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Giants vs. Steelers scouting report

Posted Nov 2, 2012

The Giants face the Steelers Sunday at MetLife Stadium

The Giants will attempt to stretch their winning streak to five games and their regular-season streak vs. AFC teams to eight games when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in MetLife Stadium. A victory last week in Dallas improved the Giants to 6-2 and gave them a 2.5-game lead in the NFC East. Pittsburgh is 4-3 and a game behind Baltimore in the AFC North. The Giants lead the regular-season series, 44-28-3. The teams will meet for the first time since Oct. 26, 2008, when the Giants defeated the Steelers, 21-14, in Heinz Field. The Giants last hosted Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 2004, when the Steelers earned a 33-30 victory on their way to a 15-1 finish. The Steelers are 1-3 on the road this year and 6-7 since the start of the 2011 season.

Offense
The Steelers rank 10th in the NFL in offense, averaging 369.9 yards a game. They are 21st in rushing yards (97.3) and seventh in passing (272.6). Pittsburgh is 13th in scoring with an average of 23.9 points a game. The Steelers have scored more than 30 points just once, in a loss at Oakland. They lead the NFL with a 51.9 third down conversion percentage (54 of 104).

Pittsburgh has scored on its opening drive in five of the last six games, its last possession of the first half in every game but last week’s victory over Washington and on the first possession of the second half in every game but the Oct. 7 victory against Philadelphia.

Todd Haley joined the Steelers this season as the first offensive coordinator hired from outside the organization since Kevin Gilbride in 1999. Gilbride has held the same position with the Giants since late in the 2006 season. Under Haley, the Steelers have become more of a passing team; they’ve thrown 269 passes against 182 runs. Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball quicker and throwing it shorter so he absorbs less punishment.

Roethlisberger has completed 66.8 percent of his passes, has thrown for 14 touchdowns and is tied for the league-low among eligible quarterbacks with only three interceptions. He has been sacked 13 times. His passer rating of 101.4 is fifth in the NFL and his third-down rating of 117.1 is No. 1 by almost six points. Roethlisberger is big and strong, but few quarterbacks are better at evading trouble and buying time in and out of the pocket. Because he is so strong, Roethlisberger is hard to sack. His backups are veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.

Pittsburgh has a strong, physical and fast group of receivers. The top two wideouts, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, were 2011 Pro Bowlers. Brown, the team leader with 40 catches and 480 yards, has rare top-end speed and natural receiving skills. Wallace is another vertical big-play receiver who picks up big chunks of yardage after catching the ball. Emmanuel Sanders is a crafty route runner who is also a fearless blocker. When the Steelers line up with two backs and two tight ends, he is the lone receiver. Jerricho Cotchery has caught four passes in limited playing time.

Tight end Heath Miller is an eight-year veteran who has played all but one of Pittsburgh’s 484 offensive snaps. The team leader with six touchdowns, he aligns all over the formation and has outstanding hands and instincts. Miller has a big strike zone, he’s tough in traffic and he can take a hit. Rookie David Paulson is a good blocker who is also a crafty route runner. Leonard Pope is listed at 6-8. He is a tough point-of-attack blocker who can overwhelm linebackers with his size.

The Steelers use a committee of running backs, in part because Rashard Mendenhall, who ran for 928 yards in 2011 before tearing a knee ligament in the season finale, has played in only two games. He missed the first three and the last two games with an Achilles injury. The team’s leading rusher is Jonathan Dwyer – who was also inactive for two games – with 299 yards on 58 carries and has Pittsburgh’s only two 100-yard games this season – in the last two weeks. He is a big, physical back with good running and receiving skills. Isaac Redman started the first three games but missed the last two with a right ankle injury. He is an agile, pick-and-slide runner who often frees himself with a nifty spin move. Redman is the Steelers’ best back at picking up the blitz. Baron Batch is a hard-nosed scrappy inside runner.

Fullback Will Johnson is a first-year free agent who did not play football in 2011. He has one reception in six of Pittsburgh’s seven games. Johnson has an instinctive feel for taking the correct angle on his blocks.

The Steelers have a huge offensive line that from left to right currently stands 6-8, 6-3, 6-4, 6-6 and 6-6. But because of injuries they’ve used seven different combinations up front. Left tackle Max Starks has exceptional size, takes good angles and walls off defenders. Next to him is former tackle Willie Colon, the team’s most powerful run blocker. When the Steelers needs to gain a yard or two they run behind Colon, who also pulls frequently. Center Maurkice Pouncey was selected to each of the last two Pro Bowls. He is a smart player who calls out all of the protections and is a solid combo blocker. Right guard Ramon Foster is an efficient cut blocker. Rookie Mike Adams is expected to start at right tackle for the third week in a row for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Adams has been an impressive young player, who has picked up stunts and blitzes and has shown patience.

Defense
The Steelers have the NFL’s second-ranked defense, allowing only 274.1 yards a game. They are first in the league against the pass (182.6) and ninth vs. the run (91.6). Pittsburgh seldom allows big plays. Only one receiver, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas in the opener, has gained 100 yards against the Steelers, who are tied for ninth in scoring defense, giving up 20.6 points a game.

Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense has seven starters older than 30. Under longtime coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers are a big zone blitz team. They use numerous schemes, all of them designed to confuse and harass the quarterback. LeBeau will dial up blitzes on every down and from any distance and will often send more than one extra rusher.

Defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are rarely off the field. Hood has good foot speed and range and plays with a hot motor on every down. Keisel is tough, competitive and productive. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is a 12-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler. He is an immovable two-down defender. The top backups are Al Woods and Cameron Heyward.

Left inside linebacker Larry Foote leads the team with 49 tackles (40 solo) and is tied for the top spot with 3.0 sacks. He is an every-snap player who takes on blockers and frequently makes plays. Next to him on the inside is Lawrence Timmons, an athletic and instinctive run and pass defender with good ball skills in coverage. The left outside backer is LaMarr Woodley, a hyper-competitive player who is one of the Steelers’ best pass rushers. On the right side is James Harrison, an every-snap player with power and speed. He has 27 career forced fumbles. Backup Jason Worilds is a dynamic pass rusher who is tied with Foote with 3.0 sacks. Brandon Johnson is an outstanding special teams player.

The secondary will be without five-time All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has been sidelined most of the season with a calf injury. His replacement is Will Allen, who is more productive closer to the line of scrimmage. He packs a punch on contact. The free safety is Ryan Clark, a former Giant and 2011 Pro Bowler. The leader in the back of the defense, he always seems to be around the ball. Cornerback Ike Taylor usually covers the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. He is best in bump-and-run coverage and does a good job turning and locating the ball. Keenan Lewis leads the team with 12 passes defensed. He is an instinctive player who reacts quickly and has good closing speed. The nickel corner is Cortex Allen, who is smart and disciplined and a good blitzer. The dime back is Curtis Brown. Ryan Mundy replaced Polamalu for two games before Allen stepped in for him. Like Allen, his is a good box safety.

Special Teams
Kicker Scott Suisham has hit 16 of 17 field goal attempts this season, including all six of his tries between 40 and 49 yards. He was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking a game-winning field goal vs. Philadelphia in Week 4. Rookie punter Drew Butler has a 43.9-yard gross average and a 38.1-yard net average on 23 kicks and had one blocked. Rainey has a 27.2-yard kickoff return average on 15 runbacks and Brown is averaging 7.1 yards on 15 punt returns. Mundy and Worilds are tied for the team lead with four special teams tackles apiece.