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Giants vs. Steelers Storylines: What to watch for

Posted Nov 30, 2016

The Giants and Steelers face of Sunday as Big Blue looks to protect a six-game winning streak:
1. THE REAL FOOTBALL BEGINS

Assured of at least a .500 record for the first time since 2012, the 8-3 New York Giants are riding a six-game winning streak into the month of December. Their opponents during that span have a current record of 20-46-1, but their final five games are against teams who are 34-20-1 after Week 12. The stretch run includes two division leaders in the Dallas Cowboys (10-1) and Detroit Lions (7-4), but first the Giants wrap up their inter-conference schedule with a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) in Week 13. Big Blue defeated Pittsburgh, 21-14, in its only trip to Heinz Field in 2008.

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“As a team, where do we go from here? It’s December football. This is where the real football begins,” first-year coach Ben McAdoo said. “All our hard work to this point has set the table for December. It’s an exciting time against a lot of playoff teams and playoff environments. The margin for error is small. This is where our identity needs to take over.”

2. EASY ELI VS. BIG BEN

Former general manager Ernie Accorsi, who was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor earlier this month, has said that Ben Roethlisberger could have ended up in East Rutherford if the front office was unable to pull off the draft day trade to acquire Eli Manning in 2004. But that’s not what the football gods had in mind for the cornerstone franchises. Manning, the No. 1 overall pick, was sent to the Giants, and the Steelers took Roethlisberger at No. 11.

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It turned out well for both sides. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP with four Pro Bowl selections, and Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion as well as a four-time Pro Bowler. 

3. INJURY REPORT

Safety Nat Berhe and linebacker Mark Herzlich are in the concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s game in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Giants await word on a string of injuries to the left guard position. Justin Pugh (knee) has missed the last three games; Brett Jones (calf) the last two; and Marshall Newhouse (knee) was unable to play last week.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left briefly in the game against the Browns with a thumb injury but returned to catch six passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned three punts for an average of 11.7 yards and had a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty on Herzlich. Whether or not Beckham continues returning punts will also be a storyline this week. It’s something that his counterpart, Antonio Brown, does for the Steelers in addition to leading the league in receptions.

4. JPP’S RESURGENCE

The Giants have 21 sacks in their six-game winning streak, which ties Carolina for the most in the NFL during that span. Jason Pierre-Paul accounted for six of them, including a career-high three in Cleveland and 2.5 the week before against Chicago. Against the Browns, Pierre-Paul also became the first player with at least three sacks and a fumble-return touchdown of at least 40 yards in the same game since 1982, the first year individual sacks became an official statistic. As a result, the Giants are now tied with Miami for 13th with 25 sacks on the year. They have also risen to a three-way tie with Dallas and Philadelphia for fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 19.4 points per game.

5. TALE OF THE TAPE

On offense, the Steelers are 12th in total yards per game (364.8), eighth in passing (263.9), 18th in rushing (100.9), and tied for 13th in scoring (24.2). Roethlisberger has two All-Pros at the skill positions with Brown (82 receptions, 998 yards, 10 touchdowns) and running back Le'Veon Bell (1,136 yards from scrimmage, four total touchdowns).

Defensively, Pittsburgh is 18th in yards (358.7), 23rd against the pass (263.5), ninth against the run (95.3), and 10th in scoring (20.2). The Steelers are tied for 15th with 24 sacks, led by 14-year veteran James Harrison with four. They are also tied for the sixth-best turnover differential at plus-four with 14 takeaways and 10 giveaways.