Physical Steelers win third in a row powering by Giants 24-20

Jeff Zelevansky

Night-and-day reversals of rushing yards and averages as well as points allowed in the fourth quarter has the Steelers rocketing into the playoff picture.

From the start, it was clear which team was more aggressive. The Giants' first play, a deep pass over the middle from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks was knocked away by cornerback Keenan Lewis.

After a 17-yard pickup from Manning to Victor Cruz, the Giants got what would end up being a semi-rare first down. Two runs by Ahmad Bradshaw later, they failed to convert a third down.

The Steelers then set the tone for the rest of the game with an 11-yard run by Isaac Redman in which the Steelers offensive line dominated up front, springing a huge hole.

That's the way it's been during the Steelers' three game winning streak. Running the ball has taken over as their offensive weapon of choice, and the physicality from the Steelers' interior offensive line - center Maurkice Pouncey, left guard Willie Colon and right guard Ramon Foster (or Run PFC) - is moving the ball at ease.

In a game largely predicated on the pass, the Steelers are winning games by running the football.

Even Pittsburgh's own personnel decisions over the last few years suggest they've been building a passing football team. Maybe high picks haven't been invested in receivers, but Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are being used frequently, and were under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The presence of those three on the field are inviting lighter, faster defenses on the field. The Steelers are running through them like they were made of paper.

In the Steelers' first five games (2-3), they rushed 126 times for 374 yards, an average of 74.8 yards a game, and 2.9 yards a carry.

In their last three (3-0), they've rushed 91 times for 465 yards, an average of 155 yards a game - or, twice as many as they were averaging - and 5.1 yards per carry.

Their 155 yards per game would be third in the NFL if spread out over the whole schedule, and their 5.1 yards per carry would be fifth.

It's rubbing off on a suddenly stingy defense that held the league's second-highest scoring offense (29.3 points per game) to one offensive touchdown that came on a drive with two questionable pass interference calls (both on incompletions) and a shaky unnecessary roughness penalty on Ryan Clark in the end zone on third down.

Even the touchdown run scored by Ahmad Bradshaw was questionable.

The defense put the officiating behind them and proceeded to exact revenge on the Giants. Quarterback Eli Manning had a passer rating over 100 heading into this game, but was completely shut down, throwing 10-for-24 with 124 yards and one interception with no touchdowns.

The Steelers allowed a combined 33 offensive fourth quarter points (plus an interception return touchdown for the Broncos) in their three losses. During their three game winning streak, they've allowed just three points in the fourth quarter - a Washington field goal with the game out of reach.

Cruz and Nicks took to the media before the game, accusing the Steelers' defensive backs of holding. Perhaps their ploy worked among the replacement officials patrolling the field at Met Life Stadium, earning them a few calls that otherwise shouldn't have been made, but they were silent in huge stretches of this game, including three consecutive three-and-out series to end the game.

A defense closing out in the fourth quarter along with a running game. It's quite literally the opposite of where it was after the first three games of the season, when the Steelers allowed multiple fourth quarter scoring drives in road losses at Denver, Oakland and Tennessee.

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