On a warm August night, Jason Pierre-Paul and Charles James were at the center of the team as they gathered following warmups before heading into the lock room. James lead the team back onto the field, and long snapper Zak DeOssie leapt over a camera man, showing regular season enthusiasm before a Metlife Stadium crowd that was interwoven with surprising number of Pittsburgh Steelers fans. The game day captains were fullback Henry Hynoski, safety Stevie Brown, and kicker Josh Brown for the Giants, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers. The Giants won the toss and elected to receive the ball in a game that turned out to be a typical preseason offering. Minimal play by most starters, penalties galore, and scoring at a premium. The Giants won 20-16, but that is not the story of this game.
Another sluggish effort by the Giants starting offense that, without a sensational 73 yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings gained only 28 yards and Eli Manning completed neither of the two passes he attempted. The Giants were flagged 11 times, with 10 accepted, including 7 on the defense, and the starting defense game up a 70 yards on 7 plays on the only drive in the only drive featured Roethlisberger. The only good news is that the defense stiffened in the red zone and only gave up a field goal. This team is an absolute work in progress, but there were some good plays and promising performances, especially by backup quarterback Curtis Painter on the final game winning touchdown drive.
Quinton Demps was the deep man on the opening kickoff and took the kick from five yards deep in the end zone and ran it out to the 18 yard line. The Giants initial formation featured Victor Cruz, Jerrell Jernigan, and Rueben Randle in a three wide receiver set, with Larry Donnell at tight end, and Jennings at running back. The opening play was an incompletion to Jernigan where he never turned around, and after a short Jennings run and another incomplete pass, this time to Donnell, Steve Weatherford boomed a 51 yard punt. The Steelers took over their own 23.
The big play on their 70 yard drive was a wide receiver screen to rookie Dri Archer. He weaved through the Giants secondary, showing his blazing speed, but was run down on the sideline by Prince Amukamara, saving the Giants four points, their eventual margin of victory. A 26 yard field goal by Shaun Suisham made the score 3-0 Steelers. Demps took the ensuing kickoff 23 yards to the Giants 27 yard line and Manning came out for this second drive. It lasted one play.
Brandon Mosley pulled left from right guard sealed off a huge hole for Jennings together with Geoff Schwartz and Charles Brown as the running back outran the Steelers defense, untouched, to the end zone. It was the team’s second 73 yard play in as many games and the signature play for the starting offense. Brown has struggled in pass protection in practice and in both games, but was lights out on this running play. If Will Beatty is unable to return early in the season, Brown is not the answer if the team hopes to run a West Coast style of offense, however, if they want to win games by playing defense and running the football, he might plug in quite nicely. Left tackle is probably not his best position.
Brandon McManus kicked the first of five touchbacks for the team on the night, three by McManus, and two by kicking competitor Brown. Following two point of emphasis penalties on Giant defensive backs, Antrel Rolle and Amukamara showed off their tackling skills and the Brad Gradkowski quarterbacked Steelers punted, pinning the Giants at their own 12. Brown’s pass blocking issues surfaced on first down, as linebacker Jarvis Jones beat him to sack Manning at the four. With limited options, two running plays ensued and Weatherford punted again.
With outstanding field position at their own 49, the Steelers were unable to dig out from a holding penalty and Manning came out for this last drive at the Giants 29. Two holding penalties, one on Mosley, and one on Schwartz, and a false start on Donnell ensured that it would not prove fruitful and Manning was done for the night, exiting with a quarterback rating of 39.6. Weatherford’s punt put the Steelers in a hole at their own 15.
The Giants defense, not featuring mostly second team players, had one of their strongest drives, with Markus Kuhn sacking Gradkowski for a 5 yard loss. They held them without a first down, and Ryan Nassib took over the Giants offense at the Steelers 35 after a 21 yard punt by the soon to be unemployed Brad Wing.
Playing behind the Giants starting offensive line, two Andre Williams runs netted 7 yards, and after a incomplete Nassib pass, Brown put a 45 yard field goal through the uprights for a 10-3 Giants lead. The ensuing Steelers drive was 11 plays and 50 yards, aided by 2 Giant penalties and featured a picture perfect pass from Gradkowski to wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The Steelers offense again stalled in the red zone and Suisham missed a 38 yard field goal. Nassib completed the first Giants pass to Donnell with less than 4 minutes left in the first half and the Giants were in the move. Leading the team on 12 play march, Nassib looked poised and made some tight passes into coverage, still behind the first team offensive line. The drive ended with a 46 yard field goal by McManus that split the uprights and a 13-3 Giants lead going into halftime.
