Sunday, December 16, 2012

Week Fifteen: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview

Yes, it is already the fifteenth week of the NFL season and it is one of those years where fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be sweating it out until the final snap. The playoffs are far from a sure thing and currently, they actually find themselves temporarily on the outside looking in after the Bengals' throttling of the Eagles on Thursday night. The Steelers also will be squaring off against an NFC East foe and it's a familiar one. It's a rivalry that's old enough to remember when calling the Dallas Cowboys "America's Team" wasn't a laughable statement. It's not the Super Bowl but this one has playoff implications for both teams.

Steelers Offense vs. Cowboys Defense: You are rarely ever going to see the Steeler offense look as flat as it did last week against the Chargers. Ben Roethlisberger was making his return from a potentially life threatening injury and was still the only one that came to play. They have to come out with more energy and more focused today. Continuous drops by the wide receivers is something that is unacceptable.

It is not an option to take Mike Wallace off of the field when he starts dropping balls because he is still an asset because of the way he stretches the field. But don't be surprised to see his role be a bit more limited. After the game last week, Roethlisberger seemed to be hinting towards wanting Plaxico Burress on the field more often. While that's far from a game changing strategy given Burress' age and place on the depth chart, it could add a different dimension to the offense. Especially with Morris Claiborne out for the Cowboys with an injury.

The offensive line needs to have a better performance against the Cowboys as well. They have been solid for most of the year but last week was a poor show. Given, they were on their third string right tackle and Willie Colon went down with his annual injury, but it was still bad. We're going to see a different group out there today. Kelvin Beachum will still start at right tackle and by his side will be another rookie, the highly touted David DeCastro making his season debut. Ramon Foster is going to move to the left side to replace Colon. In pass protection, they may be helped by the fact that DeMarcus Ware is nursing an injury but he will still be a handful. Expect Jonathan Dwyer to make an impact in this game though. He's a bruising between the tackles runner and the Cowboys are on what feels like their 35th string nose tackle. Pounding the rock right at that weakness could give this makeshift offensive line some much needed confidence.

Steelers Defense vs. Cowboys Offense: If you want to talk about injuries, look no further than this side of the ball for the Steelers. The defense that has been tops in the NFL for most of the year is likely to drop a spot or two thanks to a gaggle of injuries in the secondary which has been a big reason for that top ranking. They finally got the oft injured Troy Polamalu back a couple of weeks ago but with that, everyone else seemed to go down. Ike Taylor is going to miss another game and he'll be joined on the sidelines by Cortez Allen who is also injured. Even Keenan Lewis is a bit banged up but he is going to play.

So what do all of these injuries mean for the Steelers? It means that Lewis and either Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian are going to be starting. Lewis has been solid for most of the year but the Cowboys have a very talented group of receivers. The Steelers should be helped by the fact that Dez Bryant will be playing injured but he's still playing which causes problems. We're going to see Robert Golden and Demarcus Van Dyke likely activated. It's going to be a group effort. Someone is going to have to step up to prevent this from turning into a shootout.

Prediction: Both teams are beat up and both teams are 7-6 and fighting for their playoff lives. The game probably means more for the Cowboys in the extremely competitive NFC and that's probably a good thing for the Steelers since we all know how well Tony Romo plays under pressure. While winning would be nice for the Steelers, the game that really matters for them is next week against the Bengals. Win or lose, they'll still basically control their playoff destiny. The Steelers should be feeling no pressure. They should be loose and willing to take advantage of Romo's tendency to crack under pressure. Don't expect much defense in this game but expect a splash defensive play to end up being the difference. Steelers 31, Cowboys 27.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Week Thirteen: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview

Two weeks ago, the overall feeling among Pittsburgh Steelers fans was that their team had no chance with Byron Leftwich starting in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers held their own and ultimately ended up with a chance to win the game. But somehow in just two weeks, things have gotten worse. Charlie Batch is now going to be taking snaps against the Baltimore Ravens just one week after he was pathetic in a loss to the Cleveland Browns. Win or lose, chances at winning the division are pretty much over. But this is still a divisional game which could mean something when it comes to holding off Cincinnati.

Steelers Offense vs. Ravens Defense: The defense of the Baltimore Ravens is not very good. A Roethlisberger led offense could likely pick them apart, especially with Todd Haley's style of offense. Batch can't do it though. He proved last week that he just can't sling it anymore. Sure, he will be helped by the fact that Antonio Brown should return to the lineup but that will only be a slight help. That's not an insult to Brown. It's just a statement to how bad Batch was last week. It probably wouldn't have mattered who the wide receivers were.

