Mon, 18 Jan 2021

New York state of mind

The Steelers
14 Sep 2020, 06:30 GMT+10

Mike Prisuta

For a team that won only four games a season ago, the New York Football Giants have more than their share of intriguing players.

It's the specifics of how the Giants intend to use them under first-year head coach Joe Judge that's had the Steelers speculating more than anticipating heading into Monday night's 2020 regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium.

That's one advantage the home team has seemingly enjoyed in the days leading up to kickoff.

The Steelers are the team with experience, individually and collectively, and with continuity among the players and the coaching staff.

The Giants have a head coach from New England, an offensive coordinator from Dallas (Jason Garrett) and a defensive coordinator from Miami (Patrick Graham).

"To be quite honest with you, it is going to be easier for Joe Judge and company to forecast what our ball is going to be on offense and defense and special teams," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged.

The Steelers at least have their suspicions.

Garrett, understandably, liked to oversee an offense that made certain to get running back Ezekiel Elliott plenty of touches when Garrett was the head coach of the Cowboys. Offensive line coach Marc Colombo, who has followed Garrett from Dallas to New York, was also presumably on board with such a concept.

And the Giants' Saquon Barkley qualifies as a running back who demands carries in a similar fashion.

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler characterized Barkley as "a hoss" in training camp, one Butler expected the Giants to ride.

"They pretty much are going to have the same running game that they probably had in Dallas," Butler said.

As for when second-year quarterback Daniel Jones throws it, Sterling Shepard is the reliable route runner, Darius Slayton's the deep threat and Golden Tate III is the type of do-a-little-bit-of-everything target out of the slot most if not all teams covet. And Evan Engram is a get-down-the-field tight end in the mold of the Steelers' new acquisition at the position, Eric Ebron (both are former first-round picks with a reputation for explosiveness).

On the other side of the ball, the Steelers have a grasp of what the Giants have up front in defensive linemen Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence II and Dalvin Tomlinson, and a suspicion as to how they might be deployed.

"(Graham) was a coordinator in Miami a year ago, we played those guys," Tomlin offered. "He has experience in Green Bay and extensive experience in New England. And particularly in New England, they always had fronts that are capable of being hybrid fronts.

"We better be prepared to block a number of different fronts."

Judge, who has worked for Bill Belichick and Nick Saban while winning a combined five Super Bowls/national championships at New England and Alabama, downplayed any perceived advantage based on familiarity of schemes or lack thereof.

"You can study enough tape of our coordinators and our systems, you can look into my history and get an idea of what it's going to be," Judge maintained.

"I'd say the only advantage is going to be the team that comes out there and plays physically and sound on Monday night. No matter what you've done in the past, no matter what we put together, it's all going to come down to, when that ball's kicked off, who the most physical team on the field is."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps with a stronger arm than ever after elbow surgery, is scheduled to make his triumphant return under center for the Steelers.

"We've watched a lot of different film," Roethlisberger said. 'I don't know the last time that we watched so many different teams, from Patriots to Dolphins to Giants, even some Packers stuff. We watched a lot of different things. You don't have any preseason games, we don't really know. So we have to be able to have a plan, and then work that plan and then plan for the unexpected.

"There's going to have to be a lot of sideline adjustments going on. I like the fact we're a veteran enough team that I hope we can make those adjustments. We can plan for things but until you get out there you never really know what you're going to see."

The Steelers' offense has Roethlisberger back, for starters. And the defense gets end Stephon Tuitt back to rejoin a unit that last season led the NFL in sacks (54) and takeaways (38).

But to Tomlin just getting the ball kicked off in a game that matters again is bigger than any of the individual participants.

"These opportunities are precious," he emphasized. "They are not to be taken for granted. I have that perspective and I'm sure our players do, as well.

"We are very passionate about what it is we do and really, we are relieved that we are getting close to getting an opportunity to do it when there were probably times during the course of this development when we weren't so sure."

Playing again in the midst of a pandemic can have just such an effect, even if you aren't quite certain what's coming next.

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