Steelers vs. Giants second half review: Outstanding teams make big plays at big times

Jeff Zelevansky

The Steelers got great pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning and some big offensive and special teams plays in coming from down 20-10 for the road win.

What is a signature win?

There are lots of definitions, but it's used to describe a game in which the plan is perfectly executed in three phases of the game, and a good opponent is convincingly beaten, even when your team is a three-point dog on the road.

The Steelers' performance in the second half of their 24-20 win over the Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. made it a signature win. It was their third in a row, and if the 6-3 Giants are one of the better teams in the NFL, the league should look out for the Steelers.

This is no longer the team that blew leads against Tennessee, Oakland and Denver. It's the team that crushed the Bengals and Giants in the second half of road games, and dismantled the Redskins at home.

Second half notes...

Gotta give credit to the Giants here, I thought the Steelers would destroy them from the start of the second half. A blown power run to the right, Mike Wallace cutting outside on a screen when he should have cut in (off the block of fullback Will Johnson) and a sack by Justin Tuck. He out-ran Maurkice Pouncey to Roethlisberger, who had escaped from the pocket because Jason Pierre-Paul got a huge push on right tackle Mike Adams.

Not the Steelers' best game in terms of pass protection, but this defensive line is a tad more talented than the one in Washington. Said from the start these guys are going to make plays, and while they came up big early in this half, it wouldn't be enough by the end. Marathon > sprint.

A well-designed play by the Giants on the 33-yard completion to Martellus Bennett. They caught the Steelers in a cover 1 look as safety Will Allen moved in to cover the slot as OLB James Harrison rushed the passer. That put Ryan Clark in deep coverage over the top and Larry Foote locked on Bennett.

Bennett is going to beat Foote 1-on-1 over 15 yards 99 times out of 100, and Clark was leaning toward Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who were on the right side. Nice through by Eli Manning too. It was the Giants' biggest play of the day.

The drive is going well for the Giants. Coming off a second and seven, they're looking to run Ahmad Bradshaw through the A gap - or, right through nose tackle Steve McLendon. A nice bit of trickery by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. In order to maximize McLendon's quickness and open up a lane for a backside blitzer, he slides McLendon down two full gaps to his left, and defensive end Brett Keisel down one, and brings Clark through Keisel's spot.

McLendon impressively makes it all the way down with enough momentum to swim past an off-balance right guard Chris Snee. The guard lunged at him, possibly not expecting McLendon to have reached his gap.It forces Bradshaw to cut back, and Clark is there to clean him up at the line of scrimmage.

McLendon played six defensive snaps in this game. He made impacts on at least two of them. Hmmm...

Next play, Manning identifies the Steelers blitz, and has Cruz open on a post over the middle. His throw is a little off, but wow...Cruz hears Clark coming from his right, and bails out. Should have been first and 10.

Were they holding on that play, Victor? Another long field goal from Tynes.

Chris Rainey is injured on the ensuing kickoff, and Leonard Pope is penalized for a blindside hit on which Pope's helmet is on the correct side of the defender, and the defender is clearly engaging with the runner. If that's a penalty, then it's a penalty to ever hit a defensive player when his shoulders are facing the sideline. Absolutely ridiculous call. As hard as it is to make such a determination, this is the worst call of the game.

It leads to a Roethlisberger interception that appeared to be the result of solid pressure from the Giants, and Wallace not running the route Roethlisberger expected. Phil Simms, the color analyst for the game, pinned it on Pierre-Paul getting behind Roethlisberger forcing him to step up and deliver a rushed throw. Wallace is blanketed in coverage, but it appears Roethlisberger expected him to come back to the ball, where Wallace just sat after he curled.

Roethlisberger eyed Wallace the whole way, too. He had Will Johnson on an out-and-up that may or may not have been completed, but there was probably a better chance of that than throwing into double coverage. The Steelers were in a double-tight end formation, and tried to sell a throw out of a run formation, but the Giants didn't buy it.

Nicks is just a badass. Second big stiff-arm he put on a Steelers cornerback (the first one was on Ike Taylor, this one on Keenan Lewis) gets him 10 yards on a five-yard pass. Long arms, physical...gotta love that guy.

Taylor is sure to remind the Giants he's there for more than just pass coverage, though. The Giants run an off-tackle lead right at Taylor, with Andre Brown getting the carry behind FB Henry Hynoski.

Taylor sees the play developing, squares his shoulders to the line and waits for Hynoski to commit to him. When he does, Taylor attacks his outside shoulder, beating him to the edge. It forces Brown to cut inside, right where Clark is waiting to make the tackle, along with Taylor.

