We had an entertaining debate with 'Blitzburgh' from Behind The Steel Curtain Thursday about Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Today, 'Blitz' answers our questions in our regular '5 Questions' segment. My answers to his questions are here.
BBV: Statistically the Giants offense and Steelers defense are right at the top of the league. How do you see this matchup unfolding? I am particularly interested in your thoughts on the Giants running game.
'Blitz': Well, it's certainly going to be a physical game. I hate to direct your readers elsewhere, but me and a friend just expounded on this very subject in a very lengthy recent post Teams just don't have success running the football against the Steelers, but if there was a team out there that I could see committing to the run in order to alleviate the pressure on Eli Manning, it would be New York. For as much as I used to get a kick out of watching Coughlin huff and puff on the sidelines with that look of exasperation and disgust, I have to acknowledge just how consistently solid his teams have been for quite some time now. A lot of that has to do with his commitment to the running game, both during and after the Tiki Barber era.
BBV: The Giants live and die by the pass rush. Can the Steelers protect Ben Roethlisberger?
'Blitz': This of course is the $1 million dollar question that has been on Steelers fans' minds all of last season, all of this offseason, and again to start 2008. When the Eagles sacked Roethlisberger more times (8) than Manning has been sacked all year, we were essentially ready to give up on our hopes of being much better than we were last year - which was a good, but flawed in critical areas football team. Then, out of nowhere, our offensive coordinator Bruce Arians finally woke up and made the adjustments that even the most casual of fans could see were necessary. Those adjustments included calling pass plays that got the ball out of Big Ben's hand much, much quicker than the slow-developing vertical pass plays that Arians so loves to call. Yes it was the Bengals, but last week the Steelers offensive line gave up 0 sacks for the first time in God knows how long - at least since the last time we played the Bengals. If we can run the ball well and continue to commit to quicker-hitting passing plays, we may have a chance to keep the Giants' sack total at or under 2-3. That would be acceptable in my book, and would give us a great opportunity to send the Gints to their 2nd loss of the season.
BBV: I know Tennessee is unbeaten at this point. That said, do you consider the Steelers the best team in the AFC right now?
'Blitz': Well, obviously anything can happen between now and January when the playoffs start. Hell, three weeks ago people were talking about the Cowboys prospects of making a deep run. Now, my money would be on them not even making the playoffs. As for the Steelers, even if we avoid catastrophic injurys, I still need to see how we retool our offensive strategy over the course of the next two months. If we can continue to evolve our gameplan to include more of Mewelde Moore, as well as commit to keeping Ben upright with fewer play calls that require optimal protection to materialize, then yes, I'd love the Steelers chances. The defense is that good.
BBV: If you could take one player off the Giants roster and put him in your lineup who would it be? Why?
'Blitz': Jared Lorenzen. I've got family in Kentucky and I used to just love watching him play under Hal Mumme when he was in Lexington. He could be our short yardage back in addition to carrying a mean clip board. Jokes aside, give me one of your tackles please. I won't pick one in particular because I'm not sure which one of our only so-so tackles I'd have him replace. But yeah, the obvious answer there is one of your uheralded but capable OL.
BBV: Oops! This is the part where we tell 'Blitz' that the Giants released J-Load in the pre-season. That said, we aren't surprised he wants one of our offensive linemen.
BBV: We know who Pittsburgh's stars are. Give me a couple of players we might not know much about right now who we should pay attention to on Sunday.
'Blitz': If we do in fact commit to the short passing game and have any sort of success running the ball in the early to middle part of the game, don't be surprised if our 3rd WR Nate Washington makes a big play in the passing game. Washington, who went to college at Tiffin University (No, I hadn't heard of it either), is averaging 15 yards per catch. He has 15 receptions and 2 TDs on the year, including a gorgeous 50 yard TD score last week late in the game on play-action. He's terrorizing the league but my guess is many of you still haven't heard of him and that's James Harrison. He's currently on pace to break your homeboy Michael Strahan's single season sack record. And finally, keep an eye out for Ryan Clark this week. He missed most of last year when his spleen was removed, made a miraculous recovery, and now is running beside Troy Polamalu in our secondary. While Polamalu deservedly gets all the publicity, Clark is the guy we rely on to keep everything in front of us. He's not the most gifted safety physically, that's for sure, but he takes good angles to the ball, tackles well, and is a well-respected vocal leader and 'QB' out there for our defense. He'll need to play better than average by his standards for us to win, particularly because it's not yet clear if Troy P will play and how effectively if he does.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Interesting stuff from 'Blitz.' It's been a fun week of back and forth with the folks from Behind the Steel Curtain. If only every week was this civil! As for Sunday, I don't expect much civil about that. It will be a smashmouth physical battle. The single matchup that concerns me is Steelers' linebacker James Harrison against David Diehl.