So, don't throw the ball! Rely on the run! With who? All four running backs on the roster coughed up the ball against the Browns last week. A couple of them coughed it up more than once. They were just lucky enough to have someone wearing the same style of jersey fall on top of it. Who do you trust? Jonathan Dwyer is probably the best option if you take a step back and just reset everything. That being said, all four of these guys know what happens when you turn the ball over. It's going to be in the back of their heads.

Ultimately, no matter what the Steelers decide to do offensively, it is not going to rule the day. Field position is going to be key. Not turning the ball over is going to be even more important. And coming off a game where the ball was turned over eight times doesn't exactly breathe confidence in that area. Best case scenario is that this becomes a very boring game filled with a lot punting.

Steelers Defense vs. Ravens Offense: Maybe he's actually healthy. Maybe it's just a motivational boost to a team that doesn't have much confidence. Regardless, Troy Polamalu is going to be roaming the field for the first time without being in street clothes since week five. Don't expect it to last too long. For someone who has been saying all year that he would never play another down in the NFL, you can sense my surprise that he's even going to go. It's not much to get excited about though. He's not going to play every down. He's going to get breaks. And the defense has played very well without him. The hope here is for him to create one of his patented splash plays that Joe Flacco knows all too much about.

As was the case two weeks ago, the Steelers' best friend in this game is going to be Cam Cameron. To a lot of people's surprise, he actually ran the ball a decent amount of the time in the last meeting. However, Ray Rice was pretty unsuccessful, at least one the ground. That fact alone means that Cameron is going to fall in love with Flacco again. Expect him to sling it all over the place.

The key is going to be keeping Rice out of the passing game. If Cameron didn't utilize his best player at all, he wouldn't have a job. He has a way of keeping Rice involved even though it's not traditional or necessarily agreed with. He has to be doing something right if his team is 9-2 with a below average defense. Cameron likes to create mismatches with Rice in the passing game. He did that two weeks ago. The longest pass play of the game was a pass to Rice. It wouldn't be a shock to see Polamalu largely utilized in an attempt to shut that down.

Prediction: Best case scenario is that this game is extremely ugly and boring. Not even great defense. Just extremely ugly offense. It certainly has the potential to be that. The big thing for the Steelers is going to be taking care of the ball. And I'm not extremely confident about that after last week. You can't coach away eight turnovers. Sure, some of them can be coached out but when there are that many, it's a talent problem. With the injuries this team has suffered, they just aren't talented enough. Just have to get through this, get Roethlisberger healthy, and move forward. Ravens 20, Steelers 7.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week Twelve: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns Preview

Raise your hand if you thought that in the 2012 season, we would see Charlie Batch throwing passes to Plaxico Burress. Now put your hand down because you are a terrible liar. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries have left the Steelers desperate enough to call one of their former first round picks from over a decade ago. They are also left starting a quarterback who seems like the players viewed more as a coach than a teammate. All of this isn't necessarily bad though. Batch has a good history as a Steeler against the Cleveland Browns. And as much as people want to say that they Browns are better than their record, they still only have two wins. That doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. It just means that we need to be realistic.

Steelers Offense vs. Browns Defense: The Browns have some talent on defense. They just don't have a lot of talent in certain spots. They have a defensive line that can get after the quarterback with guys like Jabaal Sheard who Steeler fans are familiar with from his time at Pitt. The problem with their line is that it doesn't have an identity. When they are committed to stopping the run, they can do it. When they are committed to getting after the quarterback, they can do it. They just haven't been very good at doing both in the same game. In this game, you can bet that they are going to sell out to stop the run and make Batch beat them with his arm.

The Steelers offensive effectiveness is going to depend largely on who's beat up group on the outside is better. Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders will be starting at wide receiver and then after that, you're relying on Burress or guys ripped from the practice squad. The positive is that they will be facing a beat up secondary. Joe Haden, by far their best corner, is likely going to play but he's been battling an injury. And he isn't going to have much help. Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine are both going to be missing from the secondary with their injuries. On this side of the ball, it's going to look a lot like a preseason game.