Perfect technique by Taylor, and a beautiful demonstration of the kinds of things the Steelers expect from their cornerbacks. Teams can go out and pay the Darrelle Revis's and Nnamdi Asomughas of the league $10 million plus a season all they want, the Steelers look for the corners who aren't afraid to provide run support and can do it with excellent technique. It's a three-yard loss for the Giants, yet another negative red zone play for a team that struggled greatly to get in the end zone as an offensive unit.

It sets up a third and goal, with the Giants electing for a corner route to Reuben Randle ("How ya doin', Reuben??" "It's Rusty.") on Lewis. Not quite sure what the thought with that is, the Giants have considerable size going into the middle of the field, and Lewis's best attribute is his length. Not going to be easy getting passes over his arms in the corner. Manning pass is just a little off, but it would take a perfect pass.

Lewis barely reacted after his three pass deflections earlier in the game. He waved his arms indicating the pass was incomplete in a slight celebration. Weird for him. I almost wish he enjoyed making plays a little more than he seems to, he's having an outstanding season.

At the risk of being hyperbolic about Wallace's touchdown, the only word to describe it is "wow." Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara has the angle to meet Wallace at the sideline and bump him out of bounds. As Amukamara accelerates, that angle gets smaller. And smaller. And Wallace is well ahead of him by the time he gets there.

A coach once described speed to me as what we're watching when every one else around a guy seems to be running really slowly. He suggested I don't let that perception fool me. It fooled me Sunday. I remember standing and yelling at Jerricho Cotchery to get on his horse and get a block, failing to realize Cotchery was pretty much going at full speed, and Wallace blew past him like he was stopped. He never had a chance to block, and he wouldn't need to. Wallace just ran approximately 80 yards, Amukamara ran about 40, and it wasn't even close.

You can't even try to tell me Cruz isn't afraid of getting hit. That's the second pass he's dropped now while trying to turn and get a look at the approaching defensive back. Were you held, Victor?

It sets up an enormous sack by Lawrence Timmons. He was on a delay blitz, and took a very disciplined angle; simply closing the gap between himself and the cement-footed Manning. Say what you will about the alleged lack of pass rush from this defense, it comes up with big plays in big moments. This says nothing about the general futility of the Giants offense this entire game. This was a dominant defensive performance top to bottom.

Emmanuel Sanders is gassed at the end of this run. He took it from one side of the field to the other, and really doesn't have anything left. Sure, get on him about being tackled by the punter, but it was really more that Steve Weatherford took a good angle to prevent the touchdown. Sanders didn't have a cutback angle anyway. A great return top to bottom, one that he created much more than the blocking set it up.

Credit to Giants defensive back Michael Coe for a great read on the fake field goal.

As far as the playcall...hmm...well, on on hand, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin can say he was leaning on the defense in case the play failed, which is fair. If that's the case, why not just run the ball with the guy who's paid to run the ball? Tomlin said after the game it was a poor decision on his part, and it's hard to argue. But the net loss is pinning a Giants offense that's failed to move the ball most of the game deep in their own territory.

The Giants predictably move the ball next to nowhere, and the Steelers get it back with plenty of time and momentum. They plod their way down field with little stopping them, chewing up clock, gaining yards.

At the goal line, though, the Giants defense showed it's done it's homework. First and goal from the one, they put linebackers over both defensive ends, essentially providing man coverage on both Heath Miller and David Paulson. The Steelers carry out the play fake, but neither linebacker moves off their respective cover. The play is basically a one-read throw for Roethlisberger, aiming for Paulson in the back of the end zone. Mathias Kiwanuka is in perfect coverage and Roethlisberger just throws it away.

So the Steelers respond by simply running the ball, if the Giants are going to be that conscious of the tight ends. Redman hits paydirt for the game-winning touchdown.

The Steelers - a team who cannot rush the passer and are led by a defensive coordinator who's never been any good - hammer Manning on two consecutive pass plays, the last one being a sack and forced fumble from LaMarr Woodley. The first was Timmons again off the offensive right edge.

It's the third consecutive three-and-out series from the Giants.

Champions finish games off at their best. Two sacks, three straight three-and-outs, and a phenomenal route run by Sanders along with a great throw by Roethlisberger. To top that off, Redman explodes for the game-ending 28-yard run, giving the Steelers the chance to kneel out their third straight win.

That's a signature. Write it down.


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