Jordan DeFigio, @fidgenewton
After what feels like approximately 45 years since they played a game, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium under the glowing primetime lights of Monday Night Football. The game is first in a double-header on ESPN, with kickoff slated for 7:10pm ET. It will be the debut of the new MNF team of Brian Griese, Louis Riddick, and Steve Levy (replacing Joe Tessitore and the infamous Booger McFarland). And it will also be what all of Pittsburgh hopes is the first win on their road to Tampa Bay in February.
THE STEELERS ON MONDAY NIGHT
Since taking over as head coach in 2007, Mike Tomlin has coached the Steelers to a record of 15-2 on the Monday night stage. In fact, the Steelers’ .667 winning percentage on MNF trails only that of the Seattle Seahawks, whose .722 MNF winning percentage was achieved in twice as many games played as Pittsburgh. Add to that, the Steelers have won 8 straight MNF contests. Safe to say, the boys in black and gold come out to play on Monday nights.
However, to get an accurate picture of what they’re up against it’s also pretty dang important to take into account the Game 1 woes of Pittsburgh over the past several seasons. While they defeated the Cleveland Browns in the first game of their 2017 season, they achieved the victory by only a three-point margin. The Browns closed that margin the following season as the Steelers began their 2018 campaign with a tie. Remember that? A TIE. Which may or may not have been worse than the beating they took from New England in a 33-3 loss just last season (anyone else still have nightmares over the “false start on everyone except the center” thing?). Their recent lack of success in season openers is, well, disheartening. And if history is any indicator of how they’ll look for the first few games of the season, it’ll be sluggish and slow. It often takes them time to ease into the season, and that very well may be the case especially given the unique offseason and training camp they’re entering the season from.
MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE
All that to say, they are taking on a tremendously inadequate and ill-equipped Giants team. The Steelers are six point favorites to beat the team, and a quick rundown of each depth chart should give you an idea why.
Ben Roethlisberger is back. And he has a handful of weapons at his disposal, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and rookie Chase Claypool making up his receiving core. And though they prove to be a solid group, they are a young group. We have yet to see these guys play downs and run routes together, and we might see the lack of preseason snaps affect the flow of gameplay. The verdict is also still out on the running back-by-committee approach for the Steelers, but with James Conner, Benny Snell, Jr., and Anthony McFarland, there is no reason not to be optimistic. The addition of Eric Ebron at tight-end adds size and strength the team previously lacked, especially in red zone situations.
While the offense is set to immediately improve with the return of Roethlisberger, they will certainly feel the absence of David DeCastro who has been ruled out with a knee injury. DeCastro won’t be the only familiar face missing from the lineup, as long-time guard Ramon Foster retired following the 2019 season. The line is going to look a little different on Monday. In an ideal world, guys like Matt Feiler, Marcus Gilbert, and first-time starter Zach Banner will step up and protect the ball. But DeCastro is not easily replaced, and Alejandro Villanueva noticeably struggled the past several seasons. The Giants’ defense might not have the same level of star-power as the Steelers, but their interior line (made up of Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Dalvin Tomlinson) is powerful. With the right game-plan they could very well shut down the run game, find opportunities to put the pressure on Roethlisberger, and force him into making bad passes.
On the other side of the ball, everyone anticipates the Steelers defense to shine this season. And honestly, they have no reason not to. Cameron Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and TJ Watt headline the star-studded D, with Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Stephon Tuitt, following closely behind. Marcus Allen is stepping into his first year in a hybrid role, and rookie Alex Highsmith made a great impression on everyone who was lucky enough to watch him during training camp. What’s yet to be seen is the level of play people were expecting from Terrell Edmunds. That’s hardly cause for concern though, given the barrage of other high-caliber players I just named.
For all the pomp and frill, their huge pool of A-list players does not discount the talent of Saquon Barkley. The Giants’ offensive line has been one of their weakest spots, but is trending upwards with young guys like Will Hernandez playing alongside veterans like Kevin Zeitler. Receivers like Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard provide the veteran presence, while Darius Slayton brings youth and speed. Which is exactly what they need with an unproven quarterback leading the charge. Daniel Jones took over for Eli Manning in a somewhat unexpected but totally expected move, and he was nothing short of underwhelming in his first season as a starter. He showed flashes, but will more than likely be overwhelmed by the Steelers’ line, and will even more likely have a difficult time finding open receivers through the secondary.
This is a team the Steelers should beat. Easily. There’s no reason for them not to.
Which is exactly why I think they’ll struggle. And I see one of two things happening. Either the Steelers will win in a closely contested, low-scoring battle (I’m thinking 20-14, something in that range) or they will be defeated handedly (28-10 kind of loss).
Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe I’m a downer. And, most importantly, maybe I’m wrong. Anything can happen, after all.
This will be the first game we see Jason Garrett as the head coach of the Giants. And it’s worth mentioning that as a head coach, Garrett is 2-0 against the Steelers. Not a huge sample size, but hey. 2-0 is better than 0-2. We’ll see how he fares during the debut game in his new gig.
The Giants are a young team with fresh talent and a bright future. The Steelers are a tough bunch with a significant veteran presence coming alongside youthful faces. The Giants won’t make it far this year, but the Steelers know this is one of the last in the years of their Roethlisberger championship window.
Hopefully they make it count.
And hopefully they start with a win this Monday.
What are your predictions for the game this Monday? Let us know in the comments below.