Even though the Browns are going to want Batch to beat them, it's not going to stop Haley from trying to establish the run seeing as that's where the Steelers are the healthiest. Which is kind of funny seeing as up until this point, it has been the running back having to deal with the most injuries. The best way for the running game to be effective is to ride the hot hand. Just because Rashard Mendenhall is a first round pick and possibly the most talented back on the roster does not mean that you need to force feed him. Jonathan Dwyer has been the most effective back this entire season. He was the most effective back against Baltimore last week. He runs hard. He runs straight. He is going to have the best chance of loosening up the eight man fronts that the Steelers are going to see from the Browns.

Steelers Defense vs. Browns Offense: The times where Cleveland has the ball is when we're actually going to see starters play football. Both sides are relatively healthy outside of the guys on the Steelers side that have had injury problems all season. The Steelers are going to take the same strategy as the Browns are when it comes to defense. It's going to all about stopping the run even though the Browns have shown all year that they aren't afraid to put games in the hands of their rookie quarterback.

Stopping the passing game really shouldn't be much of a problem. Outside of the first few weeks of the season, shutting down teams in the air is what the Steelers have done. And they have done it against much more talented receiving corps than that of the Browns. Josh Gordon is their leading receiver to this point of the season and he has barely cracked the 400 yard mark. Ike Taylor should have no problem taking care of business against him.

Putting eight men in the box may be exactly what is needed to stop the run game. Trent Richardson has been fantastic in his rookie campaign. And it's no secret that the Steelers, in certain situations, have struggled to stop the run. The problem has been compounded when teams commit to running the ball to the side that Ziggy Hood occupies. Filling gaps on the inside and sealing the edge on the outside is going to be the biggest job for the linebackers as long as the game remains close.

Prediction: There are a ton of injuries on offense. The Steelers have struggled against bad teams all season. But if you really expect me to say that the Steelers are going to lose against a two win Browns team, you're smoking. The game may be closer than I want it to be but it will be a win. Steelers 21, Browns 17.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week Eleven: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview

Old and slow. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense. At least that's what we were told through the first handful of weeks of the NFL season. Right division. Wrong team. The Baltimore Ravens, the mighty Baltimore Ravens, have been struggling mightily on defense all season. Given, injuries have been a big reason for that. They started the year without Terrell Suggs and by the time he came back, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were sidelined. But as much as they want to use that as an excuse, they can't. The Steelers have dealt with the same problems with James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and the occasional injuries from Ryan Clark and LaMarr Woodley. This is an important game for both teams as it always is. But it's going to take on a different look compared to those battles in the past.

Steelers Offense vs. Ravens Defense: I sort of buried the lead in my introduction to this game. The biggest story is certainly the fact that Ben Roethlisberger won't be on the field after almost getting killed on Monday night. That leaves Byron Leftwich as the starting quarterback who believe it or not, has never started a game for the Steelers. Largely because he has had injury problems of his own. In any case, Leftwich is a solid back up. One of the best in the league. Off the top of my head, I can only think of about five backups I'd rather have. But that doesn't change the fact that the game plan is going to have to drastically change with him behind center.

First of all, the running game doesn't necessarily has to change but it has to be effective. Rashard Mendenhall is going to start today after dealing with his rash of injuries. Mike Tomlin has been saying that he would ride the hot hand. Well neither Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer were very hot on Monday night against the Chiefs. So that puts Mendenhall on the field against the league's 26th ranked rush defense.

If Monday wasn't proof that the passing attack needs to change with Leftwich, then I don't know what is. Todd Haley came to Pittsburgh on a platform that he didn't necessarily have a system and that he called plays to his personnel's skill set. That means that the dink and dunk offense is going to have to go away for a few weeks. Leftwich just can't do that. He's not quick enough. The wide receiver screens and short passes that have had so much success this season were failing miserably on Monday night. However, when Leftwich was given the opportunity to throw intermediate to deep passes, he looked pretty good. Of course, changing the style of passing puts more pressure on an offensive line which has had an unexpectedly large amount of success this year, but it's the only way.

Steelers Defense vs. Ravens Offense: It is certainly a fact that the Ravens are now an offensive team rather than a defensive one. That remains true despite the enormous amount of credit that Joe Flacco receives for essentially no reason. The only time he has been the best quarterback on the field over the course of this rivalry have been the games in which Roethlisberger hasn't played. Unfortunately, this will be one of those games.

