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Her name is Kate Mara.
This Sunday, her loyalties will be divided like those of nobody else. Kate, you see, is the perfect fusion of two of football’s greatest families. Her father, Chris, is the son of legendary New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. Her mother, Kathleen, is the daughter of Tim Rooney, one of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art’s boys.
Kate is an actress. She’s probably best known for playing a nutjob analyst on the greatest show in the history of television “24.” The reason I chose that picture of her is besides the fact she’s hot (duh), it perfectly sums up her mixed heritage. You have the pretty, stick-thin actress aspect which represents her New York side and she’s toting a big-ass shotgun which has Pittsburgh written all over it.
I know this doesn’t have much to do with football but would you rather read the 528th article about the Class of 2004 QB Draft or gawk at Kate? Anyway, on to my preview of this week’s tilt between the New York Football Giants and our Pittsburgh Steelers.
STEELER DEFENSE vs. GIANTS OFFENSE
They changed the offense under coordinator (and Steeler castoff) Kevin Gilbride by getting rid of so many deep pass patterns and utilizing more short patterns and come back routes. These safer throws help cover QB Eli Manning’s greatest weakness, his accuracy, which is key to his sudden emergence as an elite quarterback.
Nevertheless, the strength of this offense is the running game. Brandon Jacobs is far better than given credit for since he averaged 5.0 yards a carry and is very unfun to tackle because of his size. He’s not Reggie Bush by any stretch, but he’s far more elusive than say Christian Okoye was. Derrick Ward was supposed to be featured on passing downs and as a change-of-pace back but his explosive ability has many saying he should be given equal chance to carry the ball. This two-headed monster is complimented by a third excellent back in Ahmed Bradshaw. They will be coming at the Steelers all day so Blitzburgh better be ready to clamp down on the run or the entire playbook opens up to the Giant offense.
Their O-Line deserves a lot of credit for their success running the ball as they have quality run blockers at four of the five positions. Rich Seubert is a severely underrated left tackle. Chris Snee is really good, although he does struggle with penalties. Plus he’s married to head coach Tom Coughlin’s daughter so he knows if he doesn’t play well, he’ll likely be sleeping on the couch when he gets home.
While run blocking is a strength, the line does have questions when it comes to protecting the quarterback. One of the key players last season was Kareem McKenzie. McKenzie has always been known as a run blocker over a pass protector. However, last season he put it all together in time for their stretch run. If McKenzie had struggled in pass protection like he had in previous years, it would’ve been nearly impossible for their offense to do anything with two offensive tackles needing help. David Diehl, the other weak link, is a good run blocker, but led the league in sacks allowed as he simply can’t keep up with good speed rushers.
The Black and Gold Wrecking Crew of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison should get some pressure on Eli. This will be key as in their embarrassing loss to the hapless Browns they reverted back to their pre-Super Bowl form of Manning running around ragged, forcing things, and making bonehead mistakes.
Because he knocked off the hated Patriots, I’ll always be a fan of Eli. But realistically, he only played really well in week 17 last year, was about average against Tampa, and then only attempted 18 passes in the Dallas game. He was terrific against the Packers but if you watch the Super Bowl, he started making those bad decisions again and was just incredibly lucky. His highest season QB rating is only a 77.
Manning’s big weapon in the passing game is another old friend, Plaxico Burress. If you remember all the reasons we weren’t sorry to see him go they still apply here. Yes, he came up really big in the playoffs last year but considering how many big games for the Steelers where he pulled a disappearing act, it’s almost too little too late. He’s Eli’s favorite target and with his size, he should give our smallish corners fits. CB Bryant McFadden has a broken forearm and will be out several weeks so the nickel corner will now be the unfortunately named William Gay.
STEELER OFFENSE vs. GIANTS DEFENSE
The G-Men run a 4-3 scheme that is based on the scheme that the Eagles use as D-Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a longtime assistant under Jim Johnson. This means lots of blitzing, stunting, and changes in coverage. This also means we’re facing nearly an exact copy of the defense which sacked QB Ben Roethlisberger approximately 37 times in our only loss of the season.
Except the Giants D has more talent. They held opponents to an 83.4 QB rating last year. They were solid against the run (3.8 yards allowed per carry) and led the league in sacks. We’ll learn if our revamped offensive line has really improved since the Philly debacle or if it has simply been a result of playing sub-standard teams. LT Marvel Smith is still recovering from the back spasms he experienced three weeks ago so his return is uncertain. If he can’t go, the $7 Million Dollar Man Max Starks will actually have to earn his grossly inflated pay. He looked decent last week against Cincy but c’mon, it’s the Bungles. RG Darnell Stapleton continues to impress but he will be tested against the Giants excellent DTs.
Of course, I again refer to the Browns game where immobile statue Derek Anderson had all day and night to throw the ball. The Giants have suffered a lot of loss on defense, notably the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending injury to every hooker’s nightmare Osi Umenyiora. Whether or not these losses have finally caught up to them or if that game was just a fluke will deteremine what happens on offense for Steelers.
Barring any last second incidents such as walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, Pothole Willie Parker should finally return from his sprained knee. Mewelde Moore has been nothing short of spectacular in his place so I wouldn’t expect a heavy workload for FWP. In fact, I’m sure they’ll split the carries until he works himself back into game shape.
Loosening up the Giant D will likely fall to Big Ben and his receivers. One reason the Pats were such favorites last year was on paper the biggest weakness for NY is their corners. Sam Madison is a gamer. He was supposedly done 3 years ago and he doesn’t have nearly the quickness or athleticism he had back then but somehow manages to hold his own. Corey Webster was horrible last year but then played the game of his life against Randy Moss. Aaron Ross didn’t put up good pass defense stats either although he’s a great blitzer.
Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and the Tiffin Thunderbolt Nate Washington should be able to work against this secondary. The Browns passing game had little problem and even pathetic Cincy kept their game competitive because they could throw on them. As long as our line keeps Ben upright, there will be plays to be made. That’s one big “if” though.
Both teams are currently 5-1. Both teams also have yet to play any real stiff competition. This week will be a huge gauge of exactly how good they truly are.
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