Steelers at Giants -- Week 9
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. (FieldTurf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Spread: Giants by 3
Forecast: Partly cloudy with temperatures in the lower 40s.
Records: Giants (6-2 overall, NFC East 2-2); Steelers (Overall: 4-3, AFC North 1-0)
Past results: The teams split their last two meetings -- Oct. 26, 2008: Giants 21, Steelers 14; Dec. 18, 2004: Steelers 33, Giants 30. Series record: The Giants hold a 46-29-3 series lead, thanks largely to the Steelers' dreadful years before the 1970s.
What matters: First and foremost, Sunday's game will be a chance for New York Giants fans and residents of the area to forget about the destruction of the last week. Hurricane Sandy's wrath has affected everyone to varying degrees, but at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, those who can watch the game won't have to worry about anything but what happens on the field of play. There's some controversy over whether or not the game should take place, but unlike the New York City Marathon, this football game won't divert significant resources away from those in need.
As far as the actual game is concerned, the Giants have the league's sixth-ranked passing offense while the Pittsburgh Steelers boast the league's top pass defense. Victor Cruz is battling a sore ankle, but the Giants' receiver is listed as “probable.”
The Giants' passing game has actually struggled over the last few weeks (QB Eli Manning completed just 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards and an interception last week), but this offense tends to rise to the occasion. Against San Francisco's league-best rush defense in Week 6, New York gained 149 yards on the ground in a 26-3 win. Over the last two years the Giants have played their best against the best competition.
Who matters: Mark Herzlich will take over for injured Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (hamstring), but it will be up to WLB Michael Boley to get everyone on the same page, as Blackburn usually does. Boley is the most experienced member of the line and should see far more playing time than Herzlich, who will sit when the Giants use their three-safety formation, which has remained dormant since last season. Now that S Kenny Phillips (questionable, knee) seems to be ready for action, the Giants can continue with the three-safety look.
Key matchups: Giants CBs Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster will have their hands full with Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. The Steelers' receivers have combined for 76 catches and 939 receiving yards so far, and are remarkably quicker than any tandem the Giants have faced this season. Steelers CB Ike Taylor had success against Cincinnati WR A.J. Green last week (he had just one catch), but now he'll have to cover a significantly smaller, shiftier receiver in Cruz.
Injuries of note: Besides Blackburn's injury, LB Jacquian Williams (knee) is out and WLB Keith Rivers (calf) is “doubtful” so the Giants will be thin at linebacker. TE Bear Pascoe (ankle), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and Phillips are all “questionable” while C David Baas (ankle/elbow), DT Rocky Bernard (quad), Cruz and S Antrel Rolle (concussion) are “probable.”
S Troy Polamalu is out for the Steelers, but their biggest injury concerns are at halfback, where Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer are both listed as “doubtful.” Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey will likely handle the bulk of the carries for Pittsburgh.
Inside stuff: The aforementioned three-safety formation will be an imperative for the Giants. They're thin at linebacker and S Stevie Brown has been exceptional in place of Phillips the last few weeks.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said that Brown will remain the starter, but Phillips' presence allows Rolle and Brown to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and that means the Giants can disguise their blitzes better.
Connections: Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride served the same roll with the Steelers for two seasons, but the biggest connection is at an entirely different level. The Mara family -- co-owners of the Giants -- and the Rooney family -- the Steelers owners -- are related by blood. For those not familiar with actresses Rooney and Kate Mara, they are the great-granddaughters of Giants founder Tim Mara and Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.
Stats you should know: The Giants rank 26th in pass defense, but they've survived because they lead the league with 24 takeaways. That's obviously an impressive statistic, but that production is hard to maintain. If the Giants are going to stop the Steelers' passing attack -- and Ben Roethlisberer, the league's sixth-rated passer -- they'll have to force more incompletions, not just interceptions.
Looking ahead: The Giants last game before their Week 11 Bye is against the Bengals in Cincinnati next Sunday. They could be heading into their Week 12 matchup against the Green Bay Packers at 8-2, 7-3 or 6-4.
Prediction: Giants 30, Steelers 27
Follow the Giants and Alex Raskin @CBSGiants and @AlexRaskinNYC.