Even though Flacco is going to be the best quarterback on the field on Sunday, it doesn't change the fact that he shouldn't be the focal point of the Ravens offense. The Ravens have a tendency to fall in love with their weapons in the passing game and totally forget about the fact that they have one of the top five running backs in the NFL. For the Steelers sake, they should hope that this is one of those games where they will put it on Flacco. This defense is better defending the pass than they are the run, especially with the emergence of Keenan Lewis. Kansas City proved how the Steelers run defense can be gashed. It's up to the Ravens to take advantage of that.

Maybe the biggest key for the Steelers defensively is the fact that Clark is going to play. He sustained his second concussion in a matter of three weeks in the last game but he has been cleared to play. While that terrifies me and I really wish he wouldn't play for his own well being, from a pure football standpoint it is fantastic for the Steelers. He has played at an All-Pro quality with his partner in crime in the secondary out for most of the season.

Prediction: A lot of Steeler fans are taking the bridge with Roethlisberger's injury being a big problem. I don't think it's as bad as a lot of people think. At least not for this week. I will probably be singing an entirely different tune when the Steelers travel to Baltimore in two weeks. But at home, in this situation, I think they can do enough to keep the game close and pull it out in the end. That being said, I don't think it's going to happen. They will keep it close but I don't think it is going to be enough. Ravens 19, Steelers 17

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Week Ten: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs Preview

Yet another prime time game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Why do these keep happening? At least Tyler Palko won't be involved in this one. There really isn't much to this game at all. The Pittsburgh Steelers are beginning to hit their stride and are riding a three game win streak. The Chiefs are just all different kinds of awful. This game should be over by halftime for all intents and purposes. The problem is that the Steelers never do things that way. What should happen and what will happen are often two totally different things with this team. Especially when it comes to playing teams that aren't any good.

Steelers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense: There is really no escaping the one and only story line in this game. It's going to get brought to the forefront ad nauseum throughout the entire broadcast on Monday night. Of course that is Todd Haley returning to Kansas City where he was fired as the head coach last year. Essentially it's the media making a story where there isn't one. If Romeo Crennel came in and won and made Haley look like an idiot, we could talk about it. But the Chiefs are just awful. No coach is changing that. Let's move on.

The run game of the black and gold which has been given a life that it hasn't had for years is getting another boost this week. The backfield is the healthiest it's been since the streak of 100 yard games started with only Rashard Mendenhall being out of the lineup. Jonathan Dwyer will be active after missing last week but Isaac Redman will be getting the start after his career day against the Giants. The run game will be getting another assist. Dwyer and Redman are both largely between the tackle runners which means to stop them, the middle of the defense has to be strong. Well Glenn Dorsey will be missing this game with an injury. That will also effect the Chiefs' hopes for a pass rush. Dorsey is largely responsible for eating up the blockers to free Tamba Hali on the outside. That will now be the responsibility of Shaun Smith.

Despite giving up an average of 30 points per game, the Chiefs' defense isn't nearly as bad as you would think it is. Statistically, they fall in the middle of the pack in almost every category. The points that they give up is largely a byproduct of their pathetic offense. They are forced to spend a lot of time on the field and they are often defending a short field. The Steeler offense could have problems moving the ball if the Chief offense is effective enough to not put their defense in vulnerable positions. But that is a huge if.

Steelers Defense vs. Chiefs Offense: Have I mentioned yet how awful the Chiefs offense is? Well, it's worth pounding the fact. This offense has more than double the amount of turnovers than it has touchdowns. Matt Cassel alone almost has triple the amount of turnovers than touchdowns. That's not an exaggeration. He has turned the ball over 18 times to just seven touchdowns.

The bad thing is that if they didn't turn the ball over so much, they would actually be really effective. They are the third best team in the league running the football. Jamaal Charles has shown no ill effects from his season ending injury last season. Dexter McCluster is a matchup nightmare and he can be lined up all over the field as a running back, slot receiver, and Wildcat quarterback. Peyton Hillis provides them with an effective short yardage back. But unfortunately, they can't run the ball on every down. They need to throw so defenses won't constantly stack nine in the box and often when they throw the ball, it ends with the other team possessing it.

The biggest thing to keep an eye on from a defensive standpoint is Cassel's propensity for putting the ball on the ground. He has lost seven fumbles already this year and it's not going to be any easier in this game. Branden Albert is having a solid year at left tackle this season but he'll be taking on one of his biggest challenges to this point in James Harrison. If that isn't bad enough, Albert has been fighting a back injury that has limited him in practice all week. If his mobility is hindered during the game, Harrison is going to have a field day using his ability to create leverage. If Cassel gets rid of the ball quickly, he throws a lot of interceptions. If he holds onto it, he takes a lot of hits that often end in fumbles. Anything less than a multiple turnover output from the defense will be a disappointment.

