ReFo: Steelers @ Giants, Preseason Week 1
Even teams who struggled heavily last year head into a new season with a renewed sense of hope and expectation this August, after all, they’ve spent all offseason trying to fix the issues that plagued them a year ago. For the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, their roster shortcomings kept them out of the playoffs in 2013, with both storied franchises eyeing a quick return to playing in January and beyond.
This was our first chance to see how the Steelers had re-tooled heading into the new year, with several new faces on both sides of the ball, most notably adding Cam Thomas to the defensive line rotation and replacing the departing Jerricho Cotchery with former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore.
We had already seen the Giants this preseason, but despite picking up the win in the Hall of Fame Game, concerns about Eli Manning’s play after a poor 2013 season weren’t alleviated by his 20-snap performance against the Buffalo Bills. They may have spent a first-round draft pick on Odell Beckham Jr., who we have yet to see on the field, but the offense will struggle if Manning fails to perform again. So, with that in mind, let’s focus on three performances that stood out for each team.
New York Giants – Three Performances of Note
Early Quarterback Struggles
While the Giants have installed a new offense for 2014, they didn’t see much success from their quarterbacks until Curtis Painter’s game winning drive in the fourth quarter. They attempted just three passes from Manning’s first quarter appearance, with only a throwaway, a sack, and a pass thrown behind wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan on 1st-and-10 with 14:54 to go in the first quarter.
The battle for the backup quarterback job is heating up now, with Ryan Nassib (-0.8) looking solid with a couple of nice throws to pick up first downs on a drive that netted the Giants a field goal to end the first half,. Nassib’s night was to end in disappointment, though, with the lateral pass that lead to a fumble returned for the Steelers’ only touchdown of the night on 3rd-and-8 with 10:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. While it may have been the sort of strange play that we only see a few times a season, it could just as easily have been an interception returned for a score with Nassib failing to spot linebacker Vic So’oto breaking on the ball after a failed cut block by right tackle Rogers Gaines.
Curtis Painter (+1.2) then took over with the Giants trailing by three, but they were soon in front for good with an excellent drive from Peyton Manning’s former backup. Three key throws, including a lofted fade in the end zone to Curtis Washington on 3rd-and-Goal with 2:58 left that wound up being the game winner, saw the Giants head downfield with ease to take the lead.
Good Signs From Pugh
After an impressive rookie campaign, right tackle Justin Pugh (+1.5) looks set to have another stellar season on the right side of the Giants line in 2014. He was perfect in pass protection, not allowing even a hint of pressure on either Manning or Nassib, but his best work came against the run. The play may have only gone for 2 yards, but he opened up a big hole by shoving defensive end Ethan Hemer outside on 1st-and-10 with 4:22 left in the second quarter. He had a very strong showing in the second half of 2013 as a run blocker and, although that particular block came against a backup defensive lineman, it doesn’t look like he’s regressed in that regard as he heads into his second season.
More From Moore
We only saw one game from reserve defensive lineman Damontre Moore in preseason last year, but it was a game in which he impressed, and he now has two solid showings under his belt in 2014’s exhibition season. Following up from his one sack and one hurry performance against the Bills last week, Moore added another two pressures against the Steelers, including beating right tackle Guy Whimper to register a hit on 3rd-and-4 with 7:59 left in the third quarter. Blowing past the veteran on the outside with ease, only quarterback Landry Jones’ quick reactions to get rid of the ball prevented the sack. He didn’t stand out much against the run, something he’ll need to improve on if he’s to become anything more than a situational player, but the Giants will be encouraged by his performances as a pass rusher in August thus far.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
After arriving from San Diego in the offseason, defensive lineman Cam Thomas (+1.8) will have impressed coaches and fans alike with a solid performance on 18 snaps against the Giants. He got his only pressure of the game on 3rd-and-3 with 9:37 left in the third quarter, beating the right tackle Gaines with a powerful bull rush, but it was his play against the run that stood out the most. Despite seeing just six snaps against the run, he proved too much to handle for Giants center J.D. Walton, including beating him to register a tackle for short gain on 1st-and-10 with 2:00 remaining in the first half. Tossing the block by the center aside, Thomas beat him to his left, meeting the running back as he did to stop the run cold. By the time he was done for the night, the new addition to the Steelers defensive line had recorded a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 60% of the run plays he was on the field for – a solid showing all round.
Rough Outing for Rookie Bryant
Drafted in the fourth round of May’s NFL draft, the Steelers would have been hoping for a better debut from receiver Martavis Bryant than this. The positives for the tall receiver were that he forced cornerback Jayron Hosley to commit two pass interference penalties in the second half, but unfortunately his own two poor plays were even more memorable. With the Steelers chasing the game late in the fourth quarter, he had the opportunity for a first down on 3rd-and-6 with 1:31 left, only to see that opportunity go right through his hands with a drop of the Jones pass. He did manage to pick up the first down on the very next play, but fumbled the ball while fighting for more yards, gifting it back to the Giants who would run out the clock.
Jones’ Struggles Continue
Though we’ve only ever seen him in action in the preseason, second-year signal-caller Landry Jones hasn’t done much to impress when you watch him on the field. Following up last year, where he finished August as our lowest-graded quarterback at -8.6, Jones struggled right up until his final two throws, detailed in Bryant’s evening above, and finished the game with a grade of -3.3. His disappointing performance included overthrows, underthrows, balls thrown behind receivers, and even poor pocket presence, with the worst moment coming on 3rd-and-10 with 2:12 left to go in the game. Moving around in the pocket, Jones failed to secure the ball as defensive end Jordan Stanton closed in before knocking the ball loose. On this occasion his blushes were spared by a defensive holding call against the Giants but it only cemented what was a poor night for him.
– Third-round rookie Dri Archer gave Steelers fans reason for optimism with 59 yards from four touches on offense, including a 48-yard reception that showcased his speed and athleticism.
– The two teams missed five tackles each on defense, with no player missing more than one all game.
– Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley has now committed four penalties in coverage in two preseason games.
PFF Game Ball
In a close game where few players did much to separate themselves from the crowd, I’m opting to give the game ball to quarterback Curtis Painter, who took the field quickly after the Pittsburgh defensive touchdown and made light work of the Steelers’ D to guide the Giants downfield for the game-winning touchdown.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon