By Aaron Weiss
The New York Giants win streak came to an end, falling to the Steelers in an ugly 24-14 loss. Let’s break down what went wrong, and look forward to next week’s marquee matchup!
Eli Apple/Rookies – The defense as a whole did a fairly admirable job up until the game was truly out of reach, barring one noticeable exception (more on that later). However, the rookie Eli Apple deserves special recognition, notching a season high 2 passes defended, his first fumble recovery, and his first career interception, on a stunning play against Steelers WR Eli Rogers. It was his best performance on the year, leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve previously seen, and it highlights his potential to match and exceed his 1st round draft position.
Additionally, fellow rookies Paul Perkins and Sterling Shepard made their presence known (and to a lesser extent Andrew Adams, Jerell Adams, Romeo Okwara & Roger Lewis) throughout. Perkins was far better than Rashad Jennings running the ball (although Perkins has no receiving presence yet, whereas Jennings ranked 2nd on the team with 6 catches), averaging 5.4 yards a carry, including an 18 yard rush where Perkins juked the soul out of Stephon Tuitt. Likewise, Shepard still needs work, as he only caught 4 of his 8 targets, but he converted a touchdown and was Manning’s 1st option throughout the first half when Odell was being effectively suppressed by the Steelers’ defense. Shepard also had a nice 21 yard catch negated by a holding penalty on John Jerry.
Antonio Brown – Antonio recorded 6 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, marking one of his weaker performances this year. It was his 2nd worst performance by yards per catch, 4th worst in total catches, and 3rd worst in yards. Janoris Jenkins and the Giants’ secondary did a good job suppressing him. The only mistake was Brown’s 22 yard touchdown catch, a play on which Leon Hall broke his assignment of doubling Brown, and then Janoris got turned around just enough allow Brown to make an incredible catch in the back of the end zone. All in all, despite that touchdown, it was an admirable effort by the Giants to force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere.
Discipline – The Steelers’ offense only entered the Red Zone once, and they only came away with a field goal. Despite almost 400 yards of Steelers offense, the Giants’ defense did a great job forcing Roethlisberger to go full gunslinger, an ability he is unfortunately quite skilled at. Additionally, the Giants only recorded 4 penalties, which juxtaposed with the Steelers 12 penalties deserves recognition. Unfortunately 2 of those penalties were due to the same man (more on him later).
Eli Manning – Eli played one of the worst games of his season, notching his 2nd worst passer rating, his worst QBR, and his worst average yards on the year. He also tied his season worst with two interceptions, one of which was a 4th down prayer that, considering the low percentage option, is mainly forgivable, and another where Eli made a terrible throw, missing an opportunity to throw a touchdown to Larry Donnell by failing to notice Lawrence Timmons and throwing a very short ball. Three plays after the Timmons pick the Steelers scored a touchdown, turning what should’ve been a 7-5 Giants lead into an 11-0 deficit, a difference the Giants’ couldn’t overcome. Eli was panicky and fidgety, missing several open players, and throwing some atrocious passes, such as a brutal short miss to Will Tye on 3rd and 3, forcing the Giants’ to punt. He’s Eli, and he’ll rebound, especially against a weak Dallas defense next week, but this performance was all too familiar to Giants’ fans.
The Red Zone – In a game the Giants lost by 10 points, the G-Men only converted TD’s twice on four red zone opportunities. As previously mentioned, Eli Manning threw a pick in one circumstance, and in the other the G-Men failed to convert on 4th and 1 on the 3 yard line, as Will Tye failed to reel in a short pass over the middle in tight coverage. In a game like this, the victor is decided by a few key plays, and this week the Giants’ couldn’t produce.
Ladarius Green – Green recorded catches of 9, 10, 20 and 37 yards, all on third down and all moving the chains. The 20 yarder was a touchdown, where Landon Collins bit on a fake bubble screen, allowing Green to fly right by him and score untouched. Green also had a 33 yard catch. He was a game breaker, destroying the Giants’ efforts against Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The Giants’ have always been weakest at linebacker, and for the most part it showed, as more often than not Green lined up against Keenan Robinson or Jonathan Casillas. The Giants’ have been burned by TE’s all year (Zach Miller, Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Kyle Rudolph, Jason Witten, etc.), and considering New York hasn’t fixed this problem throughout the year, look for Dallas to exploit this weakness with Giants killer Jason Witten next week.
Ereck Flowers – Although Jerry Reese’s draft record has improved in recent memory, Flowers is redlining, and looking like another one of Resse’s busts. He gave up two of the Giants’ four penalties, one of which, a holding in the end zone, resulted in a safety. He was beaten time and time again against the Steelers, making Eli incredibly panicky, and disrupting too many plays. He was responsible for 8 of the 12 pressures the Giants’ o-line gave up, and he was Pro Football Focus’ third worst player on the week. Flowers’ now has 11 penalties on the season, tied for the most among NFL o-lineman, and his 7 holding penalties is most in the NFL. He’s PFF’s 62nd ranked tackle out of 77. This year has been a roller coaster for Flowers, but this week was an all time low. If he can’t turn it around then former starter Will Beatty, who was a top 5 tackle in his prime, is waiting in the wings.
Injuries – The Giants’ lost three players in the game. DE Jason Pierre-Paul missed the 2nd half with a groin injury, DB Coty Sensabaugh also missed the 2nd half with a chest injury, and DT Johnathan Hankins was removed from the game with a thigh injury. While none appeared to be overly troublesome, especially for starters JPP and Hankins, the status of these players for next week is unknown.
NFC East Standings – Dallas won their 11th straight, squeaking by the Vikings, but Washington lost to Arizona and Philly to Cincinnati. This means Dallas is 11-1, and owners of a playoff berth, the Giants are 2nd at 8-4, Washington is 3rd at 6-5-1, and Philly is last at 5-7. At this point the only chance the Giants’ have of winning the NFC East is if they beat Dallas next week and Dallas loses at least 3 of their last 4 games, an unlikely scenario. On the wildcard front, the Giants retain the 5th seed, staying a game ahead of 6th seed Tampa and a game and a half over Washington.
Next Week – The Giants’ play the game of the season (or at least their season), facing off against Dallas in New York on Sunday night. The Giants won their last matchup 20-19, but Dallas has evolved, winning out since. This is a must-win if the Giants’ want to win the NFC East, and an emotional must win to avoid a 0-2 streak and losing their wildcard safety net going into the final stretch. While my head says Dallas is more complete, and they are, the fact remains that Dallas has no pass rush, and the Giants’ defense, especially the run defense, is one of, if not the best Dallas has faced this year. If the Giants’ can emulate their defensive performance Week One, or Minnesota’s defensive performance last week, the Giants can win. This insane optimism, combined with the fact that the Giants are 5-1 at MetLife this year, means I’m going to give them the season changing victory, but don’t be surprised if Dallas secures their 12th straight win.
Prediction – Giants wins 14-10