made for themselves. The Steelers lost their first game against “PrimeTime” competition, and their performance revealed some troublesome issues which Mike Tomlin and company must address if the Steelers truly want to become contenders
For three and half quarters the story of the game was the 12 points the Giants netted in five trips to the red zone. New York has a strong offense, and the Steelers defense deserve all of the accolades that come their way for holding the Giants to four field goals in five goal line situations. New York’s domination of the time of possession puts an exclamation point on the defenses’ accomplishments.
- All of which begs the question, why did the defense keep finding find itself in those siutaitons?
At the outset of the game I was somewhat surprised to hear Tory Aikman talk about how the Steelers offense has struggled. After all, the team was 5-1 and, while they’d bogged down for a few quarters here and there, the Steelers got on the board when they needed to.
- But Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger not only seemed determined to justify Aikman’s criticism, but that determination grew stronger as the game wore on.
Aside from Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard run, and Ben’s long bomb to Nate Washington, the Steelers offense produced nothing all day. They could not protect their quarterback, receivers could not get open or hold on to the ball, they could not convert third downs, and they could not sustain drives.
- Did anyone think the Steelers were going to mount a come back when they got the ball after the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown?
It just wasn’t that kind of day.
Special teams was also once again a liability, as the return units gave up returns of 28 and 35 yards, giving the Steelers defense a short field to defend. While the long-snap fiasco really isn’t anyone’s “fault,” Steel Curtain Rising did point out back when the Steelers re-signed Greg Warren that the value of a long-snapper should not be underestimated (this is one of the times when you hate to be right.)
Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger must bear the burnt of the blame for today’s loss. Ben’s his first and third picks were of the Kordell Stewart variety, even if his second interception wasn’t his fault, and maybe his last one can be written off as a desperation heave. Roethlisberger was simply out of sync, and most of the rest of the offense took its cue from him.
The Steelers third drive in the third quarter offers the perfect example. Pittsburgh started on its 23 and advanced to New York’s 38. They were in perfect position to put the Giants away.
Except that a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty pushed them back to the Giant’s 47. In the succeeding four plays included:
- A nullified a 53 touchdown strike to Nate Washington (which pushed them back to their own 37)
- A three yard scramble on a broken play (read, Ben escaped before he was about to get sacked. Again)
- A poorly thrown deep third down pass dropped by Nate Washington
The Steelers ended up punting from their own 40, and lost Greg Warren in the process.
At this juncture in the season one has to seriously question the play calling of Bruce Arians. The Steelers seemed reluctant to rely on Medwlede Moore, but since then man who went into training camp as an afterthought at running back has shown that he can play.
- Against the Giants Mewelde Moore averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he ripped off 32 yard touchdown, and showed that could both run between the tackles and make a team pay when he can turn the corner on the outside.
Why wasn’t he used more? He did get 19 carries, but he showed every indication of being willing and able to do more. To be certain Moore was held to 21 yards in the second half, but its not like he is the only option. If the offensive coaches were worried about putting too much on Moore shoulders, Gary Russell was there.
Russell has flashed at times at other moments he’s been a little flat. But against the Giants his only carry was good for eight yards. Putting Russell in for a series, if only to spell Moore, carried little risk with a might higher potential reward.
- The issue of Bruce Arians will be discussed here later on in the week. Suffice to say, the passing offense was unable the execute their portion of his game plan. That was clear early on.
What remains unclear is why Bruce Arians showed no inclination to use the other weapons at his disposal. Thus far it has hard to avoid the sensation that Arians, perhaps because of the injury to Parker, (perhaps not) is not comitted to establishing the running game.
The Steelers are seven games into their season and they’re having difficulty sustaining drives and they cannot protect their quarterback. The Giants game revealed none of these warts, as each was on display in previous games. But the Steelers were able to compensate for them up until now. In fact, they compensated so well that one wondered if they were aberrations.
The Giants game revealed that the against a legitmate contender the Steelers would not be able simply make up for a several sloppy drives with a heroic comeback.
No, the Giants game demonstrated that the Steelers have some issues on offense, problems that they rectified soon as they play more legitimate contenders over the next several weeks.