The Steelers defense is not the dominant group Pittsburgh fans are used to seeing, but they are still quite good. They are a Top-10 scoring defense and in the top six in rushing and passing defense— though some of that has to do with the fact they have played one less game than some other teams.
Even so, they have allowed the fewest passing yards to opposing defenses to date and the second-fewest per game. So how exactly can Eli Manning exploit the secondary and have a big game?
Keep Manning Clean
Every quarterback is better when he is able to throw without being pressured—this almost goes without saying.
This might not have much to do with the secondary aside from the occasional blitz from a defensive back, but it is, perhaps, more important. Without pass protection, Manning—or any other quarterback, for that matter—will not have a chance to exploit anything in the secondary.
Manning has been sacked just six times this season, the fewest in the league. He has been under pressure 27.2 percent of the times he has dropped back to pass, according to Pro Football Focus, which is one of the best percentages in the league.
On the flip side, the Steelers have not exactly been pass-rushing maestros. Pittsburgh's defensive ends have combined for a paltry 14 quarterback pressures and two sacks. The outside linebackers have not fared much better, combining for just six sacks on 38 total pressures.
The combination of good pass blocking for the Giants and poor pass rushing for the Steelers could be lethal if the Giants choose to take advantage of it.
Target Ike Taylor
Pittsburgh's most recognizable cornerback might be too visible on the field these days.
The 10th-year veteran might be showing some signs of age this season. Here is how he stacks up against the other principal, healthy members of his secondary:
You will note that Taylor is allowing opposing quarterbacks a NFL rating of 115.5 on passes thrown in his direction, including five touchdowns. That is impressive in a bad kind of way.
Avoid Will Allen and Ryan Clark, Go After Ryan Mundy
Clark left last week's game with a concussion. He returned to practice on Wednesday, but we are not sure if he will be cleared to play.
If he does play, this becomes a bit more difficult. Clark and Allen are likely to be on the field together in passing situations—they are the best combination in pass coverage at safety for the Steelers.
Manning should recognize when Mundy is on the field and figure out a way to attack him. He is better than Allen against the run, and the Steelers will likely rotate safeties in and out.
If Clark cannot play, this becomes irrelevant. Manning should try to exploit Mundy's weakness in coverage, as he has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 71.4 percent of their passes for a NFL rating of 119.6.
Spread the Ball Around
There is no question Manning has a bevy of weapons at his disposal right now. Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Victor Cruz is always dangerous, Martellus Bennett has emerged as a legitimate threat over the middle and Domenik Hixon is an underrated speedster.
If Manning can effectively diagnose Pittsburgh's defense more often than not, he will be able to take advantage of the matchups he is given. He should play no favorites.