There is no more certain sign that regular-season NFL football is upon us than the return of the week ‘5 questions’ series with a writer from the site covering the New York Giants’ upcoming opponent. This, that foe is the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night in MetLife Stadium.
Thus, Jeff Hartman of SB Nation’s Behind The Steel Curtain joins us to answer our feeble Steeler-related inquiries. Let’s get started.
Ed: The Steelers were 8-8 a season ago. Why will this be a better season? Why might it be worse?
Jeff: A lot of fans forget they were 8-5 and primed for a playoff spot before tanking and going 0-3 down the stretch. The biggest difference in 2019 and 2020 is Ben Roethlisberger returning. They were .500 and on the verge of the postseason with two quarterbacks who had zero experience at quarterback. On top of Roethlisberger’s return, the defense looks to be even better this year. 2019 saw the unit lead the NFL in takeaways, and they return almost the entire unit. This will be a really good defense in 2020. The only way I see this team taking a step backwards is if the injury bug bites them again. If they remain healthy at key positions, like quarterback, look for them to contend in the AFC.
Ed: Any lingering concerns about Ben Roethlisberger after last season’s elbow injury?
Jeff: There were a lot of concerns, but those have been calmed after he showed up to camp in the best shape of his professional career and his arm looks as strong as ever. What most didn’t realize is Roethlisberger had dealt with elbow issues for years, and for the first time since coming into the league he doesn’t have discomfort when throwing a football. The only thing he has left to check off his to-do list is to play in a game and take a hit. Other than that it is all systems go for Roethlisberger and his rehabilitation.
Ed: If you could take any player NOT NAMED SAQUON BARKLEY off the Giants’ roster and put him in the Steelers’ lineup who would it be? Why?
Jeff: This is tough because the Giants have had such turnover in recent years across the board, but I would have to go with TE Evan Engram. Engram is the type of TE the Steelers would love to add to their roster and can help make an already dynamic offense even more dynamic.
Ed: Who are a couple of young players for the Steelers who Giants fans should probably be aware of for Monday night?
Jeff: I’ll give you one on offense, and one on defense. On offense, be prepared for wide receiver Diontae Johnson. The second year receiver had a tremendous rookie season with sub-par quarterback play throughout. His ability to make people miss in space, get separation on his routes and show dynamic play making ability is something the Steelers haven’t had since Antonio Brown left. Yes, he can be that kind of receiver. Also, watch for rookie RB Anthony McFarland. He is a game breaker who is capable of taking it the distance every time he touches the ball. Look for the Steelers to have some packages and plays for him to see what he can do.
On defense, watch out for Devin Bush. The Steelers traded up 10 spots in the 2019 NFL Draft to take Bush 10th overall, and he has been the man for them at the ILB position. He is a true sideline-to-sideline player who has a nose for the football. Bush is expected to take a big step forward in his sophomore season, both as a leader and player. Bush will be a playmaker for the Steelers’ defense.
Ed: Making a prediction is too easy, so let’s try this. Why will the Steelers win? What will have to happen for the Giants to pull off what admittedly will be an upset?
Jeff: In my opinion, there will be a lot of nerves for the Steelers offense. Why? Because Roethlisberger has admittedly said he is nervous about returning and just wants to get a few plays out of the way. This could lead to a sluggish start for the offense, but I think the Steelers win this game on defense. Daniel Jones won’t have it easy against T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward in his face the entire game. The Steelers will test the Giants’ pass protection with their tremendous pass rush, all while having a secondary which is considered one of the best in the league with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steven Nelson and Joe Haden. If the Giants have a hope of the upset they will have to create turnovers and capitalize on those mistakes.