Prediction: All indications seem to point to a Steelers blowout, correct? Well if you have been watching this team as long as I have, you know that somehow, someway, that won't happen. The Steelers have a sickness when it comes to playing down to their competition. The only awful team that they ever blow out is the Browns. And so far this year, the only game they won comfortably is the Redskins game and they've already lost two games to inferior opponents. That being said, neither of those teams were quite as bad as the Chiefs. The Steelers are going to win their fourth straight game. It's just going to be a lot closer than people expect. Steelers 16, Chiefs 7

Monday, November 5, 2012

Week Nine: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Giants Reaction

Do you know what the worst thing is about games in which officials royally mess things up? It isn't that it can potentially effect the outcome of the game. It's that you have idiots all over the place screaming that the fix was in because of the natural disaster that the other team's city just went through. Give me a break. Maybe I'm naive but unless a significant amount of money is changing hands somewhere, I doubt an official is going to make a call just because he "feels bad." Well that's one thing the Steelers had to deal with on Sunday against the New York Giants. There were plenty of bad calls in the game, most of which going against the Steelers that kept the Giants in the game.

Steelers Offense vs. Giants Defense: A couple of different contributors had to step up big for the offense in this game. The running backs were already short because of the injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer. That meant that Isaac Redman would be forced to carry the load. That became even more important when Chris Rainey got hurt during the game. But that was no problem. Redman was outstanding, toting the rock for 147 yards including the would be game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the resurgence of the run game. Mike Adams has had his hiccups in the pass game but ever since coming in for the injured Marcus Gilbert, he has been a dominant force in the run game and is a huge reason for the success over the past three games.

Emmanuel Sanders was another guy lower on the depth chart that had to step up to the plate in this game. Antonio Brown was injured relatively early in the game and never returned. That forced Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery into increased roles and both responded well. Sanders made the biggest impact though. He caught the first touchdown of the game which is the only lead the Steelers would have until the final score of the game. He had a long punt return later in the game where the punter ended up bringing him down. The only bad thing about that was the Steelers came up with no points on the drive after failing on a fake field goal near the goal line. Sanders also had a big catch on a third down on the final drive of the game to essentially ice it.

Ben Roethlisberger went into Eli Manning's house and out Eli-ed him. By no means did either quarterback play great, especially Manning, but Roethlisberger did enough to get his team a win. The only big mistake he made was a bad interception on his own side of the field that led to a Giants field goal. He also fumbled that was returned for a touchdown to give the Giants their first lead of the game but that wasn't a mistake by Roethlisberger. It was an awful call that they still got wrong after a review. No matter who you are or how you try to spin it, that is not a fumble. Never has been, never will be.

Steelers Defense vs. Giants Offense: Despite all that was said about the Steelers' defense earlier in the season, they have stepped up in the biggest way over the past three games. However, this one was the real test. The Bengals and Redskins did not have the type of wide receiver corps that could exploit the secondary which is presumed to be the weak link of this defense. The Giants do have that kind of group but they were never able to get anything going.

There are plenty of excuses to be made for why the Giants' receivers were not effective on Sunday. Manning was clearly not at his best. He was off target with more throws than not. Victor Cruz wasn't really himself after the first quarter when he took a shot to the ribs by Ryan Clark who was the victim of another bad call. He was called for making helmet to helmet contact on the play. However, Cruz ended up with bruised ribs. How does that work? Lastly, the excuse could also be made that Hakeem Nicks hasn't been healthy all season.

With all of those excuses being out of the way, the fact is that the secondary played outstanding. The most noticeable player back there was Keenan Lewis. He defended three passes in the first quarter before most players even broke a sweat. The only thing that didn't go his way was a pass interference call on the Giants' first touchdown drive that was nowhere close to pass interference. Throw in the fact that the touchdown they scored on the drive wasn't really a touchdown and you have a perfect trifecta of poor calls during that possession.

Reaction: I can not really understate how big of a win this is for confidence reasons. It really doesn't matter much in the standings. The Steelers are still a game back of the Ravens and it was a non conference win so it isn't going to change too much. That being said, I think it is the turning point of the season. This team flew to New York the morning of the game. They sustained two big injuries during the game and the replacements came in and not only played well, but made big plays and were arguably the best players on the field at times. Roethlisberger came in and led a fourth quarter comeback against a guy that people were beginning to call the best fourth quarter quarterback in the league. The defense shut down an elite quarterback and are finding their stride despite still playing without their best player in Troy Polamalu. All cylinders are beginning to click at the same time which is big with two game coming up against the Ravens in the next four weeks.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Week Nine: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Giants Preview

Apologies for the lack of writing about the game last week. I got a new job and found out my wife is pregnant with our second child so it's been an eventful week. But I'm back so let's go. Leave it to Mother Nature to take a game with an infinite amount of story lines and make another one. Looking at the game alone, it was already arguably the marquee match-up of the week. It pits the Super Bowl champions who have been excellent to this point against a Steelers team who has seemed to find their way over the past couple of weeks. It's also a match-up between two first round draft picks of one of the best quarterback classes of recent history, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Both of which have two Super Bowl rings to their credit. Then throw in Hurricane Sandy, the natural disaster that has essentially shut down a large portion of New York and New Jersey. The hotel that the Steelers had booked for the game still has no power. For that reason, the Steelers have been granted permission by the league to fly out the morning of the game. Something that NFL players are hardly accustomed to.

Steelers Offense vs. Giants Defense: The Giants are essentially the epitome of a bend but don't break defense. Just by looking at the scores of their games, one would assume that their defense has been fantastic. That hasn't necessarily been the case. They have been a good scoring defense which is ultimately all that matters but teams have been able to move the ball on them. They are in the middle of the pack in rushing and passing defense. They're even a bit below average in passing defense. The success of their pass defense is largely predicated on putting pressure on the quarterback with their myriad of defense linemen. That could cause a problem for the Giants because the Steelers have done a much better job protecting Roethlisberger than in years past under Todd Haley's offense.

Another reason that the Steelers should be able to have success through the air is because of the Giants' depleted linebacker corps. They have three injured linebackers, two of which have already been ruled out for Sunday's game. That should make Heath Miller, who has been a bigger part of the offense than in past years, a big target. Forcing safeties to help out in the middle of the field could open things up for the burners on the outside.

Lastly, don't forget that the Steelers finally have a running back who has rushed for back to back 100 yard games. That's something that hasn't happened for four years. Given, Jonathan Dwyer did have that success against two inferior defenses but the Giants aren't a great run stopping team either. While running the ball shouldn't be the primary focus with the Giants problems in pass coverage, the passing game could very well open things up for Dwyer to make another big impact. Of course that is all dependent on how Dwyer bounces back from his quad injury that he sustained on his final carry of last week's contest.

Steelers Defense vs. Giants Offense: Much like the case was last year, people are starting to forget about the "old and slow" talk in reference to the Steelers defense that we heard so much of after the first handful of games. However, much like the running game, the success has been more because of the opponent than anything else. Don't forget, the Redskins has ten dropped passes on Sunday. Things could have been at least somewhat different if even half of those passes are caught.

Regardless of whether the recent success of the defense is legitimate or not, this isn't going to be an easy game. The Giants offense is similar to the Steelers in at least one way and it comes to the running game. They aren't extremely successful on the ground but they rarely give up on it. They at least keep teams honest by not becoming one dimensional though with the group of receivers that they have, becoming one dimensional probably wouldn't hinder their success that much.

Ike Taylor is probably going to be the most important player on the field on Sunday. That's assuming that he will be the one that is matched up with Victor Cruz. After his horrid start to the season, Taylor rebounded nicely with a terrific game against A.J. Green of the Bengals and then another good game last week. Keenan Lewis has also stepped it up in recent weeks. But the combination of Cruz and Hakeem Nicks is an entirely different animal. Stopping them is just not going to happen. Playing well enough that they don't beat you is what is necessary. The Giants have been successful this year with a bend but don't break defense. The Steelers are going to have to be the same way on Sunday. Giving up field goals is not going to be a bad thing.

Prediction: If all things were equal, I think this would be a fantastic match-up and quite possibly the best game that we would watch as Steeler fans this year. I include the games against the Ravens in that. I sincerely think that the potential was there for an excellent game. However, thanks to the weather I think a lot of that changes. The transportation issues don't seem like a big deal to the average fan but professional athletes are creatures of habit. Flying out the morning of a game is something that these guys are not used to. It is going to effect preparation and preparation is key in games of this magnitude. I'm struggling to see a way that the Steelers pull out a win this week. Giants 34, Steelers 24