Before the New York Giants can look ahead to next week’s nationally televised home game against the Dallas Cowboys, they first have a little game at the Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox) to take care of. A game that a month ago didn’t seem like it would mean much for either team.
But then the Giants and Steelers both had to get hot.
The Giants are now on a six-game winning streak, Sunday’s win at the Cleveland Browns pushing them to 8-3 on the season. And since a devastating 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 13, the Steelers have rattled off two straight wins to work their way back into the AFC’s murky playoff picture.
This game has massive implications for both teams and their respective playoff implications.
1. Getting that rush
Last week, the Giants defense got after Browns quarterback Josh McCown, who was constantly facing pressure from Big Blue’s front four. After a quiet start to the season, the Giants defensive line is now generating a legitimate pass rush. Look no further than Jason Pierre-Paul’s four sacks last week.
Olivier Vernon had some big plays in Cleveland’s backfield too, as did defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
“They're a catalyst for what's going on over there. That pressure is consistent. Guys like Pierre-Paul and Vernon are leading the charge. I think the thing that's really interesting is the way they dominated in the latter parts of the game,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “It just shows that they're a highly conditioned group and they're wearing their opponents down over the course of the contest. They're making significant splash plays at the latter part of the game. “
The trickle down effect is the way the pass rush is helping the linebackers in coverage and the backend, as both units are benefitting from the Giants bringing pressure.
2. Vereen’s return
The Giants might get running back Shane Vereen back in the fold, a welcome addition as their ground game continues through fits of promise followed by absolute frustration. The Giants are the league’s second worst rushing offense, their total output and yards per carry among the worst in the league.
The injured Vereen would be a welcome addition alongside Rashad Jennings, who has done some hard running these past few weeks. In limited carries this year, Vereen is averaging an impressing 4.7 yards per carry.
3. Back at it
Antonio Brown is doing bad things this season across the league. The 28-year-old wide receiver is primed for another stellar year, projected for 115 receptions and over 1,400 yards this season.
“He’s a great athlete. He’s going to do his thing,” Giants safety Landon Collins said. “You can stop him or try to stop him but there are some guys you just can’t stop. You try and contain him and do the best at that.”