The New York Giants dodged the Dallas Cowboys before dodging Hurricane Sandy (as best they could, anyway) and now are at least home for a matchup with the league's top-rated pass defense and an offense that is balanced, consistent and dangerous.
Can they dodge the Pittsburgh Steelers as well?
Here's a game plan for how the Giants should attack and defend an out-of-conference foe that is already 2-0 against the NFC East this season.
On offense, run it up the gut on early downs
Getting a little specific here, which I try to avoid, but this week I think this would be a smart way to attack the Steelers in order to keep a good secondary guessing on later downs.
The reality is that we know the Giants will feature Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks often, as per usual. But the Steelers are very disciplined in coverage and have only given up 13 20-plus-yard completions in seven games, ranking second in the league in that category.
Considering that Eli Manning's been a bit off lately, the Giants might not want to fall into the habit of overthrowing against the league's top-rated pass defense. If not for turnovers generated by the defense, that strategy would have cost them dearly last week in Dallas. But while the Cowboys have turned it over more than every team in the NFC, nobody in football has turned it over less than the Steelers.
So with that in mind, the Giants have to become a little more conservative and have to give Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson steady doses of work against a run defense that is only ranked in the middle of the pack and doesn't have master play reader Troy Polamalu.
And if there's a spot to run it, it's right up the middle. The Giants have averaged 4.7 yards per carry on runs between the tackles this season, which ranks sixth in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's D has given up 4.6 yards per carry on those runs, which ranks 28th in football.
Not only might the Steelers not be expecting this from a pass-oriented offense, but it should give New York opportunities to bring the safeties and linebackers in, creating better matchups for Cruz and Nicks.
On defense, lend a hand to the secondary
The Steelers are incredibly difficult to defend, especially with the Giants' pass rush in a bit of a rut this year. After really struggling early, the running game has picked it up with Jonathan Dwyer shining the last couple of weeks, and secondaries like New York's don't match up well with fast, deep receiving corps like this one.
The Giants have to do everything in their power to make Dwyer and/or Rashard Mendenhall beat them or to force Ben Roethlisberger to resort to short passes. They can probably afford to bend considering the opportunity they have on offense, but breaking is a distinct possibility against Roethlisberger and Co.
I mentioned that Pittsburgh has given up only 13 20-yard completions this year. Well, the Giants have surrendered 35 of them, which is the second-highest number of big plays in the league. With Corey Webster having a terrible season and rookie Jayron Hosley being counted on to do far too much, they've struggled any time they've faced an offense that has more than one weapon (which could theoretically be contained by top corner Prince Amukamara).
With Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, this is easily the deepest receiving corps they've faced this season. Safety help will be required, but the Giants are already without Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle is less than 100 percent.
From a game-planning perspective, the Giants have to hope that the front four can get pressure without help, put their faith in lots of six-man fronts (preferably with either Keith Rivers or Michael Boley alongside Mathias Kiwanuka) and lend reinforcements to the secondary against an offensive attack that will often feature three wide receivers and a tight end running routes.
Hope and faith. Not the ideal approach, but this isn't an ideal matchup. This is their best chance to limit the damage.
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