Pittsburgh received the ball on their own 20 following another McManus touchback. Landry Jones took over at quarterback. The third play of the drive, Jayron Hosley was called for point of emphasis Pass Interference on a play where he barely grazed the receiver while trying to make a play on the ball. Technically, a correct call by referee Brad Allen’s crew, it is documented because of what transpired on the next play. Jones, a mobile quarterback rolled away from pressure by newly signed defensive end Israel Idonije. Idonije showed speed and pursuit technique in running down Jones, and made a diving tackle at the quarterback’s feet. Jones released the ball into the ground on the way down, with no receiver in the area. While outside the tackle box, the ball was not close to reaching the line of scrimmage. No flag. It’s not a point of emphasis, so the officials are not predisposed to throw a flag on any given play. Allen is a new referee this season, and anxious to please his NFL masters. The best way to do that is ensure his crew makes correct calls, not the calls he thinks the NFL wants made.
Fortunately, the lack of a penalty didn’t effect the drive and Steelers punted three plays later. After failed drives by both teams, the Steelers lined up for their second punt of the half. James, who has been making plays in practice and played well in the first preseason game, was given a chance return the punt. He violated a cardinal rule of punt retuning when he failed to set before catching the ball. Reaching back to catch make the catch, James muffed the punt, and the Steelers recovered at the Giants 21. Their offense bogged down again, and they settled for a 38 yard field goal, cutting the Giants lead to 13-6 with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
The Giants were unable to get any traction on offense, with two three and outs sandwiched between a Steelers punt. As the fourth quarter began, Hosley was called for a 47 yard pass interference penalty that gave the Steelers the ball on the Giant 18 yard line. Stalling again, another Suisham field goal made the score 13-9 Giants, and distaster appeared diverted by another red zone defensive stand. Nassib started to find his groove and mixing runs by Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins with short passes, the Giants started moving the ball on the Steelers defense. Another swing pass to Cox appeared to fall incomplete and the Giants stopped playing, however, not hearing a whistle, linebacker Howard Jones picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for an apparent Steeler touchdown. Review confirmed that it was a backward pass and the play stood as called. The Steelers had their first lead in the game 16-13 with 10:16 remaining in the game.
After the ensuing kickoff, Curtis Painter checked into the game at quarterback, reliving Nassib, who finished 12 of 21 for 81 yards with no touchdowns and no interception. A solid, if unspectacular performance where he threw the ball well under duress, but made no memorable plays. Painter, battle for the second quarterback position, lead the team on a brilliant 12 play, 80 yard drive that chewed up 7:26 and resulted in a 3 yard touchdown pass to Cory Washington that game the Giants a 20-16 lead. Painter was 7 for 7 on the drive, completing passes to Travis Harvey, Gaskins, Washington, Preston Parker, and tight end Adrien Robinson. Facing mostly fourth and fifth string players, Painter looked the best he has in his Giants career and made a strong case for being given time against the second stringers next week.
The Steelers final drive had a strip sack by Jordan Stanton wiped out by a point of emphasis penalty on cornerback Brandon Jackson. On a 4th down play, after a completion to Martavis Bryant, the receiver fumbled and the Giants recovered. The Steelers had two time outs remaining, and the Giants needed to gain a field down to seal their victory. Hard running by Gaskins netted 14 yards on 3 plays and the game was over.
We learned in the second half that the team has some depth along the defensive line, in the secondary, and at wide receiver. Stanton made plays for the second week in a row, as did Washington and safety Cooper Taylor. Along the offensive line, Beatty needs to spark a resurgence in pass protection if the new offense is going to take off. The kicking battle is becoming one of the most compelling in recent memory, and Curtis Painter made a strong statement that he deserves not only a roster spot, but the backup quarterback job as well.
The starters on offense did little for the second week in a row, save the one run by Jennings, and need to show something next week in the game against Indianapolis. It’s not time to push the panic button yet, but a some mild concern is warranted. Once the regular season starts, substitutions end and it’s starters versus starters for the entire game, therefore no fourth quarter saves by Painter and Washington. Practice resumes tomorrow, check back here for Giants Camp Notes.