PITTSBURGH – The zero on the Giants’ half of the scoreboard at halftime Sunday at Heinz Field stared a hole in Big Blue’s season to-date and foretold a dark evening amid the black and gold.
The visitors only trailed the Steelers by two scores, but in just one half of football, concerns about whether the Giants could hang with the big boys after a six-game winning streak over lesser competition manifested themselves as more than valid.
The number one culprit in that half and through the duration of this 24-14 loss, per the trend of this entire season: Ben McAdoo’s offense – in year three of his direction, including two as offensive coordinator and this year his first as head coach.
Eli Manning and Co. in the first half went punt, safety, interception, three-and-out. Then they started the second half: three-and-out, turnover on downs, touchdown (starting at Pitt’s 17-yard line), three-and-out, interception, turnover on downs.
Such a pockmarked game summary suffices against the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, because as the Giants defense proved again in Sunday’s second half with two forced turnovers, there is at least one formidable unit on this team that normally bails the Giants (8-4) out.
The defense didn’t have a day to remember, either, but they at least made plays to give the G-Men a chance.
Damon Harrison’s forced fumble in a second straight game led to an Eli Apple recovery and a Rashad Jennings screen-pass touchdown to draw within 14-7 at 6:37 to play in the third quarter. Apple’s first career NFL interception at 21-7 gave the Giants yet another chance that ended in a Manning pick.
Eli Manning throws for just 195 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
(Jason Bridge/USA Today Sports)
But again, it was Manning making a killer mistake: an interception to Lawrence Timmons on a pass intended for Larry Donnell of all people in the second quarter, turned this from a neck-and-neck affair into the Giants constantly chasing.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense, meanwhile, exposed the improved Giants defense’s biggest weakness: its tackling and pursuit on the second level, specifically at linebacker.
Running back Le’Veon Bell, one of the NFL’s best, had his way most of the night with Giants would-be tacklers. Tight end Ladarius Green, coming in with just five catches and 97 yards in three games this season, racked up 110 yards and a touchdown by mid-way through the fourth quarter.
Giants strong safety Landon Collins, one of the leaders of the unit, even got toasted on a fake double move by Big Ben and Green to cap a crushing 7-play, 88-yard Steelers third-quarter drive over just 3:21 of game clock time to answer Jennings’ touchdown emphatically and stretch the deficit back to 21-7.
And what do you know? McAdoo and Manning, who have spent full games allowing opposing defenses to dictate their ability to get Beckham the ball, again failed in the first half.
Beckham had just one target in the Giants’ scoreless first half, and one catch for 10 yards. Surprise, surprise, McAdoo and Manning forced the ball to No. 13 in the second half, 13 targets by the final couple minutes of the ball game, and the Giants offense did show some brief life thanks to it.
Le’Veon Bell exposes the weaknesses of the Giants’ defense.
(Jason Bridge/USA Today Sports)
The Giants will have plenty of reason to complain about some key bad officiating calls in this game, that’s for sure: A clear defensive pass interference on Pittsburgh’s Ross Cockrell in the first quarter was called offensive pass interference against Beckham, keeping the Giants backed up for a safety on an Ereck Flowers hold of James Harrison.
Then in the fourth quarter, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell – who had taken an unappreciated cheap shot at Beckham in the first quarter – blasted tight end Will Tye after the ball had passed on fourth down and yet no penalty for unnecessary roughness or a personal foul was called.
At the same time, the Giants’ own plenty of the blame. They went 0-for-3 on fourth downs. Tye couldn’t win a battle for a fourth-down pass from Manning in the second half for a turnover on downs. When Mitchell hit Tye, Manning had rookie Sterling Shepard wide open and missed him.
Victor Cruz had zero targets, one week after Shepard had no balls thrown his way in Cleveland.
McAdoo refused to publicly light a fire under his tea after an unacceptable performance in Week 12 in Cleveland. His players knew their effort hadn’t been good enough and they said as much.
Sunday was a smack of harsh reality in the face, though, that when they make their characteristic mistakes, they are now playing teams who will make them